Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez, S.J.
Today, the Society of Jesus celebrates the feast of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, who is perhaps best known through an eponymous poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins (http://www.bartleby.com/122/49.html). This poem captures well the mysterious hiddenness of Alphonsus’ humble vocation, through which he changed lives by simply carrying out the humble tasks of a porter at a Jesuit boys’ school. We should not presume, as a casual observer might, that Alphonsus’ job was very interesting. It was not. Not in any “worldly” sense, anyhow. And yet—Hopkins is right—because Alphonsus carries out the routine of his daily duties obediently in Christ, one may say that the whole world turns around this hidden engagement. In much the same way, in the days of Herod and Augustus Caesar, the whole world turned around the Creator hidden in its midst as a little child. The one in whom all things came into being (Col 1:15-17) did not dwell among us as one who lived in a palace and dressed in fine clothes (cf Mt 11:8) but rather as the child of an obscure family who would grow up to become known as a carpenter from an unsophisticated town (cf. Mk 6:3, Jn 1:46).
Alphonsus held a place of greater worldly renown as a businessman prior to joining the Society than he did as a porter at a Jesuit college. Alphonsus became a Jesuit brother, but he did not join out of any romantic notions concerning the brother’s vocation. Alphonsus desired to be a priest, but was twice turned away from the Society, which refused to prepare him for the priesthood. Alphonsus knew, by God’s grace, that Jesus desired him in his least Society, and so when the only path that the Society of Jesus offered him was that of a brother, he took it. In keeping with common practice at the time, as a helper in the temporal affairs of the Society, Alphonsus was not offered formal education beyond his novitiate: he went straight to work as a porter just a few months after he entered the Society, and it was the only mission that was ever entrusted to him. But it was precisely that mission and no other that Christ offered him, and through it Alphonsus received and shared all the riches of the Christian life. Though lacking in worldly power and prestige—especially after being denied the position he had originally sought—was Alphonsus not rather all the more able to “do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory but rather, humbly regarding others as more important than [him]self, [to] look out not for his own interests, but also for those of others” (Phil 2:3-4). As porter, Alphonsus did not reflect on whether people would repay him (cf. Lk 14:13-14); his task was so insignificant in the eyes of many that many never thought to thank or repay him. But they did not need to. Alphonsus’ reward is the lives of those who, like Peter Claver, let themselves be so touched by the life of this humble porter that they, too, began to walk in the faith that animates it.