Uncle Eddy's E-mail -- September 19
Saint Alphonsus de Orozco, (entered heaven this day in 1591)
I am consistently amazed at man’s capacity for cruelty. Today my guards got into a fight. A new young man was just assigned to join the three old stand-bys. As soon as he arrived I overhead the veterans laughing loudly – they had spread a thin layer of honey on the poor rookie’s chair, so the first time he tried to get up, the chair came with him. He laughed with them that time, but not the next time. You see, it turns out that the new recruit is the son of some high level commandant. When the old grunts got wind of that, they began a real persecution of the kid, and the kid got mad. It exploded into an out-and-out brawl, and I wouldn’t doubt if blood was spilled… But it’s like that everywhere, isn’t it? Making fun of new kids in school, ostracizing the kid in the dorm who doesn’t fit in, mocking the unglamorous professor… Whenever I think of our penchant for cruelty and for ganging up, I am consoled only by the thought of all my nieces and nephews, like yourself, who are striving to bring true, universal charity to college culture, much as today’s saint did for the royal courts of 16th century Spain.
Alphonsus was a college student himself when he felt the call to serve God 24/7. He joined the Augustinians and professed his vows to the great St Thomas of Villanova. Soon his talents as a preacher were recognized, and he was assigned responsibilities that took advantage of them. But he was restless. He wanted to become a martyr, so he asked to go the Mexican missions. He was granted the permission, but he fell deathly ill when his ship stopped at the Canary Islands, and the doctors wouldn’t let him continue. Back to Spain he went, sad but trusting that God had some other plans for him.
He continued his exemplary religious life, his duties as a superior, and his ministry of preaching, until the Emperor, Charles V, requested that he come serve as the court preacher. It was easy to do, seeing as the court then resided in Valladolid, the same city as his convent. But he was so appreciated, that when the court moved to Madrid, he was asked (more like ordered) to come along. There he had to live in a non-Augustinian convent, and follow his rule on his own. But he stayed faithful, continued to serve the royal leaders of the Spanish Empire, and found time for much more charitable action as well.
Even though he was preacher to the King and was now receiving a stipend, he renounced all privileges and continued living as a humble friar in obedience to his superiors. He exemplified austere poverty, taking only one daily meal and sleeping no more than three hours, which he considered sufficient for the tasks of the coming day. He used a table for his bed and some cut vines for his pillow. His room had just one chair, a candle, a broom and some books. By choice, the room was near the convent door so he could better serve the poor who used to come begging for his help. Without neglecting his daily attendance in choir for prayer and his preaching duties, he used to visit the sick in hospitals, the prisoners in the jails, and the poor in the streets and in their homes. He spent his days in prayer, in writing his books and preparing his sermons. And in spite of having to hobnob with the bluebloods, he never contaminated his charity with partiality. Thus, he was a favorite among members of every social class. (Personages of society and culture were witnesses in his process for canonization, such as the Princess Isabel Clara Eugenia, the Dukes of Alba and of Lerma, the writer Lope de Vega, Francisco de Quevedo and González Dávila.) His fame spread throughout Madrid, and the people there used to call him, much to his displeasure, the “saint of Saint Philip's” (that was the name of the convent where he lived). They loved him for his gentle sensitivity and his sincere kindness in treating everyone – without distinction – like Christ.
If you and your Catholic companions can do the same there on campus, someday I’ll be writing about you in these emails. May that day come quickly!
Your devoted uncle, Eddy
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