Ave Maria’s Father Robert McTeigue, S.J., preached this homily on the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga. He is currently finishing a collection of homilies and essays on preaching entitled, I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel.
Why should we care about Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, who was a young Jesuit saint who died at the age of 22 in 1591? Well, he’s long been known as a “patron of youth”, which is a fine thing, because your youth today need plenty of patrons, but I suspect some people may find Saint Aloysius difficult to market to today’s youth. After all, he doesn’t have a cool street name like others admired by young folks today, such as “Jay Z” or “Righteous B.” We don’t have photos of him looking like an Italian fashion model, as we do of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. And to make Saint Aloysius a reall hard sell in today’s world, he’s known as a patron of youthful purity.
In fact, on the night of his death, the Carmelite mystic Saint Maria Magdelena de Pazzi had a vision of him in great glory because of his dedication to purity. Now, some well-intentioned people tried to help his reputation as a patron of purity in rather remarkable ways. One biographer wrote of him, and here I quote: “So chaste was he, that even while nursing at his mother’s breasts, he averted his eyes.”
Now, not only is that impossible, and unnecessary, it also harms the cause for true purity. Contrary to what is suggested by that overzealous biographer, true purity does not mean walking around with your hands over your eyes yelling, “PEOPLE DON’T HAVE BODIES! AND EVEN IF THEY DID HAVE BODIES, NONE OF THEM ARE BEAUTIFUL!”
How do we know that Saint Aloysius Gonzaga was a champion of true purity? We know that for two reasons. First, we know that he read the words of Our Blessed Lord that we heard this morning: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Saint Aloysius read that and rightly concluded that true purity means offering God an undivided heart, a heart with room for only one God, the living God, and not a man-made idol. And we know that Gonzaga lived with purity of heart because of the way he died. He gave his life caring for the sick during an outbreak of the plague in Rome. And that makes him an exceptionally exalted standard-bearer for purity.
You see, Gonzaga, for the love of God, loved his neighbor, even at the cost of his own life. In contrast, nowadays, in our porn-saturated culture, we are shy about calling our youth to love of neighbor for the love of God, even at the cost of their own lust.
If we are to rescue our youth from the world that we helped to make, we need to present to them heroes such as Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, who took to heart the gospel he read, took to heart the Eucharistic Lord he received at the altar, and then gave his undivided heart to God by loving his neighbor as himself.
Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, pray for us!