On Tuesday past we celebrated the feast of St Alphonsus, the founder of the Redemptorists. Obviously, this is always a very significant day for our Redemptorist community, and a day when we annually renew our vows together. On Thursday, Fr Sean Wales preached at Novena on the significance of the feast for all of us, and I felt that I should share it with you for this week’s reflection. If follows below:
“On Tuesday of this week we celebrated the feast of St Alphonsus, our founder. If there is one thing he bequeathed to us Redemptorists and through us to all who come to know us, it is a warm devotion to Mary, Mother of the Redeemer.
As you know, we received the Icon of Perpetual Help 79 years after Alphonsus’ death; but the spirituality that goes with the Icon fits into the spiritual path of Alphonsus himself. We see this harmony in our Redemptorist Rule:
Let us take the Blessed Virgin as our model and helper. For she went on her pilgrim way in faith, and embraced with her whole heart the saving will of God. She dedicated herself completely as a handmaid of the Lord to the person of her Son and to his work, and thus served the mystery of redemption. Indeed, she still serves it, as the perpetual help of God’s people in Christ. Therefore, let us relate to her as a mother with all the love and veneration we owe her as sons. (C.32)
But Alphonsus knew human nature very well, because he knew himself, He knew how prone we are to slide into a mediocrity and a tepidity which saps our zeal and our love for God, for the Church, for Mary, for the Mission. So Alphonsus did not neglect this tendency in his writings. I want to share his way of dealing with mediocrity and tepidity.
In his analysis of this spiritual condition Alphonsus first notes that a sure sign of becoming lukewarm is making little account of what he called venial sins. “It’s only a venial sin…..it doesn’t matter so much”. This is the beginning of the slide into mediocrity. I can vouch for the accuracy of this analysis!
More important for us tonight is what Alphonsus proposes as a way out of this quagmire. He highlights four steps:
1 In the first place, it is necessary to have a firm desire to get out of this state:
We are often invited to explore our deepest desires, to find God buried deep within us, even though we may for the most part take little notice of this desire. I am reminded of the question Jesus put to the man at the Pool of Bethzatha who had been sick for 38 years “Do you want to be well again?”. We may have been suffering from one form or other of mediocrity for over 38 years! Maybe we have grown comfortable with our tepid condition.
2 Secondly let us try to find out our predominant fault:
Here we touch on the critical question of self-reflection and self-knowledge. Can we identify the causes of our mediocrity. If we never examine our conscience or never review the way our life is going, it is hard to pin-point why we end up bored and unhappy. St Alphonsus would have us examine our conscience/life every night before going to bed.
3 Thirdly we must avoid wherever possible the occasion, otherwise all our resolutions will fall to the ground.
St Alphonsus was very insistent on “resolutions”. At the end of every meditation he recommends making one little resolution and with that, avoiding the occasions where we know we are weak and likely to forget or ignore our resolutions. The ancient Greeks coined the phrase ” KNOW THYSELF”: there is great wisdom in that advice.
4 Lastly, we must above all be distrustful of our own strength and pray continually with all confidence to God begging Him to help us.
In other words, the only way to escape mediocrity is with God’s help. Genuine conversion is the work of God; it is all God’s gift, not our achievement. All we can do is dispose ourselves to receive this gift, to ask for it, to welcome it when it is given and to share it as best we can.
Alphonsus certainly received this gift, he welcomed it and he continues to share it with us through his writings. The one thing he never tired of repeating and with which he concludes these Rules for Avoiding Tepidity is:
Those who pray obtain. this is a promise of God and can never fail. Therefore, we must always pray, always pray, and never leave off repeating “My God, help me, and soon!”.
Through the intercession of Mary, our Mother and our Perpetual Help, we too pray: My God, help me, and soon!”
Fr Gerard, CSsR