All founders of new religious institutes undergo severe trials as the community root’s are established but none can seem to top the anguish of today’s saint, St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), bishop and founder of the Redemptorists (Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer).
To put it briefly, St. Alphonsus was tricked, due to his old age, infirmities and trust in his advisors, into signing a modified rule which eliminated or changed the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and perseverance. When he learned the truth of what he had signed, he wept bitter tears. Pope Pius VI, believing in Alphonsus’ complicity, ordered Alphonsus at age 86 to be expelled from his own congregation.
Ironically, Alphonsus was beatified by the same pope, an investigation having cleared Alphonsus’ good name. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1781 and is acclaimed as one of the Church’s greatest Moral and Marian theologians. In art, he is often depicted hunched over because he suffered from severe rheumatism. His congregation flourished after this death and today they number over 5000 priests and brothers around the globe who bring the Good News to the abandoned poor.
He appropriately said, “Persecutions are to the works of God what the frosts of winter are to plants. Far from destroying them, they allow them to strike their roots deeper in soil and make them more full of life. What really injures religious orders and brings the plant to decay like a worm gnawing at the root are voluntary sins and shortcomings. So let us put an end to these imperfections, let us correct ourselves, and God will protect us. The more violently persecution rages, the more closely must we become attached to Jesus Christ.”