Take and read
As I recover from a wee illness I have found myself thoughtful about many things. I made a decision to retire from writing for Redemptorist Publications in the UK, after twenty years of writing homilies for the Living Word series. It is time to step aside and to let some other young gun take to the floor and write words of power and encouragement for others to read. I have thoroughly enjoyed these years of writing and I am very grateful to my confreres in the Redemptorists for the opportunity afforded me to do so.
In quiet days of recovery I looked around my bookshelves for something that would grab my attention and absorb me while my body regains full health. Tolle et lege. Take up and read. I found it hard to see anything that really engaged my attention or my enthusiasm, until I saw again sitting quietly on a top shelf a life of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists, written by the Irish historian, Frederick Jones CSsR.
I had read this book a few years ago and now I want to read it again and slowly, even out loud. Alphonsus Liguori was a closed book to me in my early days as a Redemptorist. It was only in 1980 that I came to know something of him, when a confrere asked me to read Alphonsus’ book on preaching, and to prepare a talk for a summer school.
I sat in a quiet parish in Manchester that summer and read with increasing delight and fascination the immense dynamic of this Neapolitan priest. Now as I read again about Alphonsus Liguori I realise just how much I loved the Redemptorists, the body of men I had joined. I grew up in the Redemptorists, and despite the mistake of being encouraged away from home at too early an age – the issue that came back to be addressed in my later years – I have never felt any kind of break or rejection of my Redemptorist past. It lasted for 41 years, from the age of 11 until I was 52.
I left the Redemptorists and the priesthood a calm and happy man, after years of struggle, but as one article in this ACP website described me, I am a married Redemptorist. Indeed I am now a widowed Redemptorist.
In his biography of Liguori Father Jones gives us a quote of Alphonsus himself, who said, If biographers of the saints would write of their defects as well as of their virtues, their biographies would be more voluminous. This Neapolitan saint, so often thought of as too pious and devotional, was in fact as ardent a person as you will ever find. He wrote every day, studies and sermons and letters by the score. He was fully involved in the life of his times, and his love of people was unbounded. And he had his faults like we all do. Life is not perfect, but our lives can be brilliant all the same.
I often wondered what happened to all the priests and brothers and sisters who left years ago. Their going would look like desertion when in fact it was a search for life. Having travelled the same road myself now, I am grateful for the continuity I found in my life and work.
I now see the long line of my own life as one unbroken story. Many twists and turns, heights and troughs, but no severance from that main road that we all walk, the journey into holiness of life. So as I settle down to recover my health I turn once more to a great inspirer of my days, that amazing, complex and incredibly moving man, Alphonsus Liguori. He can be my companion in these quiet days and bring me again to the joy of my health.