Today we have a kind of celebration of moral theology. In today’s first reading, Jeremiah receives word from the Lord that he is to crank up his preaching to have Israel turn from their sinful ways. “Perhaps they will listen and turn back, each from his evil way, so that I may repent of the evil I have planned to inflict upon them for their evil deeds.” The preaching of the prophets has always been inherently moral, calling people to repentance and sorrow for their sins.
Today is also the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori, the patron saint of moral theology. At the age of just sixteen, Alphonsus Liguori received degrees in both canon and civil law by acclamation. He later gave up the practice of law to concentrate on pastoral ministry, particularly giving parish missions and hearing confessions. He was noted for his writings on moral theology, particularly against the rigorism of the Jansenists. The Jansenists were a rigorist movement that developed after the protestant reformation and the Council of Trent and emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination. Alphonsus’s moral theology was much more accessible to the average person.
In 1732, Alphonsus formed the congregation of the Redemptorists, who had as their special charism the preaching of parish missions. They lived a common life dedicated to imitating Christ and reaching out to the poor and unlearned. Although they went through their own struggles as a congregation, they were reunited after Alphonsus’s death and are of course active today.
Although Alphonsus was best known for his moral theology, he also wrote many other works on topics of systematic and dogmatic theology, and the spiritual life. Both Alphonsus and Jeremiah call us to return to the Lord. The call is a simple one; we need not be learned in all the intricacies of Canon Law to figure out how to live the Christian life. All we need to do is to pray the words of our Psalmist today: “In your great kindness answer me with your constant help.”