This (June 21) is the feast of St. AloyisiusAlloyississMississippiAlAloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591). Aloysius, the patron saint of youth, is one of three Jesuit “boy saints,” the other two being St. John Berchmans (1599-1621; the patron saint of altar servers) and St. Stanislaus Kostka (1550-1568; the patron saint of novices in religious life). Aloysius, an Italian, was known for his holiness and for his innocence.
Which got me thinking (Really? Impressive!). What do we mean by holiness? What about innocence? Again, and in the immortal words of Luther Heggs (The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, 1966), let me clarify that.
BTW, you have actually seen The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, haven’t you? Please say you have. Atta boy, Luther!
Holiness has a number of meanings. Holiness can mean sinlessness, although I think we must always be careful to relate holiness and sinlessness to God, and indeed the words have little meaning apart from God. In the sense of never having sinned, holiness would be comparable to innocence. Holy can also mean given to God, or dedicated to God, which is what we mean when we say that the Chalice we use for Mass is holy, or perhaps sacred. In this sense, our church building is a holy place. Holy can also mean of God, meaning of the nature of God or belonging to God, which is perhaps what we mean when we say that the Mass itself is holy. Holy can also be part of a title, as the Pope is called the Holy Father or the Dalai Lama is called His Holiness. Holy Father doesn’t mean that the Pope is sinless – although we always pray for that in ourselves and in others – but that he has been set apart and consecrated for a sacred purpose.
(Doesn’t it feel like things are out of control regarding italics? Or italics? There is, BTW and in case you were wondering, a difference between a regular period and an italicized period: . = regular; .= italicized. Get out your magnifying glass and you’ll see. Anyway, going forward how about we just pretend that everything that should be in italics is in italics and that everything that needn’t be in italics isn’t? Or, if you’re an italics wiz, you can supply your own. Whatever floats your boat.)
On to innocenceinnocence. AloyisiusAlloyississMississippiAlAloysius was single-hearted in his devotion to God. Together with his boy-saint fellows, he was known for having been innocent. That’s a good thing, in the sense that sinlessness is better than sinfulness. And of course we’d never wish sinfulness on anyone. But how useful is innocence? In truth, I think it’s overrated. I don’t even know that God needs innocent Christians. More useful to God as disciples are Christians who know how to get back up again after they’ve stumbled and fallen and Christians who know what it’s like to ask for and receive forgiveness. Which is, BTW, what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is about.
Water-cooler fact: Aloysius comes from the same roots as Luigi, or Louis. Good old Lou Gonzaga.
Are saints sinners? Yes. Even though the saints are holy and even heroically virtuous, they were sinners, the sole exception being Mary the Mother of God. Aloysius and Stanislaus and John were not sinless, which would suggest that innocence might better be understood to mean relative sinlessness. That’s helpful for me because I, accomplished sinner that I am, am way past innocence, absolute or even relative. What I can do is confess my sins, make amends, and avoid the near occasions of sin.
St. Aloysius Gonzaga, pray for us.
And who’s beloved of God? You are!