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“Saint Aloysius Gonzaga,” by an unknown painter of the Roman School, oil on canvas, from the 18th century. PUBLIC DOMAIN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Young St. Aloysius gave his life to Christ

The first-born son of Italian aristocrats, little Luigi had his life mapped out for him by his father, who wanted him to become a great soldier. At the age of 4 his dad gave him a miniature pistol and cannon, and he was sent to live amongst soldiers, from whom he picked up some of their bad language. He learned very early on that military life required self-discipline, dedication to one’s superiors and vigilance. 

It was perhaps because of these early lessons that the boy applied the same military virtues to his spiritual life. When scolded about his use of bad language, he repented immediately and never swore again. At the age of 7 he added to his morning and evening prayer the Office of Our Lady, the seven penitential psalms and other devotions, which he prayed while kneeling.

At 9 years old he was sent to school in Florence to better learn Latin and Italian. He used his time to expand his devotional life, fasting three days a week and arising in the middle of the night to pray. At 12 he was so advanced spiritually that his regular confessor, none other than St. Robert Bellarmine, was taken aback by his acumen and maturity. Later, St. Robert would say that Luigi never committed a mortal sin in his life. 

At the age of 13 he moved to Spain with his father, who was in service to the Spanish court. While there, he was pressed into the service of the Prince Diego, son of Felipe II. He served the prince well, but never relented in his attention to his spiritual life. While in Spain he caught wind of a new religious order started by a former soldier, St. Ignatius of Loyola. He knew then that he wanted to become a member of the Society of Jesus.

He told his mother of his desire. She consented, but his father flew into a rage. He was convinced that someone had brainwashed his son to get back at him for his gambling debts. When Luigi and the family moved back to Italy, he was pressured not just by his dad, but by all his other relations. Everything was done to dissuade him. But Luigi wasn’t brainwashed, and he would not be dissuaded. He loved Jesus Christ and wanted, like a good soldier, to give his life to Christ, his true king.

Finally, when he was 17 his family relented. Luigi traveled to Rome and was accepted as a Jesuit novice on Nov. 25, 1585. Six weeks later his father died. Beautifully, his father had reformed his life in those weeks, having given up gambling and dedicating himself to a life of spiritual devotion. In the following years Luigi would study hard, but the other novices noted how much the young Italian loved to meditate on the Lord, sometimes in ecstasy. 

In 1591, a plague epidemic broke out in Rome, so the Jesuits opened a hospital in which Luigi asked to help. He worked with great zeal and eventually contracted the disease. He died on June 21 of that year, which is now his feast day.

Today, we know of Luigi as St. Aloysius Gonzaga. He was only 23 when he died and is considered a patron of youth. His father’s plans for him to become a great soldier would be fulfilled, even if not in the way he planned. St. Aloysius reminds us that we only really have one king, one ruler, one great care in our lives: Jesus Christ.

Let us pray that we, too, might show something of St. Aloysius’ self-discipline, dedication and vigilance as we seek to serve Christ the King.

The Catholic Voice

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