Mission of the Congregation –
Witness: St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori
From the very beginning of his pastoral mission, saint Alphonsus had special care for the most abandoned, both spiritually and materially. He was faithful to them to the end of his life. „Given God’s light, he was looking all his life into darkness trying to turn it into light” as one of his biographers wrote. He fulfilled his priestly life with intensive preaching and hearing confessions. Hewas a demanded and valuable preacher, retreat preacher and confessor. Always mindful of simple people, he rejected theflorid style of preaching homilies common in those times and in a simple way, he spoke with the deepness and beauty of God’s word.
Alphonsus gradually gained experience as a missionary. With other priests he periodically engaged in missions in small centers adjacent to the capital city and in different villages in the of Kingdom of Naples.There he met many very poor people, even poorer than those in Naples.
Exhausted by his excessive apostolic work, in May of 1730, he spent some time in Santa Maria dei Monti, with a couple of hispriest friends in a hermitage, near Scala on the Amalfi Coast. There he met poor shepherds in the rural area, who lived without ministerial care, the word of God and the sacraments. All these experiences of meeting shepherds and people in poor villages, ofwitnessing the spiritual misery of people in hospitals for the incurably ill in Naples and the previously organised eveningchapels (capelle serotine) helped him make the decision aboutforming a new missionaryinitiative. There were so many people living in complete abandonment he didn’t want to sacrifice even one with an occasional mission, but it required the constant presence of the Church, for these people to really feel as God’s children.
That experience was so deep that when Alphonsusreturned home,he wasn’t fulfilled. Heleft his heart with the abandoned people, whose situation touched him internally. His biographer wrote: „If he went out, for sure he didn’t take his heart from Santa Maria dei Monti and he didn’t leave his beloved shepherds. Looking after their needs, he cried and asked God, to choose from Abraham’s sons one, who would be interestedin theirfate.”
As Alphonsus recognized their condition he noticed that those poor, religiously abandoned people were even more hungry for God than for bread. He decided to do something. Hesearched for advicesto be sure of God’s will. He then made a vow to dedicate himself to the evangelisation of the poor and abandoned and he was faithful to that promise for his whole life.
November 9, 1732 Alphonsus founded The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer with a purpose to follow the example of Jesus Christ and preach the Gospel to poor people. From that moment he sacrificed himself entirely for his new mission and engaged all his abilities to it. After discovering those, for whom he was called to serve, Alphonsus understood, that all his efforts and talents should be submitted to one purpose: the poor and spiritually abandoned. As a writer and musician, he made simple meditations and composed folk songs, as a missionary, he created the concept of „vitadevota “, tocontinue a missions‘ fruition. As a theologian and moralist, he taught confessors to be servants of mercyfor the abandoned, not servants of justice. As a preacher he introduced the renewal of missions and a simple style of preaching. As a bishop he fed people in period of famine. All his activities focused on preaching the Gospel to the poorest and spiritually abandoned.
He established „with Him is plentiful redemption “, as the motto of the Congregation. Missions, that were the main form of redemptoristactivities, were the realisation of saint Alphonsus‘ biggest ambitions. The central idea of his work and life was the motto: perfection for people. Even though evening’s chapels implemented this idea (because it involved the most despised people of Naples), saint Alphonsus wanted to evangelise poor people from villages.
Alphonsus wanted redemptorist’s houses to be built in centers of the dioceses, because there they could experience the abandonment of poor people. Closeness to the most abandoned would inspire missionaries to real solidarity and stir apostolic love. The community of redemptorists would become the centerradiating hope and would attract people with perpetual apostolic dynamism. Brothers from these communities would go to preach the good news to the poorest and abandoned and the poor would come to listen to God’s word and benefit from the sacraments.
Orientation to evangelisation of the poor is an essential element of redemptorist activities. Alphonsus knew from his experience, that a missionary hasto be distinguished by love, not only to Jesus Christ, but also to poor people, especially sinners. Only that answer could satisfy people with the biggest needs. Love of Jesus Christ is implemented (fulfilled) in a concrete way in solidarity with poor people.Preaching the good news topoor people leads to converting them and supporting their fundamental rights to justice and freedom.
Saint Alphonsus expressed his primary intention in these words: „ One, who is called to the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer will never be a true disciple following Jesus Christ and will never became a saint, if he will not achieve the goal of his vocation, if he will not have the spirit of the institute, which is salvation of souls, especially souls which are bereft of spiritual help. Such are people from villages. Christ theRedeemer cameon earth for this purpose saying “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. “Lk 4:18.
Redemptorist spirituality is closely related to the mission of the redemptorists which is preference for urgent pastoral needs. Through a religious profession which is directed to evangelisation, all redemptorists are truly made missionaries (C 5, C 55). This constitution shows howthe term mission understood in a blanket way,includes, unites and animates each aspect of the redemptorist’s life and each service for redemption, whatever the type of activities and bearing witness would be.
In conclusionthe following words written by Saint Alphonsus to his confrers in one of his letters are worth remembering:„Jesus Christ’s love pressures and corners us to love Him and enflames others to love Him. “These words express his deep confidence, that a missionary redemptorist can’t truly and completely respond to his vocation to evangelise poor people, if he is not embraced by the love of Jesus Christ. Love of poor people, which is the basic way of redemptorists, comes not only from simple, human compassion, but from love of Jesus our Redeemer.
Questions for reflection:
What does the experience and of saint Alphonsus and his espousal of the poorest teach me?
How do I develop my sensitivityto the needs of the poor and abandoned people today?
How can we help each other to devote ourselves to Jesus Christ and evangelisation of the poor with even bigger enthusiasm?
Author: Fr. Sylwester Cabała CSsR