|Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga,
Second Corinthians 11:1-11
Psalms 111:1-2, 3-4, 7-8
Patron saint of youth, AIDS patients, and AIDS care-givers, Aloysius [Luigi] Gonzaga was born in 1568, into a noble family, near Rome, just 12 years after the death of Ignatius of Loyola.
Since he was his father's eldest son, his early years were spent being trained to be the heir to his father's nobility. He was moved from one royal social setting to another. He contracted malaria as a young child and was weakened by this early illness. Perhaps because of this taste of weakness, certainly through the grace of God, young Luigi began to question the lifestyle and values that came with the wealth and honors of the world around him. He regarded it as a temptation - he felt its attraction and how it might corrupt him - so he prayed hard, and even did penance in order to remain free.
Luigi saw in the Society of Jesus - the Jesuits - a spirituality and a lifestyle that attracted him. His father at first refused to approve his entrance into the Society, but reluctanly agreed. In the Society, Luigi learned that he didn't need severe penance to turn from temptation. He gave himself to learning to be in a relationship with Jesus and to give himself to study, to prepare for the priesthood. As he was beginning his theology studies, a terrible dispute broke out in his family, and he was sent home to resolve the feud.
When Luigi returned to Rome, to complete his studies before ordination, the terrible harvest of the past year had set the stage for the bubonic plague to ravage Rome. The superior of the Jesuits set up a hospital in Rome to care for plague victims. Luigi immediately requested to be assigned to work with the sick. For the first time in his life, Luigi felt he had come to what he was called to be his whole life - totally with Jesus in giving himself for those most in need.
In time, Luigi became infected and was bed-ridden, suffering with terrible bed sores. In his last days, he held a crucifix in his hands, keeping his eyes fixed on Jesus who died for him. He died on the morning of June 21st, at the age of 23 years old, holding that cross. His last word was the name "Jesus."
Luigi, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J., is a fitting patron for all of us who struggle to resist the riches, honors, and pride of our world. He is an example of how our growing relationship with Jesus will always lead us to care for the poor that Jesus has such a special care for. He is a wonderful model for any young man who might consider entering the Jesuits, as a way of life. And, he is a very wonderful support for those of us who have cared for the sick, for loved ones, especially a loved one with AIDS. Finally, he is an incredible witness for all of us as we prepare for our own death - with our eyes fixed on Jesus.
On this day on which we remember that Jesus taught his disciples to pray the "Our Father," I imagine that Luigi's freedom and fidelity were shaped by Ignatius' prayer for generosity:
Lord, Jesus, teach me to be generous.
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