Letter of admonition by St. Alphonsus de Liguori
July 25, 2021 • 25 min
To the Fathers and Brothers of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.
Important recommendations in regard to the observance of the Rules, the study of theology, and other different points of religious discipline which constitute the practice of perfection.
Live Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Teresa!
I beg all of you, my Brethren in Jesus Christ, before you hear this letter read, to say the Veni, Creator Spiritus, and to ask of God the light well to understand and to put in execution what in the name of Jesus Christ I write to all and to each one in particular. My Fathers and my Brothers: It is not yet two-and-twenty years since the beginning of the Congregation, and it is five years since it was approved by the Holy Church; so that at this moment it should not only have maintained its first fervor, but should moreover have increased it. Many, it is true, are behaving well; but in others, instead of advancement, there is a want of spirit. What will become of these, I know not; for God has called us into the Congregation (especially now at its beginning) to become saints, and to save ourselves as saints. As for him who wishes simply to save his soul in the Congregation, but not to become a saint, I know not whether he will be saved at all.
Poor Congregation if this want of spirit spreads among us! What will it be fifty years hence? One should have to weep and say, Poor Jesus Christ! if he be not loved by a member of the Congregation, who has received from him so many special lights, by whom will he be loved? My God, of what use are so many Communions? and why have we entered the Congregation, and for what purpose do we remain in it, if we are not endeavoring to become saints? Is it to deceive the people, who regard all of us as saints, and to make them laugh at us on the day of judgment when they will know our imperfections?
We have now many good novices, but they and others that come after, will through our example, be worse than we are; and in a short time the Congregation will become thoroughly relaxed, because imperfections will give place to scandals; and if this is to happen, far better will it be, my Brethren, that we pray the Lord to suppress the Congregation at once.
I am already old and in bad health, and am already drawing nigh to the day of account. I desire to be of as much service to you as I can; and God knows how much I love each one of you, more than my brothers and my mother: but it is not the will of God that I should endanger my eternal salvation through love (but an inordinate love) of any of you. We are all miserable creatures, and we all commit faults, but I am not pained by passing faults, but by those that are permanent, and by certain weaknesses that do harm to the whole Community. If any one would with his eyes open espouse such faults as these, and defend them, or at least excuse them as endurable, I, for my part, declare that I cannot, and ought not to tolerate them. Such would be, for example, faults either against obedience or against poverty, against humility or fraternal charity. I hope, by the grace of God, to maintain this resolution to my death, and faithfully to act upon it, as I have promised God never to allow myself to be overcome by human respect, so as to see the brethren fail in things important and prejudicial to the others without correcting them. You are already aware that perhaps my weakest point is to be too indulgent; but I hope that God will give me firmness not to bear with the imperfect who will not correct themselves and who defend their imperfections; and I beseech you who are young, and who remain to govern the Congregation, never to tolerate a subject who should be so imperfect as not to humble himself after a fault, but should even defend it. I protest that on the day of judgment I will accuse before the tribunal of Jesus Christ the Superior who, in order to avoid causing pain to a subject, shuts his eyes to faults that do harm to the Community, and is the cause of the Congregation being relaxed. With regard, however, to the past, if there be any one who has been guilty of some fault, I do not intend now to reproach him with it; I speak only for the future.
But to come now to certain special points, I beg each one to pay attention to the following remarks:
First, then, I beg of each one to value his vocation. It is the greatest blessing, next to that of creation and redemption, which God could bestow on him. Thank Almighty God every day for it, and be afraid of losing it. Do not be deceived by the enemy of souls, who will perhaps say that you could do good even out of the Congregation, at home, and would enjoy greater peace out of it. And what good? Nemo propheta acceptus in patria sua. [No prophet is accepted in his own country.—Luke, iv. 24.] Every one knows this, and experience proves it. A priest will save more souls in one year in the Congregation than in his whole life out of it. And to speak of personal advantage, a member of the Congregation will gain more by practising obedience for one year than he would gain in ten by living according to his own fancy out of the Congregation. And besides, we have to do the good that God wishes of us, and not that which we wish ourselves. Now God wills of him who is called to the Congregation that good and those labors that are imposed upon him by the Rule and by his Superiors. Peace, indeed; what kind of peace? Quis restitit ei, et pacem habebit? [Who hath resisted him, and hath had peace?—Job, ix. 4.] We see it, my Brethren, in those who have abandoned the Congregation. What kind of peace will God give to those faithless ones who, out of some caprice, and for want of mortification, lose their vocation, and turn their backs upon the will of God? And especially when they come to die, how shall they find peace, when they remember that they are dying out of the Congregation? I will not say more on this point, because now every one already well understands it. But the evil is, that in the moment of temptation we are blind, and the loss of vocation is not considered an evil. I call attention to this: let no one think to frighten us by saying that he wishes to leave. Thanks be to God, the Congregation has at the present moment many good subjects, and at the same time every day you see there come to us young men full of fervor and talent; for the good name of the Congregation is spread throughout the kingdom, and even out of it; and it is believed that there is great fervor and perfection in the Congregation (would to God that only half were true!): and thus the good subjects will remain with us, to give missions and retreats. And even were we obliged to give fewer missions, it will always be better to keep up the spirit of regular observance with a few subjects, than to see the Congregation become relaxed. Those few that go on conscientiously will please God more than a thousand that lead imperfect lives. So, then, to sum up this point, unhappy he that loses his vocation! And, by the way, I renew for each one the formal obedience that I have given at other times—not to leave the Congregation without having first obtained my express permission, together with the dispensation from the vows and oath of perseverance, unless this has been already obtained from the Sovereign Pontiff.
Secondly, I beg each one to obey and to make no resistance to the commands of the local Superiors. If a subject has some difficulty, he is allowed to make it known; but then I beg him to make up his mind to obey before he makes his representation, should the latter not be entertained. So resolved, let him go and explain his difficulty, whatever it may be; otherwise, if he does not act thus, he will remain disquieted, should his difficulty not be admitted; and, being disquieted, the devil will gain much with him. Father de la Colombière made a vow always to go against his own will. Should any one not have the courage to do so much (and I do not exact this), at least he ought to be careful on all occasions to mortify his self-will, which is the ruin of souls. Speaking of obediences which are difficult (for there is no great merit in those that are easy), St. Catharine of Bologna says that we should perform them without murmuring exteriorly; for instance, by complaining of the food, clothing, or the manner of acting of Superiors, which latter is a great fault; and also without interior murmuring, for this also disturbs the soul.
I beg in a special manner of each one not to wish to change his house without evident necessity; and even should the necessity be evident, I nevertheless beg him, before he makes his request, to resign himself entirely to the judgment of his Superior, should the latter take a different view of his case. And for my own part, I declare that I will not grant this to any one without a plain necessity; for to act otherwise might become the source of much disquietude to the subjects.
Thirdly, I beg of all not to complain one to another of what the local Superiors do. To do so may be a cause of great temptation both to themselves and to the others.
Fourthly, I beg each one to ask of Jesus Christ his holy love, otherwise all the good purposes will be of but little profit. And in order to obtain this holy love, let us strive to have a great love for the Passion of Jesus Christ, by praying and making a little meditation on it during the day, and when it is possible by making the Way of the Cross. Jesus Christ is surely much pleased when we think of the sorrows and the scorn that he endured for us. It seems to me impossible for one that thinks often of his sorrows and of his Passion not to become full of love for Jesus Christ. I pray both present and future Superiors often to insist at the Chapters on the love of Jesus Christ and of his Passion. There is nothing on which we insist in the missions more than on this love for the Passion of Jesus Christ. What a shame, then, for one of us to be found on the day of judgment to have loved Jesus Christ less than some poor woman!
And therefore I beg each one to love his cell, and not to become dissipated by wandering about here and there during the day. Let us husband our time, in order to spend it in prayer, in visits to the Most Holy Sacrament, which we have in the midst of us for this very purpose, and also in study, because this too is absolutely necessary for us. Hence I recommend to those that are confessors the study of Moral Theology; and I beg them not to follow blindly the opinions of certain theologians, without having first considered the intrinsic reasons for them, and especially those opinions which, as may be seen in the second edition of my work [on Moral Theology], I no longer allow to be probable. This I say, and the probabilists say it likewise, that every confessor is bound to consider first, in each case, whether there be an intrinsic reason capable of convincing, for thus the contrary opinion becomes improbable. It is only when we are not convinced by such a reason that we can avail ourselves of an extrinsic probability: probabilitas extrinseca. Pay attention to this point; for I fear that some in the Congregation make serious mistakes in this matter. And remark that in my second book I ordinarily admit only those opinions to be probable that I expressly call probable. I do not pretend that my opinions must necessarily be followed; but I beg that before you reject them you read the book, and consider what I have written with so much labor, inquiry, and study. Now I did not undertake this labor, my Brethren, for others, or to acquire a reputation; if I had only wished to gain a passing applause, I should have willingly done much less. God knows the tediousness and the trouble that it has caused me. I have done it solely for you, my Brethren, in order that you might have a solid doctrine to follow, or at least might act after reflection. I confess that at first many opinions seemed to me well-founded, but afterwards I saw that they were improbable. Wherefore, I beg all the confessors as well as the students to read my book, for I wrote it for this end; and then let them follow the opinions that seem to them the best before God. Among improbable opinions I include especially that which holds that a candidate for ordination who is in the habit of grievous sin may be absolved, although he may have the disposition sufficient for receiving the sacrament of penance; whereas for such a one positive virtue is not fitting merely, as some falsely suppose, but is necessary, not on account of the other sacrament that he is about to receive—because for this the state of grace would be sufficient—but on account of that exalted state upon which he enters. For such a state a high degree of virtue is absolutely necessary, since the Canonists and Doctors commonly say with St. Thomas, that such virtue prœexigitur, requiritur, necessaria est: words that imply a real necessity and not a fitness; and the reason is, because a candidate for Holy Orders, both on account of the dignity of the state which he embraces, and of the most holy ministry which he has to exercise, must possess that positive virtue, which implies not merely an exemption from mortal sin, but the possession of a degree of virtue acquired by the previous practice of virtuous acts. Formerly I myself defended the contrary opinion; but afterwards I came to see that it was most improbable, and therefore I have retracted it.
Fifthly, and lastly, I recommend to the Superiors, both present and future, the observance of the Rules. This observance is in their hands. The Rector Major is far away: if the local Rector does not attend to it, the Rector Major cannot remedy what is amiss; and therefore it is necessary for the Superiors not merely to preach this observance, but to be the first to practise it. That which is seen makes far more impression than that which is heard. At the same time I recommend to the Superiors charity towards the subjects, in consoling them in their temptations, and in endeavoring to assist them in their necessities as far as possible, and by inquiring expressly (in the account of conscience) if there be anything of which they are in want. I recommend, above all, the monthly account of conscience, if possible the first Monday of the month; and when it cannot be made or finished the first Monday, let it be on the second. I especially recommend attention and charity to the sick, in visiting them and providing them as far as possible with the necessary remedies, and in asking them if they are in want of anything; and if this or that be not compatible with poverty, at least in consoling them as much as possible. I also recommend the Superiors to correct in private; for public corrections do but little good, except in the case where the fault was public, for then the correction does good to the others; but even here it is better first to correct the subject in private, and afterwards publicly.
So much for the Superiors. As to the subjects, I beg them never again to say that the Congregation is not so strict as it was, and that the primitive observance is relaxed. Even if on account of the increased number of subjects more faults are committed, nevertheless each one should endeavor to correct himself, and to live in observance of the Rule; and let him understand that the non-observant, who will not correct themselves, will not be tolerated in the Congregation. Hence, when any one commits a fault, let him at once humble himself interiorly, if the fault was interior, and exteriorly, by accusing himself of it, if the fault was exterior; and on falling into any fault, let him at once make the purpose of amendment. If any one has some grievance against one of his brethren or against his Superior, let him try to take no step while in the heat of passion; let him first become calm, recommending himself to God; and then if he think it necessary, let him act, or let him speak or write to the Superior. For the love of Jesus Christ, I beg you to pay attention to this point. Oh, if this were observed, how many faults would be avoided! because in the heat of passion things appear very different from what they really are. And on this account I also beg the Superiors not to correct when they are under the influence of anger, but to wait until the mind becomes calm, otherwise they will always be falling into excess, and their corrections will avail but little.
I recommend as strongly as I can detachment from relatives, who are certainly, as Jesus Christ says, the greatest enemies of our perfection. Let every one be on his guard not even to mention the word stima propria [honor] in the Congregation; the greatest honor that a member of the Congregation should desire is to love obedience, and to be despised, and to be thought little of. This was the desire of the saints, to be despised as Jesus Christ was despised. He who does not make up his mind to become a saint cannot persevere in the Congregation; Jesus Christ himself, who loves exceedingly this Congregation, will drive him out. It is not the will of God that the first stones of this his own building should be so weak as to be not only unable to encourage and to give good example to those that shall come after us, but even to give little edification to those that are in it at present. Let each one well understand this. I recommend also the love of poverty, and beg all to take notice that faults against these two virtues—poverty and obedience—are not, and cannot be, tolerated in the Congregation; for if the practice of these two virtues fail, the spirit of the Congregation is wholly destroyed and at an end.
I again protest that what I have now written—just as it came into my mind—is not against any one in particular, but in general for all, and rather for the future than for the past. And I moreover beg all of you, after hearing this letter, not to suppose that I have any ill-feeling towards any who in past time may have committed some fault. I declare that as Jesus Christ has forgotten the faults of those who have humbled themselves for them, so also do I forget them. And let each understand that when any one has the misfortune to fall into a fault, if he will only heartily humble himself for it, he may be sure that I will heartily forgive him; and even by his humiliation he will make himself more dear to me than before. I say this in order that no one may lose courage, if by chance he should ever fall into some fault. But, on the other hand, let all guard against committing faults—even the smallest—with open eyes; because the devil is wont to make use of such faults as these to lead us into more serious ones, and then to tempt us to lose our vocation; and by this snare the devil is able to drive more than one out of the Congregation.
Lastly, be assured, my Brethren, that I love each one of you, after God, as my only love on this earth; and I offer for each of you, from this moment, my blood and my life: for you who are young may do much for the glory of God: but as for me, who am old, and ill, and useless, what more service can I render? And therefore I beg each one, if he is at a distance, to write to me whenever he has the need, and to banish the idea, which the devil has been making use of to disquiet me and others, that he will annoy me by speaking or writing to me. Be sure the more one shows me this confidence, the more he binds me to him; and remember that where there is question of consoling one of my brethren and children, I leave everything. I consider it of greater importance to help one of my children than to do any other good work; and God demands this of me in my office more than anything else.
To conclude, then, my Brethren; let us—in what remains of our lives, little or much, we know not (within a short time have died three of our young men: Muscarelli, Blasucci, and Zabbatti, and Father Paul [Cafaro], whose health was that of a young man)—let us, I say, become saints; and let us love Jesus Christ very much, for he deserves to be loved, and especially by us, whom he has loved more than others. Let us love a God who died for the love of us. Let us enliven our faith, and remember that we have but a few days to live on this earth, and that eternity is awaiting us. We preach these truths to others, and indeed they are truths of faith. So, then, we have no longer to live for ourselves or for the world, but only for God, only for eternity, and in order to become saints. And therefore let us continually offer ourselves to Jesus Christ, that he may do with us what he pleases; and let us continually beg of the most holy Mary to obtain for us the great treasure of the love of Jesus Christ. And when the devil tempts us against our vocation—and this is his great business with each one of us—let us recommend ourselves to this Mother of perseverance, and we shall certainly not lose our vocation.
I bless and embrace you all in the Heart of Jesus Christ, that having loved him exceedingly on this earth, we may all be one day united in loving him in our heavenly home. Let us not lose the beautiful crown that I see prepared for every one that lives in observance, and dies in the Congregation.
Live Jesus, Mary, Joseph, St. Francis Xavier, and St. Teresa!
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