The lawyer who worked for God
St Alphonsus Liguori gave up work as a lawyer because he felt a strong calling to God and the need to help the sick.
He was born in 1696 in Naples, Italy, the oldest of seven children. His father was a naval officer, and his mother was of Spanish descent. He was very intelligent, even as a youngster. As a boy of great aptitude, he picked up many things very quickly. St Alphonsus did not attend school and was taught by tutors at home where his father kept a watchful eye.
He practiced the harpsichord for three hours each day at his father’s request and became a prodigy at the age of 13.
There wasn’t much St Alphonsus couldn’t do. To relax he was an equestrian rider, fencer, and card player. As he matured, he also developed a liking for opera. He was much more interested in listening to the music than watching the performance. St Alphonsus would often take his spectacles off, which aided his myopic eyes, in order to listen.
He earned a doctorate in law by the age of 16 and at 21 he had his own legal practice. He became a leading lawyer in Naples and in his eight years as a lawyer, it’s believed he never lost a case. Although, he resigned as a lawyer in 1723 when he lost a case because he overlooked a small, but important, piece of evidence.
His law practice immersed him in the world, and he found solace in music and visiting the sick. While seeing people suffering from terminal illnesses, he felt a distinct call to leave the legal world and to give himself to God.
He began to study theology, despite his family’s objections. He entered the seminary and was ordained three years later in 1726 at the age of 29.
St Alphonsus travelled to parishes around Naples giving missions and was known for his clear, direct, and simple preaching. He was much sought-after as a confessor and for his preaching.
However, his time as a diocesan priest was short-lived, and in 1732, he went to Scala and founded the Redemptorists. He was appointed bishop of an area near Naples, which was marked by uneducated parishioners and dispirited priests. He worked tirelessly to educate the laity and reform seminaries.
As he grew older, he suffered from severe rheumatism. Often, he could barely move or even raise his chin off his chest. He spent several years only drinking from tubes because his head was so bent forward.
He had to endure disorder within the government and even his own religious order, but persevered. He vowed to never waste a moment of his life and lived that way for more than 90 years. He died in 1787 and almost 100 years later, he was declared a doctor of the Church, a title given to 36 saints who are known for expounding the faith by their words or example.
Much of what marks St Alphonsus’ holiness has to do with his use of time. He vowed to never waste a moment of his life and was profoundly productive. It was also in performing a profoundly non-productive work of mercy that he heard God’s call to deepen his life of faith. As a leading lawyer, he must have had many demands, yet he made time in his day to visit those suffering from terminal illnesses. Those visits opened a different horizon to his life.
He was a great moral theologian and his famous book, ‘Moral Theology’, was published in 1748. Thirty years later, he was appointed bishop, and he retired in 1775. He died in 1787 and was canonised in 1839. His relics rest in the reliquary chapel in the Basilica.
St Alphonsus Liguori, patron saint of moral theologians and lay people, pray for us. His feast day is celebrated on August 1.
“The heart of man is, so to speak, the paradise of God. Oh, love the God who loves you! Since His delights are to be with you, let yours be found in Him.” – St. Alphonsus Liguori”.
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