I was nineteen and it all happened very gradually. First I was noticing achy knees and feet, but thought it was due to all of the running I had been doing since the onset of summertime. Then I found myself struggling to walk up the stairs, but simply chalked it up to morning stiffness because of my early hours as a barista. But then it became hard to tie my shoes, and I had to take my time tying them when before it was an action which barely required much thought.
It’s not a good sign when your body fails to recognize the difference between your healthy cells and those that are foreign. But this is exactly what happens when we talk about autoimmune disease, one of the most common being rheumatoid arthritis. This is a disease when one’s immune system attacks the healthy cells and tissues, thus causing inflammation and potentially organ damage. A disease in which it would be nice to have a special intercessor.
Saint Alphonsus, Special Patron
Perhaps you have heard of Saint Peregrine, the patron Saint of those suffering from cancer. Or maybe Saint Lidwina, the patron Saint of the chronically ill (she herself became paralyzed after gangrene set in after an ice-skating accident). But did you know that there is a patron Saint of arthritis sufferers, too?
His name is Saint Alphonus Liguori, a former lawyer, bishop, moral theologian, and now a Doctor of the Church. He is also the Founder of the Redemptorists Order, an order whose charism is to serve the poor, both materially and spiritually.
Sharing His Gifts As A Talented Lawyer
Liguori was born near Naples, Italy in 1696, the first of seven children. His mother came from a family of nobility and his father was a captain in the Royal Navy. His parents’ devotion to him and to his education landed him doctorates of civil and canon law from Naples university at the age of sixteen. This was four years earlier than normal!
It was common for nobles to join the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy. He joined when he turned eighteen, serving with a compassionate heart as he took care of those in the hospital who were considered “incurable”, feeding them and washing their clothes.
Even decades ago one couldn’t escape the pressure given by their parents, despite this pressure being given out of good will. Liguori’s father desired him to be a lawyer, and before he even reached the age of twenty he was considered to be one of the most talented lawyers in the city of Naples. It was believed that he had not lost a single case, until the one he lost right before he left the career.
Despite his popularity and the praise he was so often given, it was not enough to satisfy him. He longed for something deeper. While he had been ministering to those in the hospital he heard a voice saying “Leave the world and give yourself to Me.”
This call gave him the courage to face the disappointment of his father when he resigned as a lawyer to enter the priesthood. He was ordained at twenty years old.
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The Redemptorist Mission
There is no doubt that this man had passion. He was a man of zeal both when it came to the law, and as a priest. The poor were close to his heart, and he could not abandon them. Eight years into his vocation as a very popular priest and confessor, he knew he needed to leave his family and friends in order to give himself more fully to serving the poor. He found others to accompany him in this mission and thus began his founding of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, also known as the Redemptorists.
A Redemptorist mission would bring together the congregation’s priests and brothers to share the Gospel and minister to the spiritual needs in specific areas. They didn’t just preach a mission and depart. The priests and brothers lived together in the community where they were sent on mission. This allowed them to do their mission work in a way which showed the people the true love of God. A love which does not leave or forsake.
When Alphonsus came to speak, the people would follow him to the neighboring churches and towns where he preached. He had a way of connecting with the poor and uneducated and he served them tirelessly.
In addition to his life immersed with the poor, he also wrote over one hundred books. One of his most popular books is titled Visits to the Blessed Sacrament. This book is a thirty-one day to day guide to meeting with the Lord throughout the course of a month. Each day Liguori offers a meditation and a prayer to Jesus, but he does not neglect our Mother, including a prayer to the Blessed Mother to conclude each Eucharistic visit. He always encouraged prayer, writing, “If you pray, your salvation will be secure.”
A Companion for those Suffering
Alphonsus didn’t fail to serve the sick and the suffering, but even he too could be considered in those very categories. Later in his life he suffered from the pain of arthritis which eventually necessitated the use of a wheelchair as well as a permanently crooked neck. An experience which now makes him a patron for those struggling with the same afflictions.
In addition, he struggled with scrupulosity, a kind of “crippling conscience”. In his times of hardship he would gather with his friends to pray, often to Our Lady, the one whom he wanted by his side on the day he would die.
The night before he died, he asked for Our Lady and asked for her intercession throughout the night, holding her image in his hands. He died at the age of ninety one on August 1st, during the ringing of the noon Angelus bell.
He would be canonized a Saint just fifty-two years later in 1839.
Any other arthritis sufferers out there? We have this incredible Saint praying for us!
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