Saint Aloysius Gonzaga - 2
Sr Brigid Mary MICM
Published in From the House Top - The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Still River, Massachusetts, USA, 2006, Vol.XLVII/4 pp.1-19. - Website: www.saintbenedict.com.
From that point on Aloysius tried to receive Communion as often as he could. To his greatest joy this was almost every day, a privilege almost unheard of at that time. He still burned with the desire to remain always pure. To insure this, he would make at least an hour meditation in the morning every day. If at any point he became distracted during his prayers, he would start all over until he was able to make a solid hour of uninterrupted meditation.
Aloysius was so in love with God and his Blessed Mother that he would spend hour upon hour before the image of Our Lord upon the cross or reciting the Rosary with such deep emotion that those around him could not help being touched even to the point of tears.
Just seeing him walk down the street became a source of edification and encouragement of faith to those who saw him. He was such a little boy, but what he lacked in size, he made up for in faith and virtue.
Aloysius' humility was the most easily recognizable of his virtues, as well as a contradiction to the aristocratic world in which he was born. In fact, it seemed to be a natural virtue that he possessed. Humility, by definition, is the truth of God in relation to man. Aloysius was by birth and rank a royal personage, one who had authority over others of lesser rank and therefore it was natural for him to exercise his right of authority as such.
Aloysius, however, concentrated on his place before the Throne of God. He was embarrassed by the pampering that at times he would receive. In all modesty he would dismiss the regalia of attendants who were charged with caring for his needs, being more satisfied with taking care of his own needs.
Even the servants assigned to make his bed were at once relieved and Aloysius would tend to the matter himself. He was slow to give a command but, when necessary, he presented the command more as a request for a favor for which he was embarrassed to ask. His rightful authority was very rarely exercised. His wardrobe was of the most simple and ordinary kind.
He could not be persuaded to wear anything that hinted of glamour or anything that might reveal his rank. Although he had a family title to uphold, it was more evident in his demeanor than in his external apparel. He was never seen to wear even a sword at his side, which was a sign of royal status. When traveling he would be seen walking with his head lowered and his eyes cast down, while the family coach followed behind at a distance.
One time Aloysius' father heard of his son's refusal to ride in the coach; thus he sent a single horse for Aloysius. This, of course, was refused and when told to return the horse to the castle, the servant explained that it was his father's direct order. Aloysius then conceded, but said they must follow behind as well. Again, on another occasion he was seen to ride a mule through the city streets.
The more Aloysius grew, the more he was drawn to the religious life. He made it a point to visit the local friaries and enjoyed the company of priests rather than the court. When searching secretly for an order to join, he admired the rigors of the Capuchins, especially their practice of poverty but, because he was not in the strongest of health, he felt he would become more of a burden than an asset, and he abandoned the idea.
His gaze next fell upon a newly founded group called the Society of Jesus. The things that attracted Aloysius to this order were the freshness of zeal as well as the special vow of obedience placing it directly under the jurisdiction of the Pope in Rome.
One of the Society's apostolates was to educate the youth in the Faith; this and the success it had in making converts in India and Japan spurred Aloysius with a desire to join the Jesuits. With this decision Aloysius found a peace of soul that comes with knowing you are doing God's will. Aloysius burned with a desire to enter as soon as possible. Another appealing aspect to Aloysius was the founder, Saint Ignatius, who had been a military nero but traded in his sword to engage in a spiritual battle for souls.
Like Aloysius, Ignatius was of small stature, but he was a giant in courage and strength. Ignatius was not a religious man at the beginning of his military career but was thoroughly converted by reading the lives of the saints while convalescing from battle wounds. So fantastic was his conversion that he took his military zeal and applied it to the spiritual life. Thus, in the spirit of soldiers of Christ, was the Society of Jesus, or more commonly called, Jesuits, founded.
This concept attracted the men of the time and they flocked to Ignatius' banner; consequendy the Society grew rapidly. Aloysius, with all his heart, desired to be counted among its ranks. The Jesuits' main work was the propagation and strengthening of the Faith.
Because of their structured formation and education, the Jesuits quite naturally became the counterpart to the Protestant revolt that was spreading at the time like wildfire throughout Europe. Ignatius had originally desired that his men be sent to evangelize the Moors but instead, by special request, the Jesuits stayed in Europe as a counter reformation.
Aloysius, at the age of fifteen and with a miraculous confirmation in prayer from the Blessed Mother, to whom he prayed for direction, determined that it now was time for him to ask his father for permission to enter the Society. Under his mother's advice, he was told to wait and let her be the first one to approach the Marquis. They both knew that Don Ferrante would not be too eager to release Aloysius to join the young and obscure religious order. In fact, as time would show, he would be adamantly against it.
Besides getting his father's permission, many things had to be set in order before Aloysius could become a Jesuit. At the time he was still in the employment of the Emperor as a page of honor to the prince and heir to the throne of Spain. The Emperor hoped that by Aloysius' example his own son would gain some of the virtue that Aloysius displayed and thus become a good and just ruler for the people of the Spanish empire. However, the prince suddenly became sick and died an early and tragic death. Aloysius was then released from service and sent home. This left Aloysius free to pursue his desire for a religious life.
It was the custom, especially among the aristocracy, that the eldest son would inherit the family title and fortune and the next eldest son would perhaps enter the service of the Church, usually as a high-ranking prelate. In many religious orders, however, especially the Jesuits, one could not enter bearing a title or amassing a great fortune by inheritance. At the time the Jesuits were considered a mendicant order; that is, its members were beggars, living according to a rule and in absolute poverty. Aloysius would have to abdicate his birthright and all apparent and possible inheritances, which would fall to his next brother, Rodolfo.
This document had to be drawn up by the lawyers, presented to and approved by the Emperor in the Imperial Court. For this, he had to have his father's approval and a signed document to prove it so. This is where Aloysius was to face his biggest battle. It would turn out to be a five-year battle within his own house and against his own father whom he had loved and served so faithfully.
It was after dinner that Doņa Martha, Aloysius' mother, approached the Marquis with Aloysius' desire. The shock of the request sent Don Ferrante into an instant rage. He slammed bis fist down and demanded to see Aloysius immediately. When Aloysius came to him, the Marquis was in such a rage he couldn't even speak, and sent Aloysius out of his sight.
As Don Ferrante grew older he was plagued with chronic gout in his legs. Gout is a painfully crippling disease that made Don Ferrante bedridden for weeks on end. While he couldn't attend to business he relied on Aloysius to handle the affairs and finances of the entire household.
So, to hear that his most reliable and beloved son was thinking of leaving him was a deep blow to his heart. As a natural reaction, he held firm in refusing Aloysius permission to enter the Jesuits. Aloysius, being his father's son, and fully convinced that be was following God's will was also immovable in his resolve to enter. Aloysius could only pray all the more fervently and increase his acts of mortification and penances.
Don Ferrante made an appeal to the authorities of the Church to either convince Aloysius that he didn't have a vocation, or at least to test his resolve. Either way, the stubborn man wanted to delay Aloysius' entrance. Don Ferrante appealed to the local priest, cardinals, and the Dominicans in desperate attempts to dissuade his son's resolve.
He asked each religious to interview his son and fully discover if Aloysius did indeed have a sincere vocation. After each man had conducted the interview, they left so convinced of Aloysius' holiness and his resolve that they, in turn, pleaded with the father to let him go. Don Ferrante then called upon the Jesuit provincial to act as a "devil's advocate" to test his son. The result was that he found only sincerity in Aloysius' desire.
At this Aloysius' father began to weaken, but not much. He allowed Aloysius to proceed with the abdication papers and found what he thought an appropriate plan. Rudolfo was given Aloysius entire birthright and inheritance; Aloysius, so as not to be destitute, was to receive 4000 ducats in yearly increments of four hundred ducats for ten years. Aloysius was pleased to make any move towards his entrance to the Jesuits. Because it was an Imperial grant, final approval had to come from the Emperor himself.
Aloysius sent the request to the imperial courts and then called on the help of the Duchess of Mantua, the daughter of Ferdinand I and aunt of Emperor Rudolph. Aloysius hoped that with her ìnfluence, the Emperor would grant Aloysius' request more speedily. Everyone, including the Emperor, recognized the noble virtue and the strength of character in Aloysius and hoped that be would be a great presence in the Imperial court as well as a good and just ruler of the people in his father's realm, which was the very reason for appointing Aloysius as personal attendant to his own son, the prince.
With the request made, Aloysius was again left to wait and pray, hoping that with the Emperor's approval his father would finally release him. Aloysius prayed with ever increasing vigor. He spent more time in his room on his knees before his crucifix than he had ever before. Frequently he would write to the superior of the Jesuits and beg for guidance. In these letters, Aloysius relayed his ever growing desire to enter and the struggle of having it delayed. Father Acquaviva, the fifth general of the Jesuits, counseled Aloysius to remain obedient to his father as to our Heavenly Father. With comforting words he told Aloysius that God, knowing a father's heart, would win Don Ferrante in the end.
However Don Ferrante was a man who knew only battle. In his heart he could not bear to surrender a son to such an obscure and hidden life, when all his life he had such hopes and visions for glory and gain not only for himself, but for Aloysius as well. He could not help spending his effort on ways to keep his son with him. Aloysius in the meantime still maintained the affairs of the household in his father's palace, but would often make visits to a nearby Jesuit house. He would spend as much time as duties allowed with the brethren and became as much a part of them as he could. He would often go to their talks, and when he could not be present he would send a page to transcribe the entire lecture. That night he would be up late hours studying the notes.
Finally, approval came through! Aloysius was relieved of all hereditary dignities. His brother Rudolfo, the next in line, would inherit the marquiship. Aloysius once more approached his father. Don Ferrante remained unmoved. Aloysius, desperate, then turned to prayer, pleading with Our Lord for perseverance and patience.
A bitter torrent of tears flowed from Aloysius. Some of the household servants peeked in on Aloysius and the sight pierced their own heats so that they were compelled to appeal to the Marquis to witness his son's anguish. Don Ferrante, looking through the keyhole at his son was so quickly brought to tears that he burst into the room and fell at his son's feet. He promised to relent to his son's desires. This, however, was short lived.
They then took a trip to see where Aloysius would be staying. It was assumed by the Marquis that Aloysius would be living with a cardinal in Rome who was a distant relative and lived in a comfortable estate. When he found out that the Jesuit's rule required Aloysius to stay with the rest of the household to receive training as a Jesuit, Don Ferrante could not be appeased and backed out of all agreements. Only under condition that Aloysius would have his own private apartment complete with servants would Don Ferrante agree. But the Jesuit rules did not permit this, and the stalemate continued.
Aloysius was left disappointed again and had no recourse but to prayer. Parents have the right and are dutybound to test their children's vocation, but they are never allowed to hinder them and make it impossible. Parents, like their children, are subject to the higher authority of the Will of God and, although it may be a hard sacrifice, neither one nor the other may resist it. Aloysius was undergoing the ultimate test of his vocation. After five years of praying, and pleading, at the age of twenty Aloysius felt that he had done enough waiting and now the time had come to take a firm stand.
With all his heart he loved and respected his father, and it broke him to think that his leaving would cause his father harm. After spending the day in prayer, he felt himself compelled to finally approach his father and request to enter the Society of Jesus one last time. In this moment of grace, Aloysius with the utmost respect and characteristic gentleness entered the Marquis' room and firmly stated, "I am in your power, father, and you can do with me what you please. But know this, that God calls me to the Society of Jesus, and you're resisting His Will by opposing my vocation."
After a brief moment of silence, Aloysius saluted his father and with the same firm but gentle manner exited the room, leaving his father to his own thoughts. This struck Don Ferrante. He could not help coming to the realization that he was indeed resisting God's will. He couldn't help admitting to himself that his motives were not of the most pureintention.
His only reaction was to turn to the wall and burst into tears. After a few days of his sorrow he called for his son with these tender words, "My son, what a cruel wound you have inflicted on my heart! I have always loved and still love you, because you deserve my love and I had set all my hopes on you. And now you tell me that God calls you elsewhere, I will not keep you back any longer; go where you will, and may God grant you happiness!"
The Marquis could hold back his tears no more but buried his face in his hands while his whole body trembled in a moment of release. Aloysius himself, overwhelmed with tears of joy, affectionately saluted his father and left the room. Victory was won at last for Aloysius. Now he was eager to begin his final journey. After a modest banquet in his honor, Aloysius departed by carriage out of the city walls. The townspeople gathered to wave their prince a final goodbye; many expressed their love for him in an abundance of tears. He, in the meantime, could not have been happier. A pure and childlike smile upon his face would be the last image seen by the gathered crowd.
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