Daily Reflection
August 1st, 2008

Roc O'Connor, S.J.

Rector and Campus Ministry
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Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Alphonsus Ligouri, the founder of the Redemptorist order. Did you know that Pope Pius XII named his as patron of moral theologians (back in 1950)? One of the stories I read about him indicated that he preached against the rigidly rigorist approach of Jansenism, seeking to help souls by outlining a more moderate path when making moral decisions.

What a contrast! But, hark: Our saint rather pales in the face of Jeremiah’s powerfully prophetic announcement to the people of Judah to “fish or cut bait!” What are we to make of this? Is Alphonsus a moral wimp?

Here are two thoughts. First, I see the purpose of prophetic language to wake people up. It’s like getting hit with a bucket of ice-cold water when you’re asleep. Suddenly, you’re awake! “What was that!!!” Once awake, people can respond to the prophetic Word with anger (as in the reading) or with repentance (the preferred response!).

At the same time, I’d submit that the goal of prophetic speech is NOT to make us feel guilty. (I’m Irish so I know a thing or two about guilt!) That’s a knee-jerk reaction that many of us have that is actually quite self-serving. It maintains the stance of, “It’s all about me!” Rather than responding with shock at being wakened, we stay asleep and massage our egos.

It seems to me that what Alphonsus came to realize was this: moral rigorism leads more to the kind of guilt response that never produces moral transformation. I think he saw that both clear notions about morality PLUS a healthy sense of God’s welcoming sinners was the better equation for helping Christians grow more directly as disciples of Christ.

Happy feast day! And a special shout out to my youngest sister, Karen, whose birthday is today. Happy Birthday, Karen! Love ya!

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