Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a young Jesuit seminarian (a scholastic, as the Jesuits name them), who died at an early age, and who, for a considerable length of time, was a popular saint, especially for young people. Over a period of time many young boys were either given the name Aloysius at their baptism, or chose it for themselves at the time of their confirmation. In fact, St. Aloysius was part of a trilogy of young Jesuit saints popular with Catholic youth not too many years ago, including Sts. Stanislaus Kostka and John Berchmans.
Their achievements in becoming canonized (officially recognized) saints at a young age is sometimes reduced in significance on the score that they WERE young, and died young, so they did not have to endure the trials and difficulties associated with adult life. This is true. But, of course, their early deaths were not the result of their own planning, as if they said: I will die early so as to avoid the challenges facing me when I become an adult. In fact, just the opposite was likely at work in their minds and hearts: My God, I am dying at a young age, and so will miss all the joys and triumphs and challenges of an adult life, including the recognition that goes with success, and the acclaim associated with doing things of significance. That often describes the grief experienced by the parents of young children dying an early death, thereby being deprived of whatever joys might have been theirs, had they lived into adulthood. But there are two ways of looking at an early death: not only success denied, but also disappointments avoided. But the young, such as St. Aloysius, and his fellow Jesuit saints, are geared, as we may gather today, to the triumphs lying ahead rather than some early defeats, and, in view of them, are willing to sustain the anguish of an early death facing them. This fits in with St. Paul’s remarks today about the farmer. The farmer’s life operates in a cyclical fashion, starting again each spring with the preparation of the land and the sowing of the seed. This is an arduous and time-consuming task, multiple hours each day, often including weekends. But the fall comes round, and, with it, the harvest, a time of joy and success for that same farmer. Of course, not every farming season works out that well.
Jesus provides a similar framework in today’s gospel, recalling the experience familiar to us all of taking advantage of opportunities to help others—what He calls almsgiving—being content to do so quietly, if possible, not anticipating any immediate satisfaction or reward in doing so. This will come in its own time, when “…the Father who sees in secret will repay you”. These are all familiar examples from the adult world: onerous present payments in view of deferred rewards. We call them investments or insurance policies in which we deprive ourselves at the present time of enjoyable uses of the money available to us, with an eye to the payback we expect to receive later on—just like the wise and experienced farmer does. So, people like the young Jesuit scholastics, though dying at a young age, thereby also avoiding the ordeal of deliberately deferring present enjoyments with a view to future compensation, will nonetheless come in their own special way to enjoy the special benefits awaiting them by what might be called an “early retirement”, which is a tragedy in the sight of family and friends, but a tradeoff they would not want to defer by delaying the “early” benefit package that will be theirs. And so the Passionists, recognizing a good thing when they see it, come up with their own trilogy of three remarkable young members of their community, also dying at a young age: Gabriel Possenti, Pius Campidelli, and Grimualdo de Santa Maria. We wouldn’t want the Jesuits to pull ahead of us in the benefits department.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist Community in Louisville, Kentucky.