St. Alphonsus was born near Naples, Italy, in 1696. He received his degree in law at the age of sixteen and became a successful lawyer. But a mistake he made in court caused him to lose an important case, and Alphonsus decided to leave his practice to follow his true calling to be a priest. His father, who had high expectations for his son, tried to persuade him not to do it. However, Alphonsus had made up his mind. He joined the Oratorians and was ordained in 1726. His life was filled with activity. He preached and wrote books. He started a religious congregation called the Redemptorists. Alphonsus offered wise spiritual direction and brought peace to people through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He also wrote hymns, played the organ, and painted pictures.
St. Alphonsus wrote sixty books. This is incredible considering his many other responsibilities. He also was often sick. He had frequent headaches, but would hold something cold against his forehead and keep doing his work.
Although he was naturally inclined to be hasty, Alphonsus tried to control himself. He became so humble that when the pope wanted to make him a bishop in 1762, he gently said “no.” When the pope’s messengers had come in person to tell him of the pope’s choice, they called Alphonsus “Most illustrious Lord.” Alphonsus said, “Please don’t call me that again. It would kill me.” The pope knew that Alphonsus would help the church greatly and appointed him bishop of St. Agatha of the Goths. Alphonsus sent many preachers all over his diocese. The people needed to be reminded again of the love of God and the importance of their religion. Alphonsus told the priests to preach simple sermons. “I never preached a sermon that the simplest person in the church could not understand,” he said.
As he got older, St. Alphonsus suffered from illnesses. He had painful rheumatism and became crippled. He grew deaf and almost blind. He also had disappointments and suffered from depression. But he had great devotion to the Blessed Mother as we know from his famous book called The Glories of Mary. The trials were followed by great peace and joy and a holy death.
Alphonsus died in 1787 at the age of ninety-one. Pope Gregory XVI proclaimed him a saint in 1839. Pope Pius IX proclaimed him a Doctor of the Church in 1871.
St. Alphonsus wrote many prayers, one of them we use today, especially throughout this pandemic, when we could not receive holy communion. We say his prayer when we make an act of spiritual communion.
“My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.”