Thought for the Day – 21 June – The Memorial of St Aloysius de Gonzaga S.J. (1568-1591)
Aloysius also volunteered to work at the local hospital. On closer inspection, this was heroic of him since he was very sensitive to disgusting sores and odors. He strove to conquer his inborn squeamishness and attend to the most repulsive cases. A fellow novice, Decio Striverio, remembers approaching a particularly loathsome patient, full of bleeding sores. Aloysius turned completely pale as they approached but as if summoning some hidden strength, his colour returned and he approached the victim as if he were Christ Himself. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did it for Me.” (Mt. 25:40)
Aloysius worked first at the overcrowded hospital of St Sixtus. He traversed the streets of Rome and carried the ill on his back to the hospital; when there, he undressed and washed the victims, gave them fresh clothing, placed them in a bed and fed them. However, the Jesuit superiors took alarm, as some of the novices started dying. They assigned Aloysius to the hospital of Santa Maria di Consolazione, reserved for non-contagious patients.
While assisting at this hospital, he lifted an unknowingly infected man out of his bed, tended his needs and returned him to his bed. Unfortunately, this act of charity cost Aloysius his life. He received the diagnosis of infection on 3 March 1591, and died on 21 June 1591. He was 23 years old. In a letter addressed to his mother shortly before his death, he wrote, “Our parting will not be for long; we shall see each other again in heaven; we shall be united with our Saviour; there we shall praise Him with heart and soul, sing of His mercies forever, and enjoy eternal happiness.”
Aloysius’ patronage extends foremost over the youth. Thus, artists have made the effort to emphasise his angelic purity, as a role model for chastity. While undoubtedly commendable, the realisation of this virtue in pictorial form often results in a caricature. There is a fine line between heroic purity and honey-dripping effeminacy, at least in artistic terms. Interestingly, St Aloysius is also the patron of AIDS patients and caregivers, due to his compassionate care and ultimate infection of an incurable disease. In the final analysis, the sugarcoated holy card depiction of St Aloysius is misleading, as he possessed ferocious will power. Moreover, one can easily absolve his youthful quirkiness before entering the Jesuits, in light of his large-hearted compassion revealed in the end….(Reference – The Life of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Patron of Christian Youth by Maurice Meschler, S.J.)
Aloysius seems an unlikely patron of youth, in a society where asceticism is confined, to training camps of football teams and boxers and sexual permissiveness has little left to permit. Can an overweight, sin-soaked and air-conditioned society deprive itself of anything? It will, when it discovers a reason, as Aloysius did. The motivation for letting God purify us is the experience of God loving us in prayer. Prayer is our most urgent work!