Feast day: June 21 Canonization: 1726 Patron of plague victims, purity, and chastity
Aloysius de Gonzaga was barely 23 and a seminarian when he died caring for plague victims in Rome. But the 16thcentury Jesuit’s holiness was evident even as a young child – he immersed in serious prayer, taught catechism, and fasted regularly.
An aristocrat and eldest of seven, he grew up in northern Italy. His father, a Marquis nobleman, planned for Aloysius to become a soldier
While a teenager serving at a Florence court, Aloysius became seriously ill. Like St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits), Aloysius was radically transformed during convalescence as he studied lives of the saints.
Over his father’s objections (but to his mother’s delight), he joined the Society of Jesus in 1585, with St. Robert Bellarmine as his spiritual advisor. In 1591 while studying theology for ordination, a plague broke out in Rome. Aloysius contracted it while caring for a hospitalized plague patient.
Before taking his last breath on June 21, 1591, Aloysius’ eyes were fixed on a crucifix he held. He succumbed while pronouncing the Holy Name of Jesus, on the octave day of Corpus Christi.
We study to see truth, and Truth Himself declared to us, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8). Only when our heart, our conscience, and our will are pure, free from the distractions of temptation and the stains of sin, can our intellects gaze clearly upon truth. Prudence is the virtue that guides the moral virtues of temperance, fortitude, and justice, but it also depends on them. It is through the exercise of virtues such as self-control and courage that we can discipline our minds to focus on what is truly important and then act to achieve it. Moral virtue strengthens and sharpens our powers of understanding so that they may better “penetrate into the heart of things.” We will not achieve the heights of intellectual virtue, of knowing the true in the manner of St. Thomas, without at the same time climbing and growing in the moral virtue of striving to seek only what is truly good.
St. Thomas was well aware of how temptations toward sexual impurity and other bodily sins can draw our hearts and minds away from the things that matter most. In writing about the “daughters” of the vice of acedia (or spiritual sloth) he declared, echoing the philosopher Aristotle, that “those who find no joy in spiritual pleasures have recourse to pleasures of the body.”
Indeed, when Thomas as a young man had dedicated his life to preaching and teaching Christ’s Gospel as a member of the new, humble Dominican Order, his biological brothers were so outraged that they captured him on the road to Paris and took him back to the family’s castle. There, his brothers explicitly endeavored to remove his mind from spiritual things through a powerful temptation to bodily pleasure. They introduced a beautiful young courtesan into his room, whereupon Thomas brandished a log from the fireplace and chased her out the door, making a sign of the cross on the door with the firebrand when he slammed it shut behind her! Pious legend reports that angels then came to his aid and gave him a girdle of chastity, whereupon he was never again tempted by sensual bodily pleasures, as he immersed himself totally in the joys of the intellect and the spirit.
…St. Thomas suggests that we turn our attention to the “universals” that only we humans can grasp through our God-given intellects. … St. Thomas was especially adept at practicing temperance because of his focus on the very highest of universals, the divine things of God.
…Regardless of the nature or intensity of our temptations, we also have access to the grace of God, the ultimate remedy for the bodily yearnings that pull us away from contemplation and spiritual joys.
Excerpt by Kevin Vost, Psy.D., from his latest book How to Think Like Aquinas: The Sure Way to Perfect Your Mental Powers (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 2018), from Chapter Two, “The Power of Pure Prayer,” pp. 23-26.
KEVIN VOST, PSY.D. has taught psychology and gerontology at Aquinas College (Nashville), the University of Illinois at Springfield, MacMurray College, and Lincoln Land Community College. He is author of over a dozen books, has appeared on hundreds of Catholic radio and TV broadcasts, and travels internationally giving talks on the subjects of his work.
In these days of turmoil within the Roman Catholic Church – on whether longtime doctrine should stand, or priests should remain celibate, or obedience should extend to certain apostate shepherds, or select traditions should be “relaxed” or set aside – there’s a simple but often overlooked reality in the Holy Family.
“When the Son of God came into the world on Christmas night, He surrounded His Incarnation with the aura of chastity,” the late Fr. John Hardon stated. “His mother, He made sure, would miraculously conceive Him without carnal intercourse. She would be a virgin before birth, in birth, and after birth.” He made sure He was brought up in the virginal family of Mary and Joseph. St. Joseph, Christ’s foster father, was legitimately wed to Mary, yet remained her “most chaste spouse” throughout their marriage. We even recite those words in the Litany to St. Joseph.
Christ was a virgin during His stay on earth, and He never married. During His public life, He showed special affection for pure souls, especially John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, “the beloved Apostle.”
Huh? What a square notion in today’s sexually corrupt culture. I’ve heard ‘progressive’ priests and deacons try to mitigate truths on the Holy Family and others in the Gospels and Scriptures, in homilies and parish classes, as if they were embarrassed by them. That stirs confusion and weakens faith for sure.
Church history shows there is a clear connection between upholding the traditional states of virginity and celibacy among priests, and purity of doctrine. Priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes are our ‘teaching doctors’ of the Church. If they violate the vows of their vocation, flaunt decadence, or spread disavowing opinions, they in essence become unclean in their doctrine and lose holy credibility before us all.
Surprisingly in the 16th century, it was the great unwillingness of so many priests to remain celibate that tilted the pressure in favor of Protestantism – the mortal split from Catholicism that divided the flock. Though there were other issues as well that splintered Catholic unity, the central issue was really priestly celibacy.
And what value is there in Catholic priests remaining celibate?
If a priest is to be like Christ – in persona Christi
–if he is to realistically represent the Savior, be an authentic teacher to the people, administer sacraments and counsel in Confession, and offer pure sacrifice at Mass, isn’t it fitting that he, like his Master, should remain virtuously aligned with God – in and out of season? Celibacy isn’t a ‘choice’ or something a priest simply endures. It is a gift from God – a charism – for men called to Holy Orders, in perfect imitation of the life and ministry of Christ.
Christ Himself endorsed priestly celibacy, saying that there are “…those who make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom,” and He added that “not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given” (Mt 19:12).
Celibacy is a great gift to Christ’s chosen priests, one worth preserving for the High Priest and His kingdom.
CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.