This week, we celebrate the spiritual heroes in our lives. Some of them have been recognized by the Catholic Church as being true spiritual models for all people and others are the ones we know from our own experiences as good people we will always remember. A good example of both types of people is St. Alphonsus Rodreguez.
Jesuit Brother, Alphonsus Rodriguez (Alfonso Rodriguez, 1533-1617), gained enduring fame for the extraordinary holiness shining from his very ordinary work as the Jesuit doorkeeper of a school. He was born in Segovia, Spain, the second son of a successful wool and cloth merchant whose comfortable household provided hospitality to Father Peter Faber, one of St. Ignatius' first companions.
When he was 12, Rodriguez' father sent him to the new Jesuit college at Alcalá, but studies abruptly ended when his father died. Alphonsus helped his mother run the family business and eventually took over its management altogether. At age 27 he married Maria Suárez, with whom he had three children, but family life ended when his wife and children died. Heavy taxes then drained the life from his business, and it eventually fell apart. The young, jobless widower viewed himself as a failure.
In his distress, he turned to the Jesuits, but his advanced age of 35, poor health and limited education made him unsuitable in the eyes of the religious order. Finally, though, at 37 years of age, Rodriguez was able to enter the Jesuit novitiate and, six months later, he was sent to the college of Montesión in Palma on the island of Majorca, off the Spanish coast. There, the new religious brother would finish his novitiate and become famous for his humble job of door-keeper and his friendship with another Jesuit saint, Peter Claver, apostle to the slaves, who had recently arrived in Colombia.
As the college door-keeper, Rodriguez received visitors, searched for Jesuits or students whom visitors sought, delivered messages, ran errands, distributed alms to the needy, and most importantly, it was said, consoled the troubled people who had no one else to turn to. It was repetitious and monotonous work, and required considerable humility, but Rodriguez imagined everyone who knocked at the door to be the Lord himself, and greeted everyone with the same smile he would have given God. Students experienced the presence and influence of Brother Alphonsus, and came to him for advice, encouragement and prayers.
Rodriguez was 72 when Peter Claver came to the college, aflame with a desire to do something for God, but uncertain how to do so. The two became friends and, in spiritual conversations, often discussed prayer and holiness as they walked around the school grounds. The older mentor encouraged the student to go to the South American missions.
Brother Alphonsus Rodriguez, the Jesuit doorkeeper, was always appreciated for his kindness and holiness, but only after his death did his memoirs and spiritual notes reveal the quality and depth of his own prayer life. God had favored the humble brother with remarkable mystical graces, ecstasies and visions of our Lord, our Lady and the saints.
Our University Mission, and whatever faith we possess and practice, call each of us to reflect God's care and love for others in our lives. Some may do it in dramatic ways, like the great Saints, or in less splashy and more humble, unassuming ways, like the mystic doorkeeper, and sometimes even us, in our ordinary lives.
Each of us can seek and serve God and our faith, and each of us can be examples of the Gospels, regardless of whether we are judged by others as extraordinary, or simply filled with care, compassion and concern for others in simple, everyday tasks.