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!
to the writer of this reflection.
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