St. Aloysius Gonzaga (Giovanni Battista Piazzetta)

Sara and Justin Kraft

3 Things to Learn from St. Aloysius Gonzaga

Yesterday, June 21, was the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga. St. Aloysius was born into a noble family in 1568. He was the oldest son of Ferrante Gonzaga, the Marquis of Castiglione. As the eldest son, he was heir apparent to receive the family titles and fortunes accumulated through several generations of the Gonzaga line. He, however, renounced his birthright in 1585 to his brother Rudolfo in order to enter the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit Order). During his final year of theology study, a plague broke out in Rome. St. Aloysius volunteered for the dangerous duty of caring for the sick. Alas, he also contracted the fever by carrying the sick to the hospital on his back. After a prolonged battle, he died of the illness a little after midnight on the evening between June 20 and June 21, 1591 at just 23 years old.[1]

St. Aloysius Gonzaga is honored in the Church on his feast day June 21. The Church celebrates the feast days of the saints in order to help us call to mind the examples they have left for us in word and deed that we might learn from their example. Therefore let us examine three facts about St. Aloysius which provide spiritual wisdom for us today.

1. Important First and Last Words

The first words he pronounced were the holy name of Jesus and Mary…He died, repeating the Holy Name, a little after midnight between the 20th and 21st of June.”

St. Aloysius’ first and last words were the holy name of Jesus. In this way, they serve as the bookends of his life, and a great strategy for drawing near to God. We too can emulate this by following his example. While we have no control of the words we have spoken previously, we can chose to begin each day by calling upon the name of the Lord. In fact, this is a long held practice within the church and is often referred to as making a “morning offering.” The morning offering does not have to be a long and complicated prayer to be powerful. The practice can simply involve recalling that each day is a gift from God and asking God to utilize your daily tasks large and small to give him glory and witness. It can even be prayed even before stepping out of bed. 

Another long held spiritual practice within the church is ending the day with a daily examine. The goal of the daily examine is not the same as an examination of conscience that one might make before confession. The goal is to review the day in order to take note of the presence of God throughout. In this, way we become more in tune with the actions of God and remain aware of his presence. By reflecting backward, we often recognize the presence of God in ways that we were unaware of in the moment. Over time, these two common practices create a greater awareness in the presence of God which leads to greater trust and devotion even in times when we don’t see His actions in the moment.

2. Saints Form One Another

It is an interesting phenomenon that when one meets a saint, he often meets multiple saints. This is just as true in the life of St. Aloysius as anywhere. St. Aloysius received his first communion from St. Charles Borromeo and was formed by St. Robert Bellermine during his time in the Jesuit Order. 

It is no coincidence that saints are found in clusters. This is because Christianity is difficult to live alone. The scriptures tell us that just as “Iron is sharpened by iron; one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) The individuals which surround us have a profound influence on us. Therefore, it is very important who we select as our friends and even our spouse. If we truly want to be holy, we must seek out others who can sharpen us.

This is a truth which we must recapture. All too often in today’s society we are told that we must practice our faith privately, or that there is no room for it in the public square. But our faith is communal by nature. We grow through relationship and we grow the most when we form friendships with those who have dedicated themselves to the Lord. This is because we learn from our friends. We pick up their habits. We go to the places they go. So by picking friends who gather around Jesus we will find ourselves in his presence.  

3. Our Families Do Not Define Us

On the surface it may have seemed that St. Aloysius would have had an easy road to sanctity. After all, he came from a family of privilege with access to wealth and education. However, in reality, Aloysius was heir to a long line of family intrigue and violence. The family line began in approximately 1100 AD and endured one assassination after another including the assassination of both of St. Aloysius’ brothers. By the time of St. Aloysius’ birth the family name was synonymous with power. “Even when he had done with courts, insane flatteries pursued him—doctors, feeling his pulse, would exclaim at the privilege of feeling Gonzaga blood throb beneath their fingers.”[2] 

Still, St. Aloysius escaped this family intrigue to enter the Jesuit order. In so doing, he set an example for us. Our ability to obtain holiness is not dependent on our past, but rather on the decisions we make for the future and dedication to God. He is quoted to say, “I am a crooked piece of iron and am come into religion to be made straight by the hammer of mortification and penance.” 

This is the central teaching of Christianity. If we allow it, God can heal any brokenness we bring to him. Too often we see ourselves only as the twisted piece of iron formed by our past sins. St. Aloysius reminds us that it is the work of Christ to make us straight. No matter our past, no sin is bigger than God’s love. 

Works Cited
[1] Facts compiled from Lives of the Saints for Everyday of the Year, Fr. Alban Butler, Tan Books and Publishers INC. p. 224-225 and The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, Edited by John Coulson. Hawthorn Books, INC. New York
[2] The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, Edited by John Coulson. Hawthorn Books, INC. New York).