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.

St. Martha

Today's readings | Saint of the Day

Along with her sister Mary, and brother Lazarus, St. Martha was a personal friend of Jesus.  He seems to have come to their house by invitation, not to affect a conversion or anything like that, but just to share some time and a meal.  And you know the rest of that story, right?  Mary sits at Jesus’ feet while Martha makes all the preparations in the kitchen.  Martha quite rightly (in my opinion!) demands that all should lend a hand in the preparation of one’s house for guests.  Jesus’ response there is that “Mary has chosen the better part:” this reminds us that everything isn’t always up to us.  We are called to do our part and rest in God’s loving care for us.

But today’s Gospel reading is really the great story of Martha’s saintliness.  She says three very faith-filled things in and around this passage.  The first is that she runs out to greet Jesus and proclaims a small part of her faith: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  Here her faith is not quite perfect.  She is confused that Jesus was detained and her brother died.  But there is that aspect of trusting faith that knows that Jesus has power to do whatever he wills.  The second great thing she says here comes right at the end of the story we hear today.  In this, she proclaims a more perfect faith: “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”  In this great profession of faith, Martha is just as bold and courageous as St. Peter who proclaims the same kind of faith when Jesus asks him “who do you say that I am?” 

The final great thing that Martha does comes right after the story we read today.  Having professed her faith in Jesus, Martha now returns to her sister and calls her to come to Jesus: “The teacher is here and is asking for you.”  Those who profess their faith in Jesus cannot possibly keep it to themselves.  And Martha does not.  She goes to retrieve her sister, who once sat at the Lord’s feet, but now for some reason chose to remain at home.  Perhaps Mary was hurt that Jesus had not come right away.  Whatever the case, Martha’s faith does not leave her sister in the dark.  Like Martha, we who believe in Jesus must tell everyone who needs to hear it that the Teacher is asking for them.