What this world needs is authentic heroes and heroines! (Sounds like a political campaign slogan!). But if I WAS running for office that would be a plank in my platform! The role models that are held up today for young people, and people not so young, are found on television or in film. When I use the word “authentic” I mean real flesh-and-blood men and women who have lived heroic lives – lives of heroic virtue.
We don’t have to look too far for such role models. We knew and heard the voice of the Servant of God, John Paul the Great; we experienced his great wisdom, his smile and his courage as he faced the debilitating effects of old age and Parkinson’s Disease. Perhaps even some of us had the great privilege of touching his hand. And then there is Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, a woman of great courage who lived among the poorest of the poor and served them untiringly until her generous heart stopped beating. I think too of Saint Gianna Mola who gave up her life rather than abort her unborn daughter, a daughter who today is a physician just like her mother was. What media personage today can stand up to that kind of courage?
This week in the Church’s liturgy we have honored and celebrated other flesh-and-blood heroes – St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Eusebius of Vercelli and on Saturday, St. John Vianney known as the Cure of Ars. St. Ignatius was a soldier, the commander of other soldiers, whose military career was cut short by a cannonball that tore through his leg. During his recuperation he read books about Chivalry and books about Jesus. He noticed that after reading a book about daring and romantic heroes he was often restless. But after reading books about Jesus he was filled with peace that lasted a long time. Gradually his heart was converted, and what he noticed about his reactions to these themes led gradually to the formulation of his famous Spiritual Exercises.
St. Alphonsus was a brilliant lawyer who walked away from his career because he was dissatisfied and longed for more in his life. As he struggled with the question of what he should do, he began to pray intently. He developed a deep love for the Person of Jesus and his Mother, Mary. Along with this came a new appreciation of the meaning of "redemption." Journeying outside the familiar environment of his home city, he came in contact with the "hill people" in the interior of the country, who lived in dismal poverty. What shocked Alphonsus was that they were abandoned even spiritually. As a result, many of them lived without faith and without hope. Alphonsus became convinced of the need for a new missionary thrust, which would concentrate on bringing the "good news of redemption” to the poor and abandoned. He shared his dream with a few close friends. In 1732, in the hill town of Scala, near Amalfi, Italy, he gathered some companions who were willing to dedicate themselves to this mission. This was the beginning of what became a worldwide community of priests and brothers, the "Missionary Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer” or the Redemptorists. (see http://www.vice-provincerichmond.org/st-alphonsus.htm)
In the Church’s Office of Readings for St. Alphonsus’ feast (August 1), we read a beautiful passage from one of his sermons: ‘”Has not God in fact won for himself a claim on all our love? From all eternity he has loved us. And it is in this vein that he speaks to us: 'O my child, consider carefully that I first loved you. You had not yet appeared in the light of day, nor did the world yet exist, but already I loved you. From all eternity I have loved you.' ”
What a beautiful encouragement for each one of us! I’ll bet we never hear such things on Oprah!