Interestingly enough, and rather coincidentally, we have readings today that show two very different leaders. Moses has had just about enough, thank you very much. He is discouraged and cannot bear the leadership of the people. Certainly God will come to his aid, but he seems to have despaired of that, and it’s a trap that tempts all leaders at some time or another, I think. Peter, on the other hand, is fearless, even if impetuous. He’s ready to get out of the boat and walk on the water, because he wants to be where Jesus is. It might seem foolish, but it is the right attitude for a disciple. Even though he falters, he still had the faith to give it a try, which is more than the rest of them can say.
So today we celebrate leaders of our faith, and today’s feast is no exception to that. Today is the he 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. Alphonsus, Moses and Peter are leaders that encourage us to return to the Lord, the source of our faith. As all three of them found out, the call is not an easy one, but one where the strength to do it comes directly from our Lord and God. The call is extended to all of us disciples. Just as Jesus said to Peter, so he says to us: “Come.” How will we respond this day?