Thursday, August 01, 2019


Today is the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church. A child prodigy, he got his degree in law four years earlier than was normal (he had to get a special dispensation because he was under the legal minimum for it); it's said that he looked a little kid in his doctor's gown when receiving it, so that everyone laughed at him. He practiced law for about ten years. Then one day he was in the courtroom, counsel for one side of a lawsuit; he opened brilliantly, with a very clever argument, and sat down, certain that he was going to win the case. But instead of any sign of admiration from the rest of the courtroom, there was a pause of baffled silence -- crickets, as we say. Then the opposing counsel said, "All of what you've said is wasted breath; your argument is inconsistent with one of the documents in evidence." Alphonsus demanded to know which document, and it was handed to him. He knew the document. He had read it many times. And every single time until that moment he had read it incorrectly. Seeing it now, he was crushed, absolutely mortified. It was such an absurd mistake that he didn't see how anyone else could attribute it to anything except dishonesty or incompetence. Everyone -- including, it is said, the opposing counsel and the judge -- tried to console the young man, but it was no good. When he left the courtroom that day, he never returned to law. In fact, he became so depressed he stopped eating for several days. But eventually he came to see what had happened as God showing him his lack of humility, and as a result he became an Oratorian. He would go on to found the society that would eventually become known as the Redemptorists and become one of the greatest experts on canon law and moral theology in the history of the Church. It happened almost incidentally; his writings are vast, but very few of them were written before the age of fifty. It was also a very rocky road. Due to the politics of the day, St. Alphonsus died betrayed by almost every supporter he had, cut off by the Pope from his own order, deaf and nearly blind. He was ninety-one.

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