Pope Benedict XVI praised the 18th-century Italian St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori for reminding Christians of the key to heaven: prayer.
“St. Alphonsus reminds us that the relationship with God is essential in life and that only with a daily personal prayer and participation in the sacraments can the Divine presence that directs, illuminates and makes safe and peaceful our path, even in the midst of difficulties and dangers, grow in us,” said the Pope during his general audience address Aug. 1.
Speaking to thousands of pilgrims gathered in the town of Castel Gandolfo’s main square, the Pope marked today’s feast day of St. Alphonsus by meditating on what the founder of the Redemptorist order had to say about the importance of prayer.
It is “a means necessary to salvation and the graces we need to achieve it,” Alphonsus wrote in his 1759 treatise Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection.
“This sentence synthesizes Alphonsian understanding of prayer,” said the Pope. “St. Alphonsus wanted us to understand that in every situation of life we need to pray, especially in times of trial and difficulty.”
Therefore, we “must always knock at the door of the Lord with confidence” and never be afraid “to turn to him with confidence and to submit to our petitions, in the certainty of receiving what we need.”
St. Alphonsus was born into a noble family on the outskirts of Naples in southern Italy in 1696. He initially pursued a successful career as a lawyer, but he gave it up to enter the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in 1723; he was ordained to the priesthood three years later.
In 1732, St. Alphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, or Redemptorists, as they are also known. He died in 1787 at the age of 90. His canonization followed in 1839, courtesy of Pope Gregory XVI. Pope Pius IX proclaimed him a doctor of the Church in 1871.
Pope Benedict suggested that the enduring popularity of St. Alphonsus is due to his “simply, straightforward style” and his teaching on the sacrament of reconciliation.
“In a time of great rigor, the result of the influence of Jansenism, he recommended confessors to administer this sacrament expressing the joyful embrace of God the Father, who in his infinite mercy never ceases to welcome every repentant son,” said the Pope.
He also recalled how the saint proposed that “health and all the grace we need” are what is truly required in life, meaning: “not only the health of the body, but primarily that of the soul, which Jesus gifts to us.”
It is this “liberating presence” of Christ that “makes us truly fully human, and thus our existence full of joy” can only be achieved through prayer, said the Pope.
To illustrate this need for prayer, St. Alphonsus would often give the example of St. Philip Neri, who, “from the first moment when he woke in the morning, said to God: 'My God, beware of Philip; otherwise, he will betray you.'”
It is “only through prayer,” said the Pope, that we can accept the grace of Christ, “which, by illuminating us in every situation, helps us discern the truth, and, by fortifying us, renders our will capable of implementing what we know to be good."