Saints and Sinners: It’s Every Catholic’s Vocation To Be Mistreated in the Church
Have members of the Church wronged you in some way? If so, you have a patron, St. Alphonsus Ligouri.
Many of us are mad at the Church: Over liturgy, politics, COVID policies, or personal matters. People I know who work for the Church — including ordained and religious — have to fight a constant battle against resentment over one situation or another. Most of them have a really good point. They never should have been treated the way they were treated.
I always tell them the same thing: “It’s every Catholic’s vocation to be mistreated in the Church.”
It’s not right, and it’s not pretty, but it’s pretty consistent: St. Thomas Aquinas’ works were suppressed by the Church, St. John of the Cross was imprisoned by his religious superiors, Joan of Arc was even burned at the stake with the okay of bishops.
When I can, I bring up the amazing witnesses I know personally: One suffered sexual abuse and kept her faith. Others served the Church despite discovering years of work had been devoted to a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
How can this be? Isn’t the Church the “one, holy” Church? Yes, definitely.
But every member of the Church down through the ages, from Peter the first pope all the way to you and me, is sinful – terribly sinful, even. So of course our Church, filled with sinners, is a place where people get hurt.
Perhaps the true patron saint of mistreatment by Church leaders is St. Alphonsus Ligouri.
Long before he was canonized, long before he was made the patron of moral theologians, long before he was given the rare high honor of “Doctor of the Church,” the prolific author and founder of the Redemptorists lived in unending persecution by Church leaders.
In 1726 he was ordained in Naples, and for the next two years worked with a group that tried to forge a Catholic path between two extremes of the time: rigid Jansenists and slack Renaissance enthusiasts. But his group was denounced by Church leaders, and since the Church and state often acted in tandem, members were arrested.
St. Alphonsus learned more about prayer in this circumstance than he ever would have otherwise. “Speak to God often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears — of everything that concerns you.,” he would say. “For God is not going to speak to a soul that does not speak to him.”
An archbishop finally intervened to help St. Alphonsus. But just as often, bishops were part of the problem.
A powerful marquis spent decades thwarting Ligouri’s plans to found a congregation, and an archbishop sent Ligouri far away.
St. Alphonsus did great things in his new position, and would say, “If they found out it was God’s will, it would be the greatest delight of the seraphs to pile up sand on the seashore or to pull weeds in a garden for all eternity.”
He was eventually made a bishop and said “Those who are seeking the true religion will never find it outside the Catholic Church,” because, despite its members, Christ is its foundation, its sacraments, and its goal.
The crowning defeat came at the end of Ligouri’s life.
St. Alphonsus became sick and crippled in his seventies and asked to be allowed to resign his bishopric. Two popes refused before Pope Pius VI finally gave him his rest. But then, a bishop and priest tricked him into signing an altered version of his rule.
“You have founded the congregation and now you have destroyed it,” his confreres told him.
“I never thought I could be deceived by you,” St. Alphonsus told his betrayer, then burst into tears.
It was the hardest test of his maxim “A soul who loves Jesus Christ desires to be treated the way Christ was treated — poor, despised and humiliated.”
So — what should you do when you suffer persecution from the very people who should be helping your good work?
St. Alphonsus did not simply suffer silently. He wrote: “At present the Church is not persecuted by idolaters, or by heretics, but she is persecuted by scandalous Christians, who are her own children.”
But he didn’t dwell on resentment and bitterness and left us great advice.
First: Focus on doing good. “The past is no longer yours; the future is not yet in your power. You have only the present wherein to do good,” he said.
Second: Focus on God’s presence everywhere, not the sins of his representatives: “When we see a beautiful object, a beautiful garden, or a beautiful flower, let us think that there we behold a ray of the infinite beauty of God, who has given existence to that object.”
Above all, pray. “Were you to ask what are the means of overcoming temptations, I would answer: The first means is prayer; the second is prayer; the third is prayer; and should you ask me a thousand times, I would repeat the same,” he said.
St. Alphonsus, pray for us! We need the grace you had to face trials in the Church.
This appeared at Aleteia.