Teachers of morals and formators of conscience

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(from the Alphonsian Academy blog)

Last 1 October 2022, on the occasion of the meeting with the members of the General Chapter of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, Pope Francis emphasised some elements that characterise the Redemptorist mission such as being “teachers of morals”, being “formators of conscience”, a charism inherited from the Founder – Alfonso M. de Liguori (1696-1787) – “who also dedicated himself to these things, among others”.

These aspects – conscience and its formation – will be the subject of renewed reflection next March in the context of a Conference to be held in the Alphonsian Academy on the relevance of the moral proposal of the Most Zealous Doctor, an activity that is in continuity with what has already been developed during the academic year 2020-2021 entirely dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Alphonsus Doctor Ecclesiae and marked by another text of the Holy Father, his Message to the Superior General of the Redemptorists and Moderator of the Academy. Also, in this text, with different accents, Pope Francis highlights the specificity just mentioned – teachers of morals, formators of conscience – which contributes to qualifying the apostolic action of the Redemptorists in the Church and, at the same time, highlights how the message of St. Alphonsus patron of confessors and moralists still vigorously indicates the main road to bring consciences closer to the welcoming face of the Father.

A closeness, we read in the text, called in the first place to welcome and listen to fragility, especially the most spiritually abandoned, and which is prepared to accompany it with mercy. A closeness that allows itself to be challenged by life, that knows how to take charge of people’s questions and within this horizon is always committed to placing theoretical principles and norms in a healthy and propositional circularity with the personal commitment to do good, moved, even amidst a thousand difficulties, by fidelity to the call to holiness. “Evangelical radicalism,” writes the Pope, “should not be set against human weakness. It is always necessary to find the path that does not lead away but brings hearts closer to God, just as Alphonsus did with his spiritual and moral teaching”. Such a path of drawing closer to God can only start from the offer of friendship with Him (announce), pass through a gradual way of recognition of His blessing, mediated above all by listening to His Word (accompany), and find nourishment in the Sacraments (sustain) to promote in the faithful in Christ an adult moral maturity, capable of choosing the true good.

These, then, are the steps indicated by Pope Francis to accompany consciences in fidelity to the great Alphonsian intuitions and the Redemptorist charism. A commitment to be declined obviously in a theological-pastoral perspective – as teachers and formators – and through a constructive dialogue with all cultural instances to “seek apostolic, moral and spiritual responses in favour of human frailty”. The “closure of ideas, of preconceptions, are the roots where lax or rigorist ideologies are born”, and Saint Alphonsus – as Francis emphasised in the interview given to Studia Moralia – “is neither lax nor rigorist. He is a realist in the true Christian sense”.

Fr. Antonio Donato, C.Ss.R.