June 21, 2017
Today we continue Italian Noble Renounces Their Influence for the Love of Christ Week! It's like our Catholic version of Shark Week. I think Blessed Pier Giorgio would be proud.
Today is the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, whose bio is one of the most intimidating things I've read lately. Here are some highlights:
- "Jesus" and "Mary" were his first words as a child
- By age 9, he had committed himself to perpetual virginity and religious life, renouncing his princely upbringing
- By age 11, he was fasting 3 days a week on bread and water alone and teaching the Catechism to children
- At age 18, after a four year battle with his father, he entered the Jesuit seminary
- At age 23, he passed away after contracting the Bubonic Plague while ministering to the ill
Woof. He definitely would have been featured on the Catholic 30 Under 30 list.
In fact, his piety and asceticism, while praised by some of the less New Evangelism-oriented sources of his biographical information I encountered, were actually their own struggle that the saint had to address in seminary. Perhaps his most famous quote, St. Aloysius Gonzaga declared, "I am a piece of twisted iron...I entered religious life to get twisted straight," most likely relating both to his decidedly secular familial upbringing and his own excesses in fasting and self-denial. One source states:
Like other seminarians, Aloysius was faced with a new kind of penance—that of accepting different ideas about the exact nature of penance. He was obliged to eat more, and to take recreation with the other students. He was forbidden to pray except at stated times.
All of these recommendations he accepted dutifully as a Novice.
While it's impossible to determine how much of St. Aloysius's asceticism was due to personality and health concerns (he struggled with a kidney disease that kept him indoors and isolated more than his peers) and what was due to his love of Christ, a lesson can be learned here about what it means to be a modern, everyman/everywoman saint. As the saying goes, "we are called to be in the world, not of the world." Averting your gaze from all women, as St. Aloysius was known to do when he was younger, is certainly not a prerequisite of a call to sainthood.
What I love most about our portrait of St. Aloysius, however, is his tenacity. His willingness to forsake worldly advantage for his love of God. He pleaded and persisted with his father for four years to join the Jesuit novitiate. He stubbornly requested to return to the plague-stricken hospitals served by his community after novices were forbidden because so many had contracted the disease. He ultimately met his end, there, too.
So what at first seemed like the resume of a young Catholic CEO, untouchable and fantastical, slowly resolved into something so much more human: a determined young man with a single-heartedness that must make Satan tremble. Possessing qualities not unlike the bulldog, the mascot of the university that bares his name, St. Aloysius Gonzaga is a model of tenacity oriented toward the Lord.
St. Aloysius does what all saints do: he shows us how very different and very human personalities can be trained and directed toward building the Kingdom of God.
Praised be Jesus Christ, our inspiration.