Thought for the Day – 31 October – The Memorial of St Alphonsus Rodriguez SJ (1532-1617)
Tragedy and challenge beset today’s saint early in life but Alphonsus Rodriguez found happiness and contentment, through simple service and prayer.
Born in Spain in 1533, Alphonsus inherited the family textile business at 23. Within the space of three years, his wife, daughter and mother died. Meanwhile, business was poor. Alphonsus stepped back and reassessed his life . He sold the business and, with his young son, moved into his sister’s home. There he learned the discipline of prayer and meditation.
At the death of his son years later, Alphonsus, almost 40 by then, sought to join the Jesuits. He was not helped by his poor education. He applied twice before being admitted. For 45 years he served as doorkeeper at the Jesuits’ college in Majorca. When not at his post, he was almost always at prayer, though he often encountered difficulties and temptations.
His holiness and prayerfulness attracted many to him, including Saint Peter Claver, then a Jesuit seminarian. Alphonsus died in 1617. He is the patron saint of Majorca.
We like to think that God rewards the good, even in this life. But Alphonsus knew business losses, painful bereavement and periods when God seemed very distant. None of his suffering made him withdraw into a shell of self-pity or bitterness. Rather, he reached out to others who lived with pain, including enslaved Africans. Among the many notables at his funeral were the sick and poor people whose lives he had touched. May they find such a friend in us!
Alphonsus’ life as doorkeeper may have been humdrum but centuries later he caught the attention of poet and fellow-Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins, who made him the subject of one of his most famous poems.
Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.
Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; Who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by, of world without event
That in Majorca, Alfonso watched the door.
Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ (1844-1889),
in honour of Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez SJ (1532-1617)