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The saint who watched the door

Peter Fleming  |  22 August 2018

St Alphonsus RodriguezSt Alphonsus Rodriguez is proof that there are many paths to holiness, and that there is holiness in many paths.

Sometimes we make the mistake of underestimating a fellow human being because it is easier, for the sake of a momentary convenience, to define him or her by their everyday job: so-and-so is ‘our cleaner’, ‘the maintenance man’, ‘the ticket collector’, ‘a carpenter’. One of the most thankless jobs these days, I would hazard, is ‘petrol station attendant’ – so overworked and so robbed of meaningful interaction with the customers (‘Do you need a receipt?’).

We can forget that each person was made in the image of God and has a portion of God’s infinite depth. What man or woman, set down on troubled Earth for more than a little time, does not become a philosopher? The garbageman was born for great things beyond dirty things; the train driver has an immortal destiny, beyond the end of any line.

Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez (1532–1617) was a doorkeeper. Coming late to a religious life, he struggled to achieve the education level necessary to become a Jesuit, but eventually his Provincial, recognising the man’s radiant holiness, said that even if Alphonsus was not qualified to be a brother or a priest, he could nonetheless enter the order to become a saint.

Although his ordinary job was to answer the door of a Jesuit college in Majorca, Alphonsus was in every way a person of depth and vision. His orderly superiors sought out his advice, and, as he grew older, he was more and more called upon by the members of the college to give sermons, even though he was ‘merely’ a lay-brother of the Society.

Alphonsus was an obedient member of that Society – sometimes a little too obedient. Once – the story is told – his superior, moving past him in a pew, said, ‘No don’t move’, simply to save Alphonsus inconvenience. Later, at dinner, Alphonsus didn’t show, and he was eventually found still sitting in the pew, following to the letter what his superior had said.

There may have been a good reason for Alphonsus’ dedication to obedience. Before he became a lay-brother, he had had quite a different life, as a wool merchant with a wife and family in Segovia, in central Spain. He was not an ambitious man for worldly things, and his business always struggled. Then Alphonsus lived to see his entire family die, one by one, by natural causes. First, two of his children died, then his wife, and then finally his third child also. An ordinary man, Alphonsus became like a new Job in his suffering. Perhaps, by contrast, religious obedience was a comfort and a kind of joy.

Alphonsus, the ordinary porter who was wise counsellor and visionary, was later honoured by fellow Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins in a poem:

…God (that hews mountain and continent…) …

Could crowd career with conquest while there went

Those years and years by of world without event

That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

Where I work, at Loyola Senior High School in Mt Druitt in Sydney, the building in which the subject Hospitality is taught is named after Alphonsus Rodriguez. At the same school, the man who tends the gardens and maintains the site, Peter Boros, in his spare time runs Scripture programs for nearby primary schools and inspires a men’s faith group to meet regularly at the school after hours for prayer, readings and reflection.

Alphonsus himself said that each time the doorbell rang at his college on Majorca, he envisioned the person beyond the door was God Himself, worthy of the most diligent attention.

Thus God makes, for ‘ordinary’ saints, ordinary work transcendent.

See Australian Catholics for reflections and activities on Alphonsus Rodriguez.


Topic tags: saints, feastdays

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