St Alphonsus was born in 1696 in Naples, Italy. He was extremely intelligent and became a Doctor of Civil Law at the age of 16. He then studied the bar and started practising law in the courts at the age of 19.
His Law career lasted for 8 years until he decided to leave the court and dedicate his life totally to Christ. He was ordained as a priest in 1726. He was well sought after as his sermons were well organised, simple, and appealing to people of all educational backgrounds.
St. Alphonsus was primarily concerned with evangelism and communicating to people the redemptive work of Christ. This caused him to move to the world of the poor in southern rural Italy where he experienced for himself the world of the abandoned. He decided to dedicate himself totally to their evangelisation. He formed a group of evangelists in 1732, which gathered in Scala, and later became known as the Redemptorists, a preaching order.
He wrote sermons, books, and articles to encourage devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He first addressed ecclesiastical abuses in the diocese, reformed the seminary and spiritually rehabilitated the clergy and faithful.
In the last years of his life, he suffered a painful sickness and a bitter persecution from his fellow priests, who dismissed him from the Congregation that he had founded.
He retired in 1775 and went to live in the Redemptorist community in Pagani, Italy, where he died on 1 August 1787.
The influence of St. Alphonsus Liguori on Gemma:
Gemma did not read books of devotion much as she preferred to concentrate her thoughts on God. With a great deal of her time spent in ecstasy she had all the help she needed directly from Christ himself. But she read with great passion the Psalms, the Gospels and “The Preparation for Death” by St. Alphonsus Liguori.
In this book St. Alphonsus explains in simple terms the true reality of existence. Being a former lawyer, he reflected on the fact that saving criminals was not important compared to when it comes to saving our souls. Death is one journey which every person must face alone, for we are indeed all alone, except for the Divine presence of God. The day will come when you will die and be placed in a box with only thin garments to cover you. Whether you are rich or poor the same fate awaits all, both nobles and plebeians, both princes and vassals.
Continuously meditating on this reality can put people on the path to holiness.
“Death viewed according to the senses terrifies and causes fear; but when viewed with the eyes of faith it consoles and becomes desirable. It appears terrible to sinners, but lovely and precious to the saints.” – St. Alphonsus Liguori
This book was a source of comfort to Gemma who, although lived a life full of tribulations, was close to God.