St. Alphonsus Liguori: Patron of Moral Theologians

Today's Gospel: Matthew 5:13-19 | Saint of the Day

"Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

Teaching the commandments was something that was always near and dear to the heart of St. Alphonsus Liguori. St. Alphonsus has been called the patron saint of moral theologians since 1950. During his lifetime, St. Alphonsus devoted himself to reform of the church and the proper teaching of moral issues. Then, preaching moral issues from the pulpit was often done, but unfortunately with a rigorism that made moral teachings hard for the average person to follow. Today, perhaps, we have the opposite. Preachers often shy away from moral issues in the pulpit, not wanting to rock the boat. Neither of these is acceptable, of course, and Alphonsus would want us to follow more of a happy medium.

Alphonsus received a doctorate in civil and canon law at the age of 16 and practiced it for a while, but soon gave it up to pursue apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated on preaching parish missions, hearing confessions, and forming Christian groups. He was a prolific writer, writing often on moral theology. He also wrote some popular devotional books, including the Glories of Mary, which was extremely popular during his lifetime, and Visits to the Blessed Sacrament. He is also known for starting the congregation of the Redemptorists, which continues to this day.

His great reforms were enacted mostly in the pulpit and the confessional, where his simple approach to morality, Christian life, and Scripture were well-received over the sometimes pompous oratory of his day. His preaching resulted in much increased devotion, and, at age 66, he was made a bishop, over his own objections to the title.

St. Alphonsus was one who obeyed and taught the commandments with great simplicity and grace, and was one who was truly salt and light for the world. What we should see in his life and in these scripture readings, brothers and sisters in Christ, is that preaching and teaching is something we all must do. Alphonsus would remind us that our preaching and teaching need not be elaborate, but also must not be onerous or pompous. Indeed, our best teaching of the commandments may well be in our living of them. May St. Alphonsus Liguori lead us all to be great in the kingdom of heaven.

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