Monday, October 31, 2005

Notes on the Memorial of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez.

Today the Society of Jesus remembers St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, a Spanish widower who entered the Jesuits as a brother at age 37 and spent nearly five decades as porter at the Jesuit Colegio de MontesiĆ³n in Palma, Mallorca. Rodriguez's main responsibilities as porter were to watch the door and greet visitors, but the saintly brother achieved greater renown for the practical and spiritual advice he provided to scores of students and fellow Jesuits. Among the beneficiaries of Rodriguez's companionship and counsel was a young Jesuit scholastic named Peter Claver; for more on the relationship between these two Jesuit saints, see this September post.

It's worth pointing out that the Alphonsus Rodriguez we remember today is one of at least three remarkable Jesuits who bore the same name. One of the other two was a martyr of the Paraguayan missions; to the possible confusion of many presiders and homilists, that Alphonsus Rodriguez has also been canonized and is remembered with his companions and fellow martyrs Juan del Castillo and Roque Gonzalez de Santa Cruz on November 16th. Yet another Jesuit named Alphonsus Rodriguez won a place in the Society's history as author of a three-volume treatise on ascetical theology entitled The Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues, which was required reading for all Jesuit novices until the time of the Second Vatican Council. Known popularly by the name of its author and not by its title, "Rodriguez" laid out specific ascetical principles and then illustrated them with examples, a good many of which were distilled from The Lives of the Desert Fathers. Whenever I ask older Jesuits about "Rodriguez," I either hear that it was awful reading ("you should thank God you've been spared Rodriguez," one told me) or that it was riotously funny, many of the author's examples having aged badly. Unlike his eponymous companions and despite his influence on many generations of Jesuit novices, the author of The Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues has not been raised to the honors of the altar.

Getting back to the saint of the day, I would be remiss if I didn't include Gerard Manley Hopkins' famous poem on Alphonsus Rodriguez in this post. Believe it or not, I'd never encountered this bit of Hopkins before I entered the novitiate. I owe a special debt of gratitude to my brother novice Ben Krause, who introduced me to the following poem several months ago.
In honour of Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez, laybrother of the Society of Jesus.

Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic beast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hustle then from fiercest fray.

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alonso watched the door.
'Nuff said. AMDG.


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