St. Aloysius Gonzaga!
By Fr. Heyrman S.J.
(1568 – 1592)
1. In the year 1585 Luigi, the eldest son of the Marquess of Gonzaga, formally renounced his hereditary rights in favour of his younger brother Rudolfo, and entered the Society of Jesus. A painter has represented the scene in the following manner: in the foreground the two brothers stand facing each other in sharp contrast: Luigi wearing a black cassock and holding a crucifix in one hand, gives the hereditary crown to Rudolfo, a smart and attractive lad, dressed in gold brocade and beaming with joy. On a table lies the deed of cession, freshly signed and covered with heavy seals. In the background is the Marchioness, with the younger children, all bathed in tears. Call this theatrical, if you like; it is certainly a striking representation of two directly opposed conceptions of life, on which we may meditate with profit.
2. Petition: The grace that God, “the Giver of heavenly things,” may enlighten us about the wonderful power of divine love, which inflamed the soul of St. Aloysius.
I. Renouncing the World
In the Epistle of today’s Mass we read: “Blessed is the man, who lives, for all his wealth, unreproved, who has no greed for gold and puts no trust in his store of riches. Show us such man and we shall be loved in his praise … He kept clear of sin, when sinful ways were easy; did no wrong, when wrong lay in his power” (Ecclus. 31:8-11) (Translation of Knox).
One of those so blessed was Aloysius: he was heir to great wealth and was at home in several of the princely courts of Italy; as a lad of nine he had been sent by his father to the court of the Medici at Florence, there to be trained in the most refined manners of high society. Later on, he resided at the courts of Mantua and Madrid. Like other children he played, and sang, and danced; but we know that, already at Florence, he had taken a vow of perpetual virginity. At a very early age he discovered what corruption lay hidden, even in his own family, under much splendour and very polished manners. After the death of Aloysius, Rudolfo, the smart and handsome youth, had an uncle murdered that he might loot his money, and he himself perished at the hand of an assassin. Remember the picture of the renunciation!
Against the seduction of such surroundings the angelic youth had to take his stand; and that is why we can easily understand his motto: Recte et immobiliter; Straight on and inflexibly! He said, “I am an iron bar, which has been bent out of shape, and must be hammered straight.” Who could feel astonished if at times he struck too hard? He stood all alone, without a man to guide him. “May we imitate in his penance him, whom we have not followed in his innocence.”
II. Divine Love
“And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).
Renunciation of the world by itself, though never a banal affair, is not necessarily a virtue, surely not a Christian virtue. The motive which inspired Aloysius, was love of God. His early vow of chastity, his love of prayer, his devotion to Christ crucified, were all inspired by the first and greatest commandment in the law; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind” (Matthew 22:37, Gospel of the Mass). It was round Holy Communion that his whole life revolved: three days of the week were devoted to preparation and three to thanksgiving: and this preparation and this thanksgiving consisted of nothing but fervent acts of love. “Attention is love!” In Holy Communion he found the strength to persevere in the struggle for his vocation against his father’s opposition; whilst ever respectful of parental authority, he remained unalterably faithful to God’s call. After two years his father yielded. Aloysius fled from the world, not because he had no love for kith and kin, nor because he despised men; but because he loved God more, and wanted to do penance for men.
During six years he lived in religion, did his Superiors fail to moderate the ardent flames of love, which devoured a soul that wholly belonged to God, so that the body was consumed prematurely? It was the observance of the second commandment, which is like unto the first, that brought about the Saint’s premature death.
III. Love of His Neighbour
When the youthful marquis left for ever the family mansion at Castiglione, he was much missed by the poor people: he had always been a great friend to them all, teaching them by word and example, and always ready to distribute sweets and other good things. Who invented the tale that he had never looked at his mother’s features? Let us rather recall a detail of his life which shows him to have been quite a normal, and even lovable lad. For instance, when the Marchioness, his mother, had, in the absence of her husband, to attend a banquet, the youthful heir would act as her escort up to the very gates of the host’s castle. And after the function he would come again to accompany her home.
In the year 1591 there was an outbreak of famine and of plague at Rome, where Aloysius was studying theology. He immediately offered himself for the service of the plague striken. Whilst carrying a sick man to hospital he caught the infection himself. His shattered constitution was unable to resist the malady, and after lingering for three months he expired. His relative, Cardinal Scipio Gonzaga, who often came to visit him, is reported to have said, “Whenever I leave his bedside my mind is filled with holy thoughts and my mozetta soaked with tears. Of all Gonzagas Luigi is the happiest.” Eight days before his death he dictated the following letter to his mother, “I feel myself slowly being absorbed in the contemplation of the Divine Goodness, an ocean without shore or bottom. I feel called there to enjoy eternal rest after such a brief period of light labour.”
Prayer: Nourished with the Food of Angels, grant that we may live the life of Angels, and after the example of him whose feast we keep today, persevere ever in our thanksgiving, Through our Lord (Postcommunion, today’s Mass).