The memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga (+ 1591), a Jesuit scholastic who died at what we might consider the too-young age of 23 while solicitously caring for victims of the plague in Rome – but he accomplished much in a short time.
Aloysius, whose original Italian name was Luigi, was from a rich, noble family, and destined for a life of honour and privilege, from which he began to distance himself even while a young boy. Soon after receiving his First Communion from Saint Charles Borromeo, he took private vow of chastity as he turned nine, and adopted a life of rather strict asceticism. Later in his teen years, against his father’s wishes (who finally relented), Aloysius firmly and unequivocally decided to enter the Jesuits, renouncing all rights to his significant inheritance.
As a novice, Aloysius’ spiritual director was none other than Saint Robert Bellarmine, a fellow Jesuit and a Cardinal, one of the great lights of the post-Tridentine reform and renewal, who would later offer sage advice to Galileo, and may have been able to avert that crisis and debacle, had he lived long enough. But guiding a young saint to holiness is no small feat in itself. Aloysius once admitted to his director that the smell and uncleanness of the plague victims made him violently sick, a repugnance that he suppressed so well that no one ever suspected, his zeal for the unenviable task so evident to those around him. The young novice was well aware of his potential for sin and vice, in which so many around him were immersed, once describing his soul as a bent piece of iron that had to be, by the grace of God, twisted back into shape.
If such an endeavour cost him so much, what should it cost us?
We know not what the idealistic and inspired soul of Aloysius might have done in a life long lived, for like others, Pier Giorgio, Dominic Savio, Therese, he was snatched up to heaven young, his soul already purified, which is what life is about, really, to reach that potential of sanctity to which we are all called.
The mystic Maria Magdalena de Pazzi had a vision of the saint on April 4, 1600, a decade after his death, wherein it was revealed to her that he had died an ‘interior martyr’, and is now known primarily for his virtue of purity, integrating his affective powers – those ‘bent pieces of iron’ – all towards that love of God which in the end is the source and summit of all our loves.
As his Collect for today says, let those of us who have not followed his innocence, at least follow his path of penitence and conversion.
This is the first day of summer, the longest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere), solstice marking the Earth’s midway point in its 186 million mile journey around the Sun, in whose health-giving warmth and light, a symbol of that eternal Light, we may rejoice.