In a message for the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of Saint Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori as Doctor of the Church, Francis wants to see moral theology ask questions such as: “Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister who you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging?”
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis today sent a message to the Rev Fr Michael Brehl, C.Ss.R., Superior General of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists) and Moderator General of the Alphonsianum Academy on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of Saint Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori as a Doctor of the Church.
In his message, the pontiff writes that Saint Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori teaches not to set evangelical radicality against human weakness; instead, he notes that one must “always” find a path that does not turn away, one that brings hearts closer to God, going out to meet those who are most fragile to fight the power of the strongest whereby human being are seen as means to an end.
For Pope Francis, “Saint Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori, patron of confessors and moralists,” was a “model for the whole of the outbound missionary Church, [who] still vigorously indicates the high road for bringing consciences to the welcoming face of the Father, since ‘the salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy’ (EG 112).”
“The Alphonsian theological approach,” writes Francis, “was born from listening to and accepting the weaknesses of the men and women who were most abandoned spiritually. [. . .] The missionary experience in the existential peripheries of his time, the search for those far away and listening to confessions, the founding and guidance of the nascent Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, and in addition the responsibilities as bishop of a particular Church, led him to become a father and maser of mercy, certain that ‘God’s paradise is the heart of man’.
“In theological disputes, preferring reason to authority, he did not stop at the theoretical formulation of principles, but rather allowed himself to be interrogated by life itself. Advocate of the least, the frail and those discarded by the society of his time, he defended the rights of all, especially the most abandoned and the poor. This approach led him to the final decision to place himself at the service of consciences that sought, even amid a thousand difficulties, the right thing to do, faithful to God’s call to holiness.”
“Based on the example of Alphonsus, I invite moral theologians, missionaries and confessors to enter into a living relationship with the people of God, and to look at existence from their angle, to understand the real difficulties they encounter and to help heal wounds, because only true fraternity is ‘capable of seeing the sacred grandeur of our neighbour, of finding God in every human being, of tolerating the nuisances of life in common by clinging to the love of God, of opening the heart to divine love and seeking the happiness of others just as their heavenly Father does’ (EG 92).
“True to the Gospel, may Christian moral teaching called to proclaim, deepen and teach, always be a response to ‘the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others’ (EG 39).”
Moral theology, the Pope stressed, has “priority” not only to reflect on the formulation of principles, but must also take charge of reality. “It is necessary for knowledge to become practice through listening to and receiving the least, the frail and those regarded as rejects by society.”
“Like Saint Alphonsus, we are called to go towards the people as an apostolic community that follows the Redeemer among the abandoned. This reaching out to those without spiritual aid helps to overcome the individualistic ethos and to promote a moral maturity capable of choosing the true good. By forming responsible and merciful consciences we will have an adult Church capable of responding constructively to social fragilities, in view of the kingdom of heaven.”
“In these times, society is facing countless challenges: the pandemic and work in the post-Covid world, the care that is to be guaranteed to all, the defence of life, input from artificial intelligence, the protection of creation, the anti-democratic threat, and the urgency of brotherhood. Woe to us if, in this evangelising effort, we were to separate ‘the cry of the poor’ from ‘the cry of the earth’.
“I invite you,” Francis warns, “to follow the example of the Holy Doctor and to approach seriously, at the level of moral theology, ‘the cry of God who asks us all: ‘Where is your brother?’ (Gen 4: 9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister who you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labour?’ (EG 211).
“Faced with epochal changes such as the present one, there is a real risk of making the rights of the strong dominant, forgetting those most in need.
“The formation of consciences for good seems to be an indispensable goal for every Christian. Giving space to consciences - the place where God's voice resounds - so that they can carry out their personal discernment in the reality of life (cf. AL 37) is a formative task to which we must remain faithful.”