The Spiritual Guidance of Saint Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori  

San Alfonso María de Ligorio, at the Basilica in Pagani, Italy (wikipedia/commons)

On August 1, 2022, we celebrated the liturgical memorial of St Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori I asked myself: In what way such a great saint speaks to us today?

In an age where we are sadly experiencing a serious lack of spiritual mentors, leafing through his numerous writings, I can easily arrive at the conclusion that St Alphonsus is certainly a very sound spiritual mentor for our times. His writings still speak to us in an innovative, challenging and reassuring way.

For St Alphonsus, prayer is establishing familiarity and intimacy with God as if you are talking to your closest friend. He says: Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends. St Alphonsus reminds us that God wants our greatest good. At times he seems reluctant to hear our prayers, particularly when we are assailed by dangerous temptation. Let us never forget that He does this so that we can rely on his grace and, thus, He can help us grow stronger and persevere in holiness. St Alphonsus says: It often happens that we pray God to deliver us from some dangerous temptation, and yet God does not hear us but permits the temptation to continue troubling us. In such a case, let us understand that God permits even this for our greater good. When a soul in temptation recommends itself to God, and by His aid resists, O how it then advances in perfection.

As a practical man, St Alphonsus spoke of gentleness. In fact, the latter has the power of controlling anger. He teaches: When we have to reply to anyone who has insulted us, we should be careful to do it always with gentleness. A soft answer extinguishes the fire of wrath. From his personal experience St Alphonsus learnt very well that God is the fulcrum of our real happiness. Propelled by such a powerful experience he made first-hand in his life, he could then affirm with conviction: He who desires nothing but God is rich and happy.

To those of us who seem lost because they think God has abandoned them St Alphonsus gently reminds them: Your God is ever beside you – indeed, He is even within you. According to Liguori, God has to be the source and the ultimate result of our joy. He says: Since His delights are to be with you, let yours be found in Him. When we trust God we are strong and can’t be shaken. However, if we cling to ourselves we are certainly lost. St Alphonsus tells us: He who trusts himself is lost. He who trusts in God can do all things.

A great thing we can do when we are rooted in God is, surely, doing good to those who do us wrong. This is who St Alphonsus explains what true charity is all about: True charity consists in doing good to those who do us evil, and in thus winning them over. Being aware that we need God’s mercy, the more we plead God for it the more we earn our salvation. St Alphonsus says: What does it cost us to say: “My God help me! Have mercy on me!” Is there anything easier than this? And this little will suffice to save us if we be diligent in doing it.

Adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is, after the reception of the Sacrament, the most powerful way of obtaining many heavenly graces. Thus teaches us this great Doctor of the Church: Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us.

St Alphonsus even displays to us how the devil tries to blind us and then, after committing the sin, enslaves us through shame. He writes: The devil does not bring sinners to hell with their eyes open: he first blinds them with the malice of their own sins. Before we fall into sin, the enemy labours to blind us, that we may not see the evil we do and the ruin we bring upon ourselves by offending God. After we commit sin, he seeks to make us dumb, that, through shame, we may conceal our guilt in confession.

As a great moral theologian St Alphonsus insists on confessing our sins in the confessional in order that we get the salvation we need. He says: To be silent when we are impelled to utter words injurious to God or to our neighbour, is an act of virtue; but, to be silent in confessing our sins, is the ruin of the soul. And, if you and I want God to sanctify us, we are to ask for God’s mercy since that is what we really need. He says: If we should be saved and become saints, we ought always to stand at the gates of the Divine mercy to beg and pray for, as an alms, all that we need. Furthermore, remembering God’s mercy on us and our sinful past make us live humbly with our God. St Alphonsus says: Assuredly, Loving Souls, you should go to God with all humility and respect, humbling yourselves in His presence, especially when you remember your past ingratitude and sins.

 In his message to mark the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St Alphonsus Maria De Liguori as Doctor of the Church (Doctor Ecclesiae), on March 23, 2021, Pope Francis wrote: Saint Alphonsus, then, was neither lax nor strict. He was a realist in the true Christian sense, because he understood clearly that “at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others” (EG 177). Let us read St Alphonsus’ writings so that we too become active members in our life in community and in our dealings with others. For this end, St Alphonsus is an exceptional master!

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.