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St. Aloysius Gonzaga – A Model of Compassionate Service


If Aloysius Gonzaga achieved a lot in 23 years of life, it’s because — thanks to his father — he got an early start.
 
Aloysius, a Latinized form of the name Luigi, was born in the 16th century of a wealthy and titled family in northern Italy.
 
If things had gone according to human design, Aloysius would have inherited a title from his father, Ferrante, who was a marquis.
 
The boy also would have inherited the obligation to get involved in the constant military skirmishing among the kingdoms and city-states in Europe during the Renaissance.
 
Ferrante was so eager to prepare Aloysius for this career that he supplied the boy with miniature weapons and started to train him when the lad was four years old.
 
At five, Aloysius was marching ahead of a platoon of soldiers at a military camp.
 
When he was eight, he was sent with a brother to serve at the court of the grand duke of Florence and, when Aloysius was eleven, at the court of the grand duke of Mantua.
 
While he was at Florence, however, Aloysius began to suffer illnesses that would plague him for the rest of his brief life, and he also began to spend time in prayer and in study of the lives of the saints.
 
It wasn’t long before he began to form the idea of entering religious life. He decided to join the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, but his father angrily stood in his way.
 
Aloysius persisted in his desire, while his family tried to convince him to at least become a secular priest so that he would not forfeit his inheritance and title.
 
But Aloysius was not interested in wealth or position, and in 1585 he was accepted as a novice in a Jesuit community in Rome.
 
In 1591, there was an outbreak of plague in Rome, and the Jesuits opened a hospital to care for the victims.
 
Aloysius, whose own health was already compromised, volunteered to work at the hospital. Although he was assigned to a ward for non-infectious patients, he came in contact with a man who had contracted plague.
 
Aloysius became ill in May and then recovered somewhat, but he died on June 21 — the date on which the Church honors him each year. He was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726; he is the patron of Christian youth and of AIDS patients.
 
The circumstances of Aloysius’ life are foreign our experience what with boy soldiers, warring nobility, and outbreaks of plague, but the example he set is as applicable today as it was then.
 
That example comes down to letting go of material preoccupations, of pride and power, and centering our lives on God — in fact, imitating the life-giving compassion of God by our service to other people.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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