Today is the Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga. He’s one of the patron saints for purity and chastity. Many are familiar that St. Maria Goretti is a patron of purity and chastity, but often, people aren’t aware that Aloysius is also another patron for purity and chastity.
The Collect for this Mass particularly highlighted this. We’re told that “Saint Aloysius Gonzaga joined penitence to a wonderful innocence of life.” So, from penance or mortification, he was greatly helped to live his innocence of life.
For us who live in today’s world – where the promotion of unchaste life and impurity is glorified, we might think that Aloysius didn’t have what we have. It’s true that he didn’t have what we have; he didn’t have internet or smartphones; he didn’t have tablets or the kind of movies we have today where sexual scene is so much included and glorified in there; this is true even in regular TV channels. Yet, Aloysius had sexual passion just like you and me have.
His brother Jesuit (the late-Fr. John Hardon) wrote a little biography on Aloysius. And Fr. Hardon said: “He had a very strong will, he also had strong passions, especially temptation to lust.” Again, just like you and me, Aloysius who died at the age of 23 knew what it’s like to be tempted severely to lust!
The question that you and I want an answer is: did he give in to lust; how did he conquer it if he didn’t give in?
St. Robert Bellarmine (another Jesuit) who knew Aloysius well – observed that he was sure – Aloysius had never committed a mortal sin. And what he did to control his sexual passion and desire was by penance and mortification frequently. In other words, he practiced self-denial frequently to control his passions.
The late-Fr. Hardon said he “began to practice self-discipline to preserve his chastity, he tried to imitate the lives of the fathers of the desert… in order to protect his chastity… he fasted three days a week… every midnight he’d get up to pray on a stone floor, no matter what the weather was, in winter without heat. He tried to make hours of meditation.” These he’d do regularly.
Fr. Hardon said that Aloysius wrote about these himself and also wrote about his sexual passions; he had a very strong sexual passions. We know this also from people who knew him.
So, he was doing penance not so much to repair what sins had been committed already, but it was more for preventive purpose. Fr. Hardon said: “He simply believed that unless he mortified his body, …he just would not get that passion under control. The lesson for us, in a sex-mad world, is obvious. You do not control that passion without mortification, you just don’t.”
We may not be strong enough to mortify ourselves the way Aloysius did (like getting up in the middle of the night or fasting three days a week and so forth), but our form of mortifications can simply be: decide to go to daily Mass for the purpose of curbing our strong sexual passions and desires, decide and actually pray the Rosary daily, limit our watching of television or never watch it alone – same thing goes with our computer use or the smartphone or tablet use, and so forth. Some of us may simply need to just double-up our rosary for the time being just to curb the strong sexual desires that they would be under control. Personally, I found that to be effective – in just simply doubling up the prayer (like the rosary); this may not work for you or this may not be enough for you; but it’s important to realize that we have to do something because if all we do is just go to Confession, for some that’s not enough. Again, Aloysius knew how to curb his sexual desires and passions by doing penance; this is the same approach that would help us as well in today’s world.
Finally, The Church recognizes that many of us can no longer be like Aloysius – who kept his innocence all the way to his death. So, the Church and all of us pray to God as the Collect states: “We have failed to follow him in innocence” but “grant us the grace that through the merits and intercession” of St. Aloysius, “we may imitate him in penitence.”
St. Aloysius, patron of purity and chastity, pray for us! Amen