A saint need not be someone whose life is defined by major declarative acts of piousness and virtue; Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez demonstrated kindness, humbleness and grace in everyday life in his role as porter for the Jesuit College in Majorca.
Alphonsus Rodriguez was born in Segovia, Spain, in 1532, the son of a wool merchant. When he was a child Peter Faber, one of the original founders of the Jesuits, came to the city to preach. He stayed with the Rodriguez family and prepared the young Alphonsus for his first Holy Communion. At the age of fourteen his father died, and Rodriguez had no choice but to leave the Jesuit school at Alcala to help his mother with the wool trade. He married Maria Suarez at twenty six, and together they had three children.
Catastrophe struck his family, however, when in the space of three years his wife, mother, and two of his children died. By the age of thirty-one Rodriguez was a widower with one surviving son, who died not long after. Faced with unimaginable pain and grief, Rodriguez found some solace in prayer and mortifications. He decided to pursue religious life; but was turned away by the Jesuit noviciate at Segovia because of his incomplete schooling and poor health. Filled with a quiet determination, he went to study at the College of Barcelona, and finally, at the age of thirty-eight, Rodriguez was accepted into the Society of Jesus as a Brother.
Six months after entering, Rodriguez was sent to the Jesuit College in Majorca, where he would spend the remaining forty-six years of his life. He was given the job of porter and doorkeeper, a role which allowed him to meet many who came to the college; over the years he became known as a man to seek out for help and advice. Among the most famous examples of this was with Peter Claver, whom he befriended and convinced to travel to South America.
Known throughout the college and the town for the calm sense of holiness he radiated, Rodriguez was commonly asked to preform sermons by his superiors. Throughout his decades on Majorca he continued to abide by his strict self-imposed mortifications such as fasting. As he reached his eighties Rodriguez’s health began to deteriorate until his death in 1617 at the age of eighty-five. In 1633 Rodriguez was chosen to be one of the special patrons of the city and island of Majorca, and he was later beatified in 1825 and canonised in 1888.
The flowing magis
Gavin T. Murphy of Irish Jesuit Communications says that Saint Alphonsus embodied ‘the flowing magis’ which combines the psychological concept of flow or engagement with the Ignatian concept of magis (‘more’). “Surely as he heard each knock on the door he must have reminded himself that someone important was coming”, says Gavin. “He came expectantly and opened the door: in that moment he gave his full attention with warmth and compassion, and he helped and advised whenever it was needed. He put his heart into a seemingly mundane task and elevated it to a service of great dignity. He saw his life as full of invitations for goodness to emerge. He believed that the power, the energy, the soul in him was not ‘him’ but God (Galatians 2:20).”
Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez
HONOUR is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.
Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.
By Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins