Thursday, May 21, 2020

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Confessor

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“Oh! how exceeding great is the glory of Aloysius, Son of Ignatius! Never could I have believed it, had not my Jesus shown it to me. Never could I have believed that such glory as that, was to be seen in heaven!” Thus cries out Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, whose memory we were celebrating a month ago: she is speaking in ecstasy. From the heights of Carmel, whence her ken may reach beyond the heavens, she reveals to earth the splendor wherewith the youthful hero of this day shines amidst the celestial phalanxes.

Yet short was the life of Aloysius, and it had offered nothing to the superficial gaze of a vast majority, save the preliminaries, so to say, of a career broken off in its flower, before bearing fruit of any kind. Ah! God does not account of things as men do; of very slight weight are their appreciations in his judgment! Even in the case of the saints themselves the mere fractional number of years, or brilliant deeds, goes far less to the filling up of a lifetime, in his view, than does love. The usefulness of a human existence ought surely to be measured, as a matter of fact, by the amount produced in it of what is lasting. Now beyond this present time charity remains alone fixed forever at that precise degree of growth attained during this life of passage. Little matters it, therefore, if without any long duration or any apparent works, one of God’s Elect have developed in himself a love as great or greater than some others have done, in the midst of many toils, be they never so holy and throughout a long career admired of men.

The illustrious Society that gave Aloysius Gonzaga to holy Church owes the sanctity of her members and the benedictions poured upon their works to the fidelity she has ever professed to this important truth, which throws so much light on the Christian life. From the very first age of her history, it would seem that our Lord Jesus, not content to allow her to assume his own blessed Name, has been lovingly determined so to arrange circumstances in her regard that she may never forget wherein it is her real strength lies, in the midst of the actively militant career which he has especially opened before her. The brilliant works of Saint Ignatius her founder, of Saint Francis Xavier, the apostle of the Indies, of Saint Francis Borgia, the noble conquest of Christ’s humility, manifested truly wondrous holiness in them, and to the eyes of all; but these works of theirs had no other spring nor basis than the hidden virtues of that other glorious triumvirate, in which, under the eye of God alone, by the sole strength of contemplative prayer, Saints Stanislaus Kostka, Aloysius Gonzaga, and John Berchmans, rose to such a degree of love, and consequently to the sanctity of their heroic fathers.

Again it is by Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, the depositary of the secrets of the Spouse, that this mystery is revealed to us. In the rapture during which the glory of Aloysius was displayed before her eyes, she thus continues, while still under the influence of the Holy Ghost: “Who could ever explain the value and the power of interior acts? The glory of Aloysius is so great, simply because he acted thus, interiorly. Between an interior act and that which is seen, there is no comparison possible. Aloysius, as long as he dwelt on earth, kept his eye attentively fixed on the Word; and this is just why he is so splendid. Aloysius was a hidden martyr; whosoever loveth Thee, my God, knoweth Thee to be so great, so infinitely amiable, that keen indeed is the martyrdom of such an one, to see clearly that he loves Thee not so much as he desireth to love Thee, and that Thou art not loved by Thy creatures, but art offended! … Thus he became a martyrdom unto himself. Oh! he did love, while on earth! Wherefore, now in heaven, he possesses God in a sovereign plenitude of love. While still mortal, he discharged his bow at the Heart of the Word; and now that he is in heaven, his arrows are all lodged in his own heart. For this communication of the Divinity which he merited by the arrows of his acts of love and of union with God, he now verily and indeed possesses and clasps forever.”

To love God, to allow His grace to turn our heart towards Infinite Beauty, which alone can fill it, such is then the true secret of highest perfection. Who can fail to see how this teaching of today’s feast answers to the end pursued by the Holy Ghost ever since his coming down, at our glorious Pentecost? This sweet and silent teaching was given by Aloysius, wheresoever he turned his steps, during his short career. Born to heaven in holy baptism, almost before he was born to earth, he was a very angel from his cradle; grace seemed to gush from him into those who bore him in their arms filling them with heavenly sentiments. At four years of age, he followed the marquess his father into the camps; and thus, some unconscious faults, which had not so much as tarnished his innocence, became for the rest of his life the object of a penitence that one would have thought rather beseemed some grievous sinner. He was but nine years old when, being taken to Florence, there to be perfected in the Italian language, he became the edification of the Court of duke Francis (it is of interest to recollect that Marie de Medicis, the future Queen of France, was at that time a child in the same court): but though the most brilliant in Italy, it failed to have any attraction for him, and rather served to detach him more decisively than ever from the world. During this period, likewise, at the feet of the miraculous picture of the Annunziata, he consecrated his virginity to Our Lady.

The Church herself, in the Breviary Lessons, will relate the other details of this sweet life, in which as is ever the case with souls fully docile to the Holy Ghost, heavenly piety never marred what was of duty in earthly things. It is just because he really was a model for all youth engaged in study that Aloysius has been proclaimed Protector thereof. Of a singularly quick intelligence, as faithful to work as to prayer in the midst of the gay turmoil of city life, he mastered all the sciences then exacted of one of his rank. Very intricate and ticklish negotiations of worldly interest were more than once confided to his management: and thus was opportunity afforded of realizing to what a high degree he might have excelled in government affairs. Here again, he comes forward as an example to such as have friends and relatives who would fain hold them back, when on the threshold of the religious state, under pretense of the “great good they may do in the world, and how much evil they may prevent.” Just as though the Most High must be contented with useless nonentities in that select portion of men he reserves to himself amidst nations; or, as though the aptitudes of the richest and most gifted natures may not be turned all the better, and all the more completely to God their very principle, precisely because they are the most perfect. On the other hand, neither State nor Church ever really loses anything by this fleeing to God, this apparent throwing away of the best subjects! If, in the old law, Jehovah showed himself jealous in having the very best of all kinds of goods offered at his altar, his intention was not to impoverish his people. Whether admitted or not, it is a certain fact that the chief strength of society, the fountain head of benediction and protection to the world, is always to be found in holocausts well pleasing to the Lord.

Aloysius, Ferdinandi Gonzagæ Castellionis Stiverorum Marchionis filius, festinato propter vitæ periculum baptismo, prius cœlo quam terris nasci visus, primam illam gratiam tam constanter retinuit, ut in ea confirmatus crederetur. A primo rationis usu, quo se Deo statim obtulit, vitam duxit quotidie sanctiorem. Novennis Florentiæ ante aram beatæ Virginis, quam parentis loco semper habuit, perpetuam virginitatem vovit: eamque, insigni Dei beneficio, nulla mentis aut corporis pugna tentatani servavit. Reliquas animi perturbationes cœpit ætate illa tam fortiter comprimere, ut ne primo quidem earum motu deinde incitaretur. Sensus etiam, oculos præcipue, ita cohibuit, ut non modo illos nunquam in faciem intenderit Mariæ Austriacæ, quam plures annos inter honorarios Hispaniarum principis ephebos fere quotidie salutavit; sed a matris etiam vultu contineret; homo propterea sine carne, aut angelus in carne merito appellatus.

Aloysius was son of Ferdinand Gonzaga, Marquess of Castiglione delle Stivere. He was so hurriedly baptized on account of danger, that he seemed to be born to heaven, almost before he was born to earth, and he so faithfully kept this his first grace, that he seemed to have been well nigh confirmed therein. From his first dawn of reason, which he used in offering himself to God, he led a life more holy day by day. At Florence, when he was nine years old, he made a vow of perpetual virginity, before the altar of the Blessed Virgin, upon whom he always looked as a Mother; and by a remarkable mercy from God, he kept this vow wholly and without the slightest impure temptation, either of body or of mind, during his whole life. As for any other perturbations of the soul, he began at that age to check them so sternly, that he was never more pricked by even their first movements. His senses, and especially his eyes, he so restrained, that he never once looked on the face of Mary of Austria, whom for several years he saluted almost every day, while he was page of honor, in the court of the king of Spain; and he used the same reserve with regard to the face of even his own mother: wherefore he might truly be called a man without flesh, or an angel in human flesh.

Adjecit sensuum custodiæ corporis cruciatum. Tria singulis hebdomadis jejunia, eaque plerumque modico pane et aqua tolerabat. Quanquam perpetuum fuisse per id tempus ipsius jejunium videre potest, cum ejus prandia ferme vix unciam sequarent. Sæpe etiam ter in die se funibus aut catenis cruentabat: flagella quandoque canum loris, cilicia equorum calcaribus supplevit. Mollem lectulum clam injectis asserum fragmentis asperabat, eo etiam ut citius ad orandum excitaretur. Magnam quippe noctis partem, summa etiam hieme, solo tectus indusio, positis humi genibus, vel præ languore jacens ac pronus, in cœlestium contemplatione traducebat. Interdiu quoque tres, quatuor, quinque horas in ea perstabat immotus; donee unam saltem animo nusquam distracto percurrisset. Cujus constantiæ præmium fuit stabilitas mentis inter orandum alio non vagantis, imo perpetua velut exstasi in Deo defixæ. Ei demum ut unice adhæreret, victo post triennale acerrimum certamen patre, et aviti principatus jure in fratrem translato, Societati Jesu, ad quam cœlesti voce Matriti fuerat accitus, Roma se adjunxit.

To this custody of the senses, he added the maceration of the body. He kept three days as fasts, in every week, and that mostly upon a little bread and water. But indeed, he, as it were, fasted every day, for he hardly ever took so much as an ounce weight of food at his meal. Often also, even thrice a day, he would, with cords or chains scourge himself to blood: sometimes he would supply the place of a discipline or hair shirt, by dog-thongs or his own spurs. He secretly strewed his soft bed with pieces of broken wood or potsherds, that he might find it easier to wake to pray. He passed great part of the night even in the depth of winter clad only in his shirt, either kneeling on the ground, or lying prostrate, when too weary to remain upright, occupied in heavenly contemplation. Sometimes he would keep himself thus immovable for three, four, or five hours, until he had spent at least one, without any distraction of mind. Such constancy obtained for him the reward of being able to keep his understanding quite concentrated in prayer without any wandering of mind, as though rapt in God, in unbroken ecstasy. In order that he might henceforth adhere to Him alone, having overcome the bitter resistance of his father, in a sharp contest of three years’ duration, and having procured the transfer of his right to the Marquessate unto his brother, he joined, at Rome, the Society of Jesus, to which he had been called by a voice from heaven, when he was at Madrid.

In tyrocinio ipso virtutum omnium magister haberi cœpit. Exactissima in eo erat legum etiam minimarum custodia, mundi contemptus singularis, implacabile odium sui: Dei vero amor tam ardens, ut corpus etiam sensim absumeret. Jussus propterea mentem a divinis rebus tantisper avertere, occurrentem sibi ubique Deum irrito conatu fugiebat. Mira etiam proximos charitate amplexus, in publicis, quibus alacriter ministrabat, nosocomiis, contagiosam luem traxit. Qua lente consumptus, die quem prædixerat, undecimo Kalendas Julii, ætatis anno quarto et vigesimo jam inchoato, cum antea flagellis cædi, atque humi stratus mori postulasset, migravit in cœlum. Ibi eum Sancta Maria Magdalena de Pazzis tanta frui gloria, Deo monstrante, vidit, quantam vix esse in cœlo credidisset; ipsumque sanctimonia insignem, et charitate martyrem incognitum fuisse prædicavit. Multis etiam, magnisque claruit miraculis. Quibus rite probatis, Benedictus Decimus tertius Sanctorum fastis angelicum juvenem adscripsit, atque innocentiæ et castitatis exemplar simul et patronum studiosæ præsertim juventuti dedit.

In his very novitiate, he began to be held as a master of all virtues. His obedience even to the most trifling rules was absolutely exact, his contempt of the world extraordinary, and his hatred of self implacable. His love of God was so ardent, that it gradually undermined his bodily strength. Being commanded, therefore, to divert his mind for a while from divine things, he struggled vainly to distract himself from Him Who met him everywhere. From tender love towards his neighbor, he joyfully ministered to the sick in the public hospitals, and in the exercise of this charity, he caught the contagion. Whereby, being slowly consumed, on the very day he had predicted, the eleventh of the Kalends of July, in the twenty-fourth year of his age, he departed to heaven, having previously begged to receive the discipline and to be placed upon the ground to die. What the glory is which he there enjoys, St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi was enabled by the revelation of God to behold; and she declared that it was such as she had hardly believed existed even in heaven, and that his holiness and love were so great that she could declare him to be a hidden Martyr. On earth, God glorified him by many miracles. These being duly proved, Benedict XIII inserted the name of this angelical youth in the Calendar of the Saints, and commended him to all young scholars, both as a pattern of innocence and of chastity, and as principal Patron.

Venerable old age is not that of long time, nor counted by the number of years: but the understanding of man is grey hairs; and a spotless life is old age. And therefore, Aloysius, thou dost hold a place of honor amidst the ancients of thy people! Glory be to the holy Society, in the midst whereof thou didst, in so short a space, fulfill a long course; obtain that she may ever continue to treasure, both for herself and others, the teaching that flows from thy life of innocency and love. Holiness is the one only thing when one’s career is ended, that can be called true again; and holiness is acquired from within. External works count with God only in as far as the interior breath that inspires them is pure; if occasion for exercising works be wanting, man can always supply that deficiency by drawing nigh unto the Lord, in the secret of his soul, as much and even more than he could have done by their means. Thus didst thou see and understand the question; and therefore, prayer, which held thee absorbed in its ineffable delights, succeeded in making thee equal to the very martyrs. What a priceless treasure was not prayer in thine eyes, what a heaven-lent boon, and one that is indeed in our reach too, just as it was in thine! But in order to find therein, as thou didst express it, “the shortcut to perfection,” perseverance is needed and a careful elimination from the soul, by a generous self-repression, of every emotion which is not of God. For how could muddy or troubled waters mirror forth the image of him who stands on their brink? Even so, a soul that is sullied, or a soul that without being quite a slave of passion, is not yet mistress of every earthly perturbation, can never reach the object of prayer, which is to reproduce within her the tranquil image of her God.

The reproduction of the one great model was perfect in thee; and hence it can be seen how nature (as regards what she has of good), far from losing or suffering, aught rather gains by this process of recasting in the divine crucible. Even in what touches the most legitimate affections, thou didst look at things no longer from the earthly point of view; but beholding all in God, far were the things of sense transcended, with all their deceptive feebleness, and wondrously did thy love grow in consequence! For instance, what could be more touching than thy sweet attentions, not only upon earth, but even from thy throne in heaven, for that admirable woman given thee by our Lord to be thine earthly mother? Where may tenderness be found equal to the affectionate effusions written to her by thee in that letter of a Saint to the mother of a Saint, which thou didst address to her shortly before thy quitting thine earthly pilgrimage? And still more, what exquisite delicacy thou didst evince, in making her the recipient of thy first miracle, worked after thine entrance into glory! Furthermore, the Holy Ghost, by setting thee on fire with the flame of divine charity, developed also within thee immense love for thy neighbor: necessarily so, because charity is essentially one; and well was this proved when thou wast seen sacrificing thy life so blithely for the sick and the pestiferous.

Cease not, O dearest Saint, to aid us in the midst of so many miseries; lend a kindly hand to each and all. Christian youth has a special claim upon thy patronage, for it is by the sovereign pontiff himself that this precious portion of the flock is gathered around thy throne. Direct their feeble steps along the right path, so often enticed as they are to turn into dangerous by-roads; be prayer and earnest toil, for God’s dear sake, their stay and safeguard; be they illumined in the serious matter before them of the choosing a state of life. We beseech thee, dearest Saint, exert strong influence over them during this most critical period of their opening years, so that they may truly experience all the potency of that fair privilege which is ever thine, of preserving in thy devout clients the angelical virtue! Yea, furthermore, Aloysius, look compassionately on those who have not imitated thine innocence, and obtain that they may yet follow thee in the example of thy penance; such is the petition of Holy Church this day!

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