Saint Aloysius Gonzaga is one of Holy Mother Church’s shining examples of a youth who maintained his innocence and purity throughout his twenty-three years of life as a member of the Church Militant on earth. I have had a particular devotion to this great lover of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in His Real Presence since 1956, the year I entered kindergarten at the school in the parish that had taken him for its patron in Great Neck, Long Island, New York. I owe Saint Aloysius Gonzaga so very much, for it was in the school that bore his name that I learned my Catholic Faith without any degree of compromise or dilution, It was in Saint Aloysius Church that I made my First Holy Communion on Saturday, May 30, 1959, and it was in that same church that the Most Reverend Walter P. Kellenberg, the founding Bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, confirmed me as a soldier in the Army of Christ when I received the Sacrament of Confirmation on March 21, 1961. Oh, yes, I owe Saint Aloysius so very much.
Saint Aloysius Gonzaga was born in 1568. He received his own First Holy Communion from the hands of Saint Charles Borromeo, then a curial cardinal who was doing theological battle with the forces of the Protestant Revolt. Saint Aloysius had from the start a pure and burning love for Our Lord in His Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Indeed, it is said that he had such burning fervor for Our Lord when receiving Holy Communion that his whole chest was aflame with a palpable, burning ardor. He was so aflame with ardor that he had to burst out of the doors of the church frequently after the reception of Holy Communion and throw himself into the fountain in the piazza in order to cool off his ardor.
A miserable, recidivist sinner such as yours truly cannot even imagine such ardor, the likes of which prompted a presbyter (although one with a very priestly bearing and countenance) on Long Island in 1986 to say in a sermon, “I am sure that this [Saint Aloysius’s burning ardor upon the reception of Holy Communion] is the very reason that many of you leave church immediately after receiving Holy Communion. You just have to throw yourself into your swimming pools.” Saint Aloysius thus teaches us first and foremost to recognize that our sins have damaged our immortal souls and that we need to recover some semblance of the purity of our own childhood in order to grow more fully in a pure and burning love for Our Lord that will result in greater intimacy with Him when we receive Holy Communion day after day. The Collect for Feast of Saint Aloysius in the Immemorial Mass of Tradition makes this very point:
“O God, among the gifts of heaven bestowed upon the angelic youth, Aloysius, you united a wondrous innocence to his exceptional spirit of penance. Although we have not followed his path of innocence, may we at least imitate his penance through his own merits and prayers.”
Saint Aloysius spent much time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, understanding that Eucharistic piety was a true foretaste of eternal glories. His time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament prepared him to see in others the very image and likeness of the One He loved with such innocence and purity. It was this pure love of Our Lord that moved him to reject the courtly privileges of the Gonzaga family and to join the Society of Jesus when he was seventeen years of age. He excelled in his theological studies, excelling even more in his service to the poor and the the forgotten, especially the little waifs of the Trastevere district in Rome to whom he taught and explained the basics of the catechism. It was his desire to serve the Christ in the poor and the sick and the suffering that brought him to the bedside of a patient who was dying from the plague, thereby exposing himself to the disease that killed him in short order.
Saint Aloysius did not fear exposing his mortal body to the dangers of a man dying from the plague. He understood that suffering and physical death, both of which are punishments for Original Sin, are not the most dangerous things for a human being. Exposure to the near occasions of sin was what could result in the eternal death of the soul. Far better to be exposed to the diseases of mortal flesh than to contaminate both body and soul by a lukewarmness of spirit and/or by the casual embrace of sin and sinful influences in the course of one’s daily life. Saint Aloysius teaches us to recognize that our souls must be kept free from the contagion of sin and error lest we die of the spiritual plagues of pride, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, sloth and greed and their permutations. His confessor, Saint Robert Bellarmine, believed that it was most certainly the case that Saint Aloysius had never committed a Mortal Sin in his entire life. It is possible for one to cooperate with the graces won for the many on the wood of the Holy Cross by the shedding of every single drop of the Divine Redeemer’s Most Precious Blood to scale the heights of personal sanctity so that he can gain he highest place in Heaven next to that of the Blessed Mother herself.
Saint Aloysius had four great devotions in his daily life: the first was, as mentioned before, to Our Lord in His Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Indeed, it is a special wonder in the Providence of God this year, 2009, that the feast of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga is commemorated secondarily today, the Third Sunday after Pentecost, within the Octave of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which beats for us which such love in the Eucharist.
The second of Saint Aloysius’ great devotions was to the Passion of Our Lord. He united all of his very intense sufferings to Our Lord’s Passion as he was dying from the effects of the plague. He wanted to conform his life to the standard of the Holy Cross at every moment of his existence.
The third of Saint Aloysius’s great devotions was to the Blessed Virgin Mary, of whom he never ceased to think or to plead for her motherly intercession.
Finally, the fourth great devotion of this most pure Jesuit saint was to the angels, whose glories he celebrated in what is believed to be the only writing of his that has survived him.
Even though he practiced these devotions with purity and fervor of spirit, Saint Aloysius asked Saint Robert Bellarmine if it was possible for a soul to go directly to Heaven without having to suffer in Purgatory. Saint Robert Bellarmine said that it was possible, thus inspiring Saint Aloysius to pray ceaselessly as he was dying from the plague, a malady that took his life around midnight at the end of the Octave Day of Corpus Christi, June 21, 1591.
Four hundred nineteen years have passed since his death. The brightness of his love for Our Lord in His Real Presence still illumines the path of those First Communicants, who are given Saint Aloysius as an example to imitate as they prepare to receive Our Lord for the first time in Holy Communion. How fitting it is that both Pope Benedict XIII and Pope Pius XI declared Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J., the patron of youth.
You see, all we need to do to turn back the plagues of sin and sinful influences that seek to besmirch and ensnare the young today is to teach them about saints such as Saint Aloysius Gonzaga and Saint Therese Lisieux and Saint Dominic Savio and Saint John Berchmans and Saint Stanislaus Kostka. There is no need at all for the evil of various “instruction programs” as to how to avoid sins of impurity. All a young Catholic needs is the good example of Saint Aloysius and Saint Therese and Saint Dominic Savio to prompt him or her to reject sin and to cooperate more fervently with the God’s grace as a consecrated slave of Our Lady’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart.
Although there are some, yes, even in fully traditional circles, who believe students do not have to pursue excellence as befits redeemed creatures, that they can be content with “average” efforts and live lives content with mediocrity as they overindulge in sporting activities and other recreations, Saint Aloysius teaches us to work hard at the pursuit of excellence in our studies no matter our abilities. We work hard as befits redeemed creatures to please God, Who has not created us to live “average” or “mediocre” lives. Although we are given different intellectual gifts, God expects each one of us to give Him our very best efforts, especially as we seek to sanctify our immortal souls as members of His true Church and as we endeavor to root out vice and sin from even our thoughts, no less our words and deeds, withdrawing more and more from the world and from a spirit of worldliness. The innocence and purity of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga teaches us to love God–Father, Son and Holy Ghost–with hearts that have been purified in the Baptismal font and regenerated again and again in the Sacred Tribunal of Penance, strengthened in love for God, Who is Love, by acts of voluntary mortification and penance, by lives of profound Eucharistic piety and deep, tender devotion to the Mother of God.
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., made this point about Saint Aloysius in The Liturgical Year:
Again, it is by Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, the depository of the secrets of the Spouse, that this mystery is revealed to us. In the rapture during which the glory of Aloysius was thus displayed before her eyes, she thus continues, while still under the influence of the Holy Ghost: ‘Who could ever explain the value and the power of interior acts? The glory of Aloysius is so great simply because he acted thus interiorly. Between an interior act and that which is seen, there is no comparison possible. Aloysius, as long as he dwelt on earth, kept his eye attentively fixed on the Word; and this is just why he is so splendid. Aloysius was a hidden martyr; whosoever love thee, my God, knoweth thee to be so great, so infinitely lovable, that keen indeed is the martyrdom of such a one, to see clearly that he loves thee not so much as he desireth to love thee, and that thou art not loved by thy creatures, but art offended! . . . Thus he became a martyrdom unto himself. Oh! did love while on earth! Wherefore now in heaven he possesses God in a sovereign plenitude of love. While still mortal, he discharged his bow at he heart of the Word; and now that he is heaven, his arrows are all lodged in his own heart. For this communication of the Divinity, which he merited by the arrows of his act of love and of union with God, he now verily and indeed possesses and clasps for ever’.
To love God, to allow his grace to turn our heart towards infinite Beauty, which allow can fill it, such is then the true secret of highest perfection. Who can fail to see how this teaching of to-day’s feast answers to the end pursued by the Holy Ghost ever since his coming down at our glorious Pentecost? This sweet and silent teaching was given by Aloysius, wheresoever he turned his steps, during his short career. Born to heaven, in holy Baptism, almost before he was born to earth, he was a very angel from his cradle; grace seemed to gush from him into those who bore him their arms, filling them with heavenly sentiments. At four years of age he followed the marquis his father into the camps; and thus some unconscious faults, which had not so much as tarnished his innocence, became for the rest of his life the object of a penitence that one would have thought beseemed some grievous sinner. He was but nine years old when, being taken to Florence, there to be perfected in the Italian language, he became the edification of the court of duke Francis: but though the most brilliant in Italy, it failed to have any attraction for him, and rather served to detach him more decisively than ever from the world. During this period, likewise, at the feet of the miraculous picture of the Annunziata, he consecrated his virginity to our Lady.
The Church herself, in the Breviary Lessons, will relate the other details of that sweet life, in which, as is ever the case with souls fully docile to the Holy Ghost, heavenly piety never marred what was of duty in earthly things. It is because he was a true model for all youth engaged in study, that Aloysius has been proclaimed their protector. Of a singularly quick intelligence, a faithful to work as to prayer in the gay turmoil of city life, he mastered all the sciences then exacted of one of his rank. Very intricate negotiations of worldly interest were more than once confided to his management: and thus was an opportunity afforded of realizing to what a high degree he might have excelled in government affairs. Here, again, he comes forward as an example to such as have friends and relatives who would fain hold them back, when on the threshold of the religious state, under pretence of the great good they may do in the world, and how much evil they may prevent. Just as though the Most High must be contented with useless nonentities in that select portion of men He reserves to himself amidst nations; or, as though the aptitudes of the richest and most gifted natures may not be turned all the better and all the more completely to God, their very principle, precisely because they are the most perfect. On the other hand, neither the State nor Church ever really loses anything by this fleeing to God, this apparent throwing away of the best subjects! If, in the old law, Jehovah showed himself jealous in having the very best of all kinds of goods offered at his altar, his intention was not to impoverish his people. Whether admitted or not, it is a certain fact that the chief strength of society, the fountain-head of benediction and protection to the world, is always to be found in holocausts well-pleasing to the Lord. (Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, Volume XII: Time After Pentecost: Book III, pp. 193-195.)
May we always instruct our children to be likewise diligent in their studies for love of God, never content with mediocrity or sloth at any time for any reason whatsoever. It takes hard work to get home to Heaven, and we are to work hard in our state-in-life, yes, even if we are children. Playtime is wonderful. We are not made by God to play all of the time, worse yet to be possessed of the Americanist spirit of anti-intellectualism that loathes study as being somehow an “interference” with “fun stuff.” This is the path to Hell, not Heaven. Saint Aloysius shows us how to get to Heaven! Where do you want your children to go?
Dom Gueranger wrote this beautiful prayer to Saint Aloysius, found in The Liturgical Year:
“Venerable old age is not that of long time, nor counted by the number of years: but the understanding of man is grey hairs; and a spotless life is old age.” (Wisdom 4: 8-9) And therefore, Aloysius, thou dost hold a place of honour amidst the ancients of they people! Glory be to the holy Society in the midst whereof thou didst, in so short a space, fulfill a long course; obtain that she may ever continue to treasure, both for herself and others, the teaching that flows that thy life of innocence and love. Holiness is the one only thing, when life is ended, that can be called a true gain; and holiness is acquired from within. External works count with God, only in as far as the interior breath that inspires them is pure; if occasion for exercising works be wanting, man can easily always supply the deficiency by drawing nigh unto the Lord, in the secrecy of his soul, as much as, and even more than, he could have done by their means. Thus didst thou see and understand the question; and therefore prayer, which held thee absorbed in its ineffable delights, succeeded in making thee equal to the very martyrs. What a priceless treasure was prayer in thine eyes, what a heaven-lent boon, and one that is indeed in our reach, too, just as it was in thine! But in order to find therein, as thou didst express it, ‘the short cut to perfection,’ perseverance is needed and a careful elimination from the soul, by a generous self-repression, of every emotion which is not of God. For how could muddy or troubled waters mirror forth the image of him who stands on their brink? Even so, a soul that is sullied, or a soul that without being quite a slave of passion is not yet mistress of every earthly perturbation, can never reach the object of prayer, which is to reproduced within her the tranquil image of her God.
The reproduction of the one great model was perfect in thee; and hence it can be seen how nature (as regards what she has of good), far from losing or suffering aught, rather gains by this process of recasting in the divine crucible. Even in what touches the most legitimate affections, thou didst look at things no loner form the earthly point of view; but beholding all in God, far were the things of sense transcended, with all their deceptive feebleness, and wondrously did thy love grow in consequence! For instance, what could be more touching than thy sweet attentions, not only upon earth, but even from thy throne in heaven, for that admirable woman given thee by our Lord to be thine earthly mother? Where may tenderness be found equal to the affection effusions written to her by thee in that letter of a saint to the mother of a saint, which thou didst address to her shortly before quitting thine earthly pilgrimage? And still more, what exquisite delicacy thou didst evince, in making her the recipient of thy first miracle, worked after thine entrance into glory! Furthermore, the Holy Ghost, by setting thee on fire with the flame of divine charity, developed also within thee immense love for thy neighbour: necessarily so because charity is essentially one; and well was this proved when thou wast seen sacrificing thy life so blithely for the sock and the plague-stricken.
Cease not, O dearest saint, to aid us in the midst of so many miseries; lend a kindly hand to each and all. Christian youth has a special claim upon they patronage, for it is by the Sovereign Pontiff himself that this precious portion of the flock is gathered around thy throne. Direct their feeble steps along the right path, so often enticed to turn into dangerous by-roads; may prayer and earnest toil, for God’s dear sake, be their stay and safeguard; may they be enlightened in the serious matter before them of choosing a state of life. We beseech thee, dearest saint, exert strong influence over them during this most critical period of their opening years, so that they may truly experience all the potency of that fair privilege which is ever thine, of preserving in thy devout clients the angelical virtue! Yea, furthermore, Aloysius, look compassionately on those who have not imitated thine innocence, and obtain that they may yet follow thee in the example of thy penance; such is the petition of holy Church this day.
We pray, therefore, to Saint Aloysius on this day, June 21, so that those of us who may have been been impure in thought, word and deed in the past might become serious about the pursuit of holiness and embrace with joy the cross of penance and humiliation as the true pathway to making our souls as white as they were when we wore white suits and white ties and white shoes and white socks and white shirts (or white dresses and white veils) at the time we received our First Holy Communion. May Saint Aloysius, a pure lover of the Eucharist, help us to spend many hidden hours in prayer before the tabernacle, keeping company with Our Lady and all of the angels and saints, including Saint Aloysius himself, as we pray as many Rosaries each day as our states-in-life permit.
This prayer, composed by Saint Aloysius himself is one that we ought to pray every single day of our lives:
O holy Mary, my Mistress,
into thy blessed trust
And special keeping,
into the bosom of thy tender
Mercy, this day, every day of my life
and at the hour of my death,
I commend my soul and body; to thee
I entrust all my hopes and
All my trials and miseries, my life and
the end of my life, that through thy most
Holy intercession and thy merits,
all my actions may be ordered and
To thy will and that of thy divine Son.
Vivat Christus Rex! Viva Cristo Rey!
Litany to Saint Aloysius (for private use only)
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of heaven, Have mercy on us.
God, the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Ghost, the Sanctifier, Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, Have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, Pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, Pray for us.
Holy Virgin of virgins, Pray for us.
Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Pray for us.
Beloved child of Christ, Pray for us.
Delight of the Blessed Virgin, Pray for us.
Most chaste youth, Pray for us.
Angelic youth, Pray for us.
Most humble youth, Pray for us.
Model of young students, Pray for us.
Despiser of riches, Pray for us.
Enemy of vanities, Pray for us.
Scorner of honors, Pray for us.
Honor of princes, Pray for us.
Jewel of the nobility, Pray for us.
Flower of innocence, Pray for us.
Ornament of a religious state, Pray for us.
Mirror of mortification, Pray for us.
Mirror of perfect obedience, Pray for us.
Lover of evangelical poverty, Pray for us.
Most affectionately devout, Pray for us.
Most zealous observer of rules, Pray for us.
Desirous of the salvation of souls, Pray for us.
Perpetual adorer of the Holy Eucharist, Pray for us.
Particular client of Saint Ignatius, Pray for us.
Be merciful: Spare us, O Lord. Be merciful: Hear us, O Lord.
From the concupiscence of the eyes: O Lord, deliver us.
From the concupiscence of the flesh: O Lord, deliver us.
From the pride of life: O Lord, deliver us.
Through the merits and intercessions of St. Aloysius: O Lord, deliver us.
Through his angelic purity: O Lord, deliver us.
Through his sanctity and glory: O Lord, deliver us.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world: Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world: Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world: Have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
R. Christ, graciously hear us.
V. Pray for us, Saint Aloysius:
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray:
O Blessed Aloysius! adorned with Angelic graces, I, thy most unworthy servant, recommend especially to thee the chastity of my soul and body, praying thee, by thy angelic purity, to plead for me with Jesus Christ the Immaculate Lamb, and His most holy Mother, Virgin of virgins, that they would vouchsafe to keep me from all grievous sin. O never let me be defiled with any stain against my chastity; but when thou dost see me in temptation, or in danger of falling, then remove far from me all bad thoughts and wicked desires; and awaken in me the memory of an eternity to come, and of Jesus crucified. Impress deeply in my heart a sense of the holy fear of God, and thus kindling in me the fire of thy divine love, enable me so to follow thy footsteps here on earth, that in heaven with thee, I may be made worthy to enjoy the sight of our God forever. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Pray one Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be.
Statue of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Saint Aloysius Church, Great Neck, New York, November 24, 2007.