Saint Alphonsus Mary de’ Liguori, Bishop and Doctor – Readings

Commentary on Romans 8:1-4; Psalm 118; Matthew 5:13-19

The Gospel reading comes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. It touches on two themes relevant to Alphonsus. The first is where Jesus tells his followers that they must not keep his message to themselves. It is a message that must be shared and promulgated as widely as possible. And Jesus uses several images to make his meaning clear. His followers are to be the “salt of the earth”. But, if they lose their taste, that is, if the message becomes dead in them, they are useless as salt and should be got rid of. We might add that salt only works when it is fully inserted in the food; it is no good if it just remains at the side of the plate. We, too, can only be effective ‘salt’ in our society when we are totally inserted into it.

Other images that Jesus uses are that his followers are to be the “light of the world”, shining the light of Jesus’ Way by word and example. They are to be like a “city built on a hill” which cannot be hidden. An invisible Christian is no Christian (although perhaps a good person). Similarly, no one lights a light and then hides it under a cover. On the contrary, a light is set up in the place where its light is most effective. Lastly, our light is to “shine before others”, not so that people will praise us for being so good, but so that they will be led to serve and praise God.

In the second theme, Jesus speaks of his attitude to the Jewish law. Jesus did not come to put an end to this law. Rather, he came to go beyond it and bring it to a higher level. So the Jewish law was not to be changed or invalidated, but superseded. In subsequent passages (not in our reading today), he will give six examples of what he means. He will say it is not enough not to kill, but it is wrong even to have hateful and hurting thoughts in the depths of one’s mind.

Alphonsus spent much of his time teaching people how to observe God’s law as it comes to us in the Scriptures. He constantly sought a balance between excessive legalism, the law for its own sake, and excessive laxity in watering down the moral requirements of the laws. Let him, then, be a model for us both in our readiness to share our Christian life with others in word and action, and also in being truly moral people – a morality motivated above all by love.

In the First Reading, from the Letter to the Romans, Paul distinguishes between living in the ‘flesh’ and in the Spirit. To live in the ‘flesh’ is to live a life of pure self-interest. To live in the Spirit is to be inspired by the vision of life that Jesus has given us. It is, above all, the law of love that is to govern our every action. Paul writes that:

God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

This was the deep concern of Alphonsus, that all live in the Spirit of Christ. And in his writings, he tried to show how this was to be done in the various situations of life.

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