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History of Religious Life
St. Alphonsus Ligouri and the Development of Popular Piety

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

St. Alphonsus, first of all, is in the Catholic Church the patron both of confessors and of spiritual directors. He is the founder of a major religious community. He is in many ways as significant in moral theology as Thomas Aquinas is in dogmatic theology. And on a very personal level, after Ignatius, the man who most influenced my life was Ligouri. There was so much to him that I think deserves to be known. We might first look, even though I have it second on your chart, at his life and personality. You will notice that he lived a very long life; to be exact, ninety-one years. He began as a barrister that is, serving in the law, became a priest and then founded the Redemptorists. He was like De Sales, a bishop, and consequently his influence was not only from his own you might say spirituality but also from the authority that he exercised as a bishop of a large diocese. The two principle communities that he founded were the Redemptorists and the Redemptoristines. But there are many other institutes that consider him their real father in God notably in the United States: the Immaculate Heart of Mary Community, Mother Claudia in Philadelphia, her community, those in Scranton, their group in Monroe, and the remnant left in Los Angeles. In fact, my relationship to their community arose from my prior contact with and respect for St. Alphonsus. As you would expect him as an individual, being a very intelligent person and having been in the civil law, he was mentally very analytic and very clear. By which I want to bring out the fact that although some of the better known of St. Alphonsus’ books what would be one book that I think everybody knows? True Spouse of Jesus Christ, another one, Glories of Mary. About 180 titles bear his name. And you can imagine what this would mean to me when I finished my studies at the age of 37, I came back to the United States ready to start teaching theology; and I felt kind of old. I had published a number of articles, but I had no ambition of writing a book. Then I read in Alphonsus, he published his first book at the age of 40. That settled it. What St. Alphonsus can do, Hardon can do. So I began writing. He writes very clearly and his more devotional books wouldn’t mislead you. You would think he was all devotion, all fervor and warm. He could be as cold as a piece of steel. In fact he more than most other saints, at least that I know of, had the real combination of being a very paradoxical person: here of being very warm, extremely warm, affectionately but very clear and sound and sharp, mentally. Consequently, the last item I have under his personality while initially effective seems like a contradiction in terms, except that it came as you know from where? What country is Alphonsus from? [Someone responded: Italy.] Italy, and as you know, there was a natural warmth to the Italian personality which can be deceptive because Italians, in case you have not heard, Italians can also be very intelligent. [Audience laughs.] And I suppose one of the myths of psychology is that personalities are consistent. That’s not true. The more developed and subtle and psyche the personality, the more complex. You know what I’m trying to say? You can’t really predict at a combination of all sorts of qualities, depending on the circumstances or the situation. Alphonsus could be as simple as a child; and he could be very profound. Alphonsus, as we said, lived a long life which, of course, also exposed him to the travails of a long life – is just as well he was as he was very devoted to the Passion of Christ. He needed something to sustain him through ninety-one years, many of which years were difficult years.

Alphonsus Spirituality: Three Contributing Factors

What were then, the contributing factors, we go back to number one, to produce a St. Alphonsus and to give us the spirituality to which all of us are now debtors? The first was the spread of Protestantism. Alphonsus, born in 1696, came almost two hundred years after Ignatius Loyola. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus in 1540. Martin Luther died in 1546. So you see that by the time Ignatius came, Protestantism had begun, but had not yet spread. He foresaw, with the genuineness of a mystic, that Christianity is entering on a new era. And so it has, but what Ignatius could only dimly foresee, Alphonsus had already saw, and saw in depth because as we shall see in a few minutes it was Protestantism that after 200 years, destroyed the Society of Jesus. They were put out of existence by the very heresy that the pope who approved this said we were founded to combat. We’ll get to that in a few minutes. By the end, therefore, of the seventeenth and of course Alphonsus probably live into the end of the eighteenth century; Protestantism has spread throughout not just the western world but to English influence and English colonialism throughout every country. The English colonizers brought Anglicanism wherever they went. The second contributing factor, besides the challenge of Protestantism, was the fact that Alphonsus had the full benefit of the Council of Trent. Trent, of course, closed in 1563 which is again, quite some time before Alphonsus was even born. However, the ravages in Christianity, prior to Protestantism, were so deep and so grave that the decrees of Trent took a century and more to really begin to take their effect. Alphonsus then built on the Council of Trent in a way that Ignatius before him could not. The third factor was the rise of Jansenism. As you may recall from some of these comments that we’ve made in our class in doctrine so far, Jansenism can best be understood as Protestantism under Catholic disguise. Jansenius, the founder of Jansenism, was a Catholic bishop, but Catholic only in name. He was a thorough-going, solid, theologically convinced Protestant. He died as a Catholic bishop buried in consecrated ground. The last 20 years of his life he spent writing one book. That’s all he ever published, but that was plenty. I suppose if he had published it before he had died, he would have been condemned as a heretic. But as it happened, he died before the book was published; and maybe he waited until he died. The name of the book is deceptive. In English it would be “Augustine” or in Latin, Augustinus. And though he wrote in French, he kept the Latin title. Jansenism which Jansenius founded was the purest, clearest and most uncompromising Protestantism that any mind has ever developed. Jansenius was more Protestant than Luther or Calvin – clearer, deeper, sharper. And having been a bishop, and all the while he was a Jansenist, evidently before, well, Jansenism was recognized as a system. He had infected a large part of France, many of the bishops. France has not been the same. In fact, the French Revolution and the devastating consequences of that on the whole western world can be traced directly to Jansenism.

Principle Tenants of Jansenism

The principle tenants of Jansenism were these: Now even as I give them to you, we are in a way laying the foundations for a better understanding of this great mind, whom the Holy Spirit chose, kept for so many years, to combat Jansenism and that to give the world a system especially of moral theology to cope with this virulent heresy. According to Jansenism, man was never raised to the supernatural order. There was only a natural order. Our first parents were of course created with a mind and a free will, but not in the state of grace. When then they fell, our first parents, they couldn’t lose what they didn’t have – mainly sanctifying grace. So what did they lose? They lost their free will. Because as centuries before the Pelagians taught, that the only grace that a Christian is to believe in, is the grace of free will. That’s the gift of grace for man – is freedom. That’s Pelagianism. Jansenius picked it up. In any case, that’s the first premise. No supernatural order, secondly, there is no real free will. Why not? Because what man lost when he fell and with all his progeny in heaven, as a result of the fall, was the loss of that unique grace otherwise known as freedom. Third premise, if man therefore is not really free, and there is such a thing as grace, who gets the grace – those whom God has foreordained. Calvin taught this before Jansenius. Jansenius taught it more clearly, more sharply and without a shred of compromise. In fact, we now understand Protestantism far better only because Jansenius came along. There are those then that are predestined for heaven. They get grace.

Delectation Victrix – Conquering Delight

What’s grace? Oh that’s easy. The restored, shall we still called it freedom? It’s God doing it in you, and quite frankly, God doing it for you. There’s a famous phrase that Jansenius coined. Delectation victrix, which can be translated as “Conquering Delight”. What then is grace on Jansenist’s terms? It is the grace that manifests itself in a person by the person being so drawn to what God wants him to do, that he cannot resist. Because all of us, understandibly, are drawn to that which appeals. So what does God do for those whom He wants to save? He gives grace that will be a conquering delight. Does that make sense? In other words, the human being whom God wants to make sure that he or she will be saved because they are among the predestined, well, whenever God wants them to do something, make it so inevitably appealing that you can’t resist. For those who are not destined to be saved, they just won’t get these. Delectation victrix, to use the the Latin phrase. [A member of the audience asks a question: How do you explain the reason for the suffering and Passion of Christ?] Oh, oh that’s the fourth principle of Jansenism. And that is that Christ did not die for everyone, He died only for those whom as God, He has fore-ordained. And those, according to Jansenius, who hold the opposite, are heretics. Those who claim that Christ died for all men – he didn’t. And believe me, there’s a lot of literature, not only Catholic nowadays, that is, as uncatholic as what I’ve just said.

Scandalous Teaching

I would like to share with you a fine bit of news I received a few days ago in New York. It seems that Fr. John (Dedick?), does the name sound familiar to you? Have you heard the name in Chicago? At any rate, he taught at the seminary here in Mundelein and was released, shall we say, from the Archdiocese of New York for his preachments as being less than orthodox. So he got himself a job teaching at Catholic University which, as you know, has its problems. He had been there for a couple of years. His name was up for tenure. Tenure means you now are on the faculty and they cannot fire you unless you commit some crime. He was up for tenure. A new bishop joined the board of the Catholic University of America, and by this time, Fr. Dedick’s has had a reputation. I’m just illustrated at the kind of things that are being taught that are not Catholic. He’d been teaching some strange things. In any case, the bishop said, “I don’t think we should approve him.” He convinced the other members of the board – he was not given a contract. But here’s the payoff; here I will not identify the name of the other priest – nationally famous; he has published many books, teaching at Catholic University. Though, when the question came up and the bishops were not in favor of approving Fr. Dedick, he said the bishops are not competant to pass judgement on who can teach theology. In any case, that good man, let’s pray for him, will be out of a job, come this May. The hope is that the bishops will finally begin to flex their episcopal muscles. It’s a scandal teaching things like this and worse.

Grace is Irresistible

So, but the final priciple of Jansenism is that grace is irresistible. And if in one sentence, or for that matter in two words, you want to define Jansenism, there’s the definition. Jansenism teaches irresistible grace. Sounds pious, but it is devastating! What did Jansenius mean by teaching that grace is irresistible? He meant that those whom God has fore-ordained to be saved, He would give the grace to perform good actions. Those who don’t get the grace do not perform good actions. For whom did Christ die – for those for whom He has planned to give grace so they might be saved – the predestined, the foreordained?

Final Contributing Factor to Alphonsus Ligouri

The final contributing factor to Alphonsus Ligouri is the suppression of the Society of Jesus date, 1774. But by 1774, which is just 13 years before Alphonsus’ death, that was the universal suppression of the Jesuits. As you know, the only order in the history of the Church, but it would seem to be the flower of its development, the peak of it achievement, numbering at the time 26,000 members, thanks to the Jensenists, the Protestants in Catholic disguise. They hated us, as Jensenius said himself, with a “holy hatred”. He vowed, this is Jensenius – that he was still a young man when he said this, he would spend the rest of his life doing everything in his power to destroy the Society of Jesus and he succeeded! It came after his death, but he succeeded. And the reason was because there were so many bishops, so many priests, so many believers that had become Protestants, and nominal Catholics that the Jesuits, in one country after another, began writing against them, preaching against them, insisting on Rome’s condemnation of Jansenism. And of course, in time, we just became the sworn enemies of not a small part of this still nominally Catholic world. They never forgave us. Jansenism succeeded therefore, in suppressing the Jesuits, but prior to the universal suppression by the pope, for every Jesuit, by an act of the papal pen, ceased to be a member of the Society, we just went out of existence. The history of the Society of Jesus, in its suppression has never been written by our own people. We are forbidden. We are under obedience, never to speak critically of the Holy See, for having suppressed us. It was the one act of obedience, the latter order that took a special vow of obedience to the pope. It went out of existence as an act of obedience, because way before 1774 in Portugal, in Spain, in France, in one after another of thee various princedoms and kingdoms, little kingdoms they had in Italy the Jesuits had been suppressed. And finally, as the pope sincerely believed, for the good of the Church, he had to sacrifice the Society of Jesus. What happened? Everything happened. All the missions of the Society of Jesus were closed. In Paraguay alone, in South America, we had some 90,000 Indians in what were called the Paraguay Reductions – all swept out of existence. Some 2,000 Jesuits died, maybe on board ship, because one country after another would not take them. They starved some 2,000 men. And the hatred of those wanted out of existence was not satisfied until we were destroyed. The suppression lasted 40 years. The question has been asked, “Well, what ever brought us back into existence?” I should say, by the way, that we celebrate two days of origin in the Society of Jesus. In each priest in the order, we’ve got some 17,000 priests, is required to say a Mass in thanksgiving twice a year. Once, as we have many other obligations, to say one Mass thanking God for the foundation of the order in 1540, and another Mass, on a different date, for the restoration of the order in 1814. During these 40 years, wherever the popes’ jurisdiction extended, the Jesuits went out of existence. In Russia, Catherine the Great was empress. She was, of course, not a Catholic; and she felt that she was not bound by the edict of the pope. So she invited the Jesuits and of course there were all kinds of teachers. “I don’t appreciate your Catholicism but I do appreciate your pedagogy. Would you want to come to Russia to teach whatever you can teach: astronomy, geophysics, or whatever?” Well, it was interesting and appealing. So the pope who suppressed us, died shortly after of a broken heart. His successor was asked, “Can we take the invitation of Russia to be together as a small group of men; or is it forbidden?” And the pope said, “You can stay together.” So a Russian Orthodox queen kept the Society of Jesus in exile, in existence. The restoration in the Catholic Church took place in 1814. One of the dramatic casualties of the suppression was the first bishop in the United States. What’s his name? John Carroll – Bishop John Carroll – who had been a Jesuit and he ceased to be a Jesuit by the suppression. Then he became bishop in the United States. And when he foresaw the restoration coming he had the very difficult choice of deciding whether he should return to the Society of Jesus and give up all the property that he had been holding in the hopes that the Jesuits would be restored. If he held onto the property he would not become, couldn’t become a Jesuit because he couldn’t as a man vowed to poverty. But if he gave up the property, the Jesuits would lose. All that he had been holding against the hopeful day when they would be restored, he made the difficult choice of not renewing his vows. He died outside the Jesuits, so that the Society of Jesus in America would have its holdings and things which we desperately needed. In any case, John Carroll, I’m sure he’s a Jesuit in heaven; but he didn’t die one.

All of these factors made Alphonsus because what he wanted to do and this is where we might almost, you might say, take a deep breath from where we were studying about Ignatius spirituality and now transported to Alphonsus deeply imbued with the spirit of St. Ignatius wanting, as far as he could, in times far different from those of Ignatius to continue the work of Ignatius of Loyola. In fact, for a long time in many places, his Redemptorists were not allowed to operate because they were told that they were Jesuits in disguise.

Alphonsus’ Apostolic Achievements: Moral Theology

In any case, so much for the contributing factors, now the Apostolic achievements. In moral theology, Alphonsus has no peer. He is the outstanding moral theologian of the Catholic Church. It is not too much to say that he created moral theology as a distinct theological discipline in the Church. His method was mainly what we would call the case method: a problem or a case in moral which he would present very pointedly and clearly, and then resolve the problem and then draw out the principles. What Alphonsus teaches in moral theology, the Church tells us can always be safely followed. Even though others may disagree with Alphonsus, he is a safe guide in moral theology. In ascetical theology, the ascetical theology of Alphonsus was, as you would expect grown out of his great preoccupation as we shall see, with human freedom. In fact, if we were to distinguish two forms of spiritual theology, as the vocabulary in now being used, we could say that spiritual theology has two principle forms: ascetical and mystical. Where spiritual theology seeks to go beyond the practice of the precepts of the commands of the moral law – to do more than I have to in order to become, well, spiritually perfect, closer to Christ. But we now distinguish after centuries of both the Church’s experience and study, between that aspect of spiritual theology which concentrates on what man does to become holy, and that’s ascetical, and what God does in the process of sanctification, and that’s mystical theology. All right? In teaching both subjects, this is the distinction that I have regularly used. Therefore, Alphonsus is also the great master of ascetical theology clearly distinguishing between moral theology and spiritual theology. Moral is preceptive. Spiritual is opportunity, privilege, council, invitation, what I may do but I don’t have to do. And on the spiritual, as we have got it here, is ascetical or mystical. Spiritual counsel and direction. Although so much of Alphonsus has already been translated into English, I know that five volumes of his conferences on spiritual direction have not been translated. And things that I’ve read in him and that I’ve been using and much of the speaking and teaching that I do, Alphonsus has so totally penetrated my mind, that except that I, I know I’m often plagiarizing, I say to myself, “It’s so much part of my mind I don’t even know where his mind ends and mine begins.” He did a great deal of spiritual counsel, both in conferences and in correspondence – several thousand letters.

Evangelization in Print

Like De Sales, who preceded him, Alphonsus recognized that if you’re going to communicate the faith, you must use the printed word and he did. That’s why he wrote so much. And, by the way, with the rarest exception, one printing press that I can recommend is the Ligourian Press in Missouri. What city in Missouri? Who knows? Ligouri, Missouri. Population probably about 171. I don’t know how big Ligouri is. “Evangelization in Print” and finally he was very concerned that religious life have structure, have form. Now as we know, the structure can get in the way of the freedom which we should all have in, well, behaving as the children of God. But he was very strong in his spiritual life, and as a consequence, apostolic achievement to be very, you might say planned in his work, very definite, very clear. He was the one who when he first taught me this, and I’ve tried to imitate him as far as I can, to never lose a moment of time. Well when I thought to myself, and he lived 91 years working, well that’s almost a formula for longevity! In any case, he knew the value of time.

Five Features of Alphonsus Spirituality

We wish to look at the five dominant features of Alphonsus’ spirituality. I may have mentioned before that after St. Ignatius, the single most influential saint in my life has been Alphonsus. Divine freedom as outpouring of God’s love. Alphonsus was a theologian, mainly a moral theologian but also spiritual theologian. His understanding of God’s grace, which is another way of describing God’s love, is that it is the expression of divine freedom. No doubt one reason for the strong stress in Alphonsus’ spirituality on freedom both God’s and man’s is that he came, Alphonsus that is, in that period in the Church’s history which has an aftermath of the Protestant Reformation so the lies of Jansenism that denied man’s freedom in cooperation with grace. For Alphonsus, therefore, divine grace is divine freedom showing its love. What does Alphonsus mean by conceiving grace as divine freedom? He means several things. He means, first of all, that God having freely chosen to create the world. He didn’t have to. Then freely decided to become Man. The first in primordial grace of God to man is the Incarnation. But notice, for Alphonsus it is not so much, but also the love that is inherent in God’s grace. Here in the grace of the Incarnation, it is God’s freedom—He didn’t have to do it!

Secondly, this divine freedom beyond becoming man, also as man, freely decided to suffer and die. The second great exercise of divine freedom therefore is the passion and death of Christ which for him loomed so large that when he founded the two religious institutes that consider him their father in God, they were called the Redemptorists and the Redemptoristines, to enshrine for all time the fact that the redemption was the work of God’s freedom. God did not have to become man. Having become man He did not have to suffer and die. He might of redeemed the world without pain. God chose pain. That choice is somewhere near the masthead of Alphonsus’ spirituality. God chose pain—which of course, has all kinds of implications for us if we, who claim to love God, avoid pain in the practice of that love. This same divine freedom, beyond becoming Man, beyond becoming mortal passable Man capable of suffering, instituted the Eucharist, He didn’t have to. He wanted to. It was a choice, an option. And finally, this divine freedom, having chosen to become Man, mortal Man and giving us the Eucharist, then chose, He didn’t have to, to give us the opportunity of freely responding to God’s freedom. Our freedom is the final, and in a way, most important gift of God to us. Our freedom that we are able to freely respond to God, freely, voluntarily loving us. Second, human freedom as response to divine grace where you can simply substitute grace for freedom. For Alphonsus, as we mentioned earlier, against the backdrop of Jansenism, which is simply Protestantism in Catholic disguise. For Alphonsus, Jansenism gave him the occasion for emphasizing the one feature of human nature that is at the heart of Protestantism and of Jansenism. The Protestants and Jansenists denied man’s freedom in response to grace. In fact, there is no actual grace in Protestantism or Jansenism. Why not? Because whatever else actual grace is supposed to be, it is a divine invitation to our free response. This human freedom therefore, is mainly to be exercised in responding to God’s outpouring of His love inviting us to serve Him. What is the principle fundamental and most overwhelmingly essential reason for our being free? The principle reason why we are free human beings is that with that freedom we might choose to serve God. All of creation serves God. Only part of creation serves Him freely. It is both our privilege and our terrifying responsibility because God having chosen freely to give us freedom to respond to His invitation of grace. If we respond the way we should we shall be saved, if we don’t we’ll be lost. Much of Alphonsus, especially in his ascetical and mystical writings, much of Alphonsus, over 100 volumes, originally published in Italian has never been translated into English. There’s a five-volume work (his) Conforensa Ashetica (Ashetical Conferences) as far as I know have never appeared in English – beautiful, inspiring. Mother Claudia’s community in Philidelphia which was founded by a man in the Redemptorist’s tradition – The Immaculate Heart of Mary Community – therefore, is built of the Alphonsian charism. So in elaborating on this for them, I point out till then how important it is to know all they can about St. Alphonsus, especially on human freedom being the key to sanctity. We now know if we ever doubted since the second Vatican Council, anyone who has been given the grace of the Christian faith has the corresponding call to sanctity: different degrees, varieties of holiness but sanctity nevertheless. Who become saints? Alphonsus, without a moment’s hesitation will say, “Those who want to”. Those who use their freewill so generously in response to God’s grace that they become holy.

Third, devotion to Christ’s Passion has vocation to sacrifice. We would expect this to be one of the characteristic features of the Alphonsian charism. And as we’ve been saying all along through the course, even though there are some people who are specially called to follow one charism in preference to another, yet, absolutely speaking, every saint of God and emphatically, every towering genius in the spiritual life, such as we have been taking is meant to enlighten all of us. We are to learn from all of this including here, St. Alphonsus. Devotion to Christ’s Passion is indeed a vocation to sacrifice. Because whatever else sacrifice is, it is the surrender of something that we like out of love for God. Whenever we surrender, we give something up. We must be strongly motivated to do so. The strongest motive in the spiritual life is love. If then, we are called to the religious life, more broadly, if we are called to sanctity, we have the corresponding and implicit vocation to want to sacrifice which means we have the call to want to give up. This bears a little more emphasis than I think we have so far given it in other contexts. Sacrifice is many things; but one thing it surely is, it is an act of adoration of God. When I adore God and no one else deserves to be adored, I can venerate the saints even the angels and our Lady; but I dare not adore anyone but God. When I adore I acknowledge God’s total supremacy and I admit before Him my total dependence. Adoration in its essence therefore means the acknowledgement of God’s supremacy and the admission of my total dependence. If we further ask, “If that’s what adoration is, what’s the highest form of adoration?” The highest form of adoration is sacrifice. Meaning what? Meaning and this by the way is recognized by all the religions of human history – they have all always had sacrifice. When the sacrifice first appear in the inspired pages of the Bible, whose sacrifice? Cain and Able, remember? It was also the occasion for the first murder. There have been many murders since. What do we do when we sacrifice? Well we said we give up something precious. But to call sacrifice a form of adoration is to affirm that when I sacrifice, when I surrender something precious when I give it up, that my motive as adoration is to acknowledge by my giving up, God’s supreme dominion and my total dependence. And as a matter of fact, that is the built-in purpose of all sacrifice. What do I do? I take something precious. Why did Yahweh accept Abel’s and reject Cain’s sacrifice? Precious. All right. Abel gave up something which was precious to him and we were told by the inspired writer that it was pleasing to God. And talk about surrender, when you have it burnt, now that by all human purely rational standards, makes no sense. In all the premises of faith, it makes the highest sense that I give up, I sacrifice, I don’t use. You begin to see the meaning of religious life. What else is celibacy except an act of sacrifice – the precious gift of procreation; what else is poverty but the precious gift of possession; what else is obedience except that most precious, tasty gift of doing my own will. Sacrifice then is, and the Church has always taught it, the highest form of adoration. For Alphonsus, this is what Christ did in His passion. He sacrificed everything. Typified and symbolized by its pouring out His Blood on the Cross. Was ever any man more disgraced than Christ; anyone more abandoned than He? So Christ’s passion then is to be a pattern of our own vocation to sacrifice inspired by His and modeled on His.

Fourth: Alphonsus is one of the greatest theologians in the Church in his writings about the Holy Eucharist. Especially remember from the last class, Pope John Paul II telling us, there are three Eucharist as sacrament. There is Sacrifice sacrament, there is Communion sacrament, and there is Presence sacrament. Among these three Alphonsus concentrated on Presence sacrament. It was he who at great length in conferences, many of which have never seen the light of English day, in which he stresses the fact that there is an ex opera operato efficacy. There is a built-in, infallible outpouring of grace, just because Christ is present. In other words, the sacramentality of the Blessed Sacrament does not cease with the Mass. It continues to confer grace and confer grace just because He’s there. No less then grace is conferred just because we receive the Eucharist, so just because Christ is there. Ah, but there must be a condition. Not only must Christ be there but we must be there. If we are where He is, then that Presence is indeed a sacrament conferring grace on those who are, let’s stress it, there. It was he over the years, convinced me and I’ve been trying to convince people ever since to spend every possible time they can, reasonably and prudently before the Blessed Sacrament. Even as I found more than once, especially late at night, though I almost was sure if I sat down, let’s make it 11:40 or 12:15 midnight, Lord I’ll try to keep awake but if I don’t make it, You will understand. Even to fall asleep in His presence, I couldn’t prove it theologically but I think it’s pleasing to Him. That Presence is real.

Finally, Alphonsus’ The Glories of Mary are, I suppose, the most widely read and quoted book on the Blessed Virgin in the Catholic Church. I have seen not hundreds but thousands of editions in over 100 languages. May I ask, I’ll ask for a show of hands, how many of you have read, even a page of The Glories of Mary? Well, may I suggest to all of you to pick up a volume and read it. And although Alphonsus was a very fine theologian, as logical as they come, when he talked about our Lady, well, the chapters more or less hang together but more less, than more. It almost doesn’t matter whether you open the page to page one or page 316 of The Glories of Mary, if you open them up and read it is the reflections of a man deeply in love with the Mother of God. Many great men and women have read The Glories of Mary including Cardinal Newman. It was The Glories of Mary that brought Newman into the Church. Now that’s a strange statement, because if Newman was anything, he was not, well, what shall I say, a strongly affectionate Neapolitan, such as was Alphonsus. Newman was a cold-blooded Anglo-Saxon. But later on he came to defend Alphonsus against his critics, who claimed there are too many pious stories in The Glories of Mary, too many emotional passages. Newman said clearly, “I would not write, I could not write the way about Mary the way Alphonsus did; but no one should be scandalized that anyone writes the way Alphonsus did about Mary once he realizes that a woman carried the Infinite God in Her womb. Is it possible to be too emotional in talking about that person.” That’s the Anglo-Saxon Newman defending the strongly affectionate Italian Alphonsus Ligouri. Devotion to our Lady for Alphonsus is a condition, not only of sanctification but of salvation. In fact, you won’t read more than 50 pages of The Glories of Mary and you will do one of two things. You will either continue reading or you will put the book aside. It’s going to scare you because he makes devotion to Mary indispensable for salvation—honest, honest. He’ll prod your conscience; and you will either do something or you’ll slam your conscience and say, “Well, this is too much.” In any case, The Glories of Mary are not only worth reading but they synthesize the Mariology of Alphonsus Ligouri. Alphonsus laid the ground-work for all the principle Marian dogmas—two of which have already have been defined and the third may be defined since his day—the Immaculate Conception, Her Assumption, and Her mediation of grace. And with that, with apologies to my dear friend Alphonsus Ligouri, I think we should go on.

Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon gave to the
Institute on Religious Life

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Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association
718 Liberty Lane
Lombard, IL 60148
Phone: 815-254-4420
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