Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (January 2, 1873–September 30, 1897)

Saint Thérèse is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Thérèse’s particular prescription for holiness can teach us how to keep love at the center of everything.

Thérèse was born to Saints Louis and Zélie Martin. The youngest of five girls, her childhood was in many ways idyllic, but also touched by profound suffering. In 1877, when she was four, Thérèse’s mother died. Greatly impacted, she became sensitive and overly attached to her older sister Pauline who then entered the Carmelite monastery. The bereft Thérèse fell seriously ill until, miraculously, she was healed after having a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On Christmas Eve 1886, Thérèse experienced another miracle of a deep healing of her extreme sensitivity. Soon after, she felt drawn to religious life, but she was too young to enter.

Thérèse’s desire to become a Carmelite was finally granted when she was fifteen years old. She professed her vows in 1890 and took the name Thérèse of the Infant Jesus and the Holy Face. Her time in Carmel was not always easy, but Thérèse showed quiet heroism in simple ways. In a time when much emphasis was put on individual effort in the spiritual life, Thérèse pioneered a spirituality of trust in God’s mercy that she called “the little way.” On Holy Thursday night, 1896, Thérèse felt a stream of blood rise to her lips. The stained handkerchief she examined the next morning confirmed her in joy: her Divine Spouse would be coming to take her to heaven soon. Thérèse died of tuberculosis the next year, after a time of deep spiritual darkness that she endured by relying on her trust in God. In 1997 Saint John Paul II declared Thérèse to be a doctor of the Church.

Saint Thérèse’s prescription: Take the “little way” to heaven.

Thérèse is famous for her “little way” of spiritual childhood. She often meditated on this saying of Jesus that took deep root in her heart: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). For Thérèse, love was at the center of everything. Doing little things with great love is the easiest way to reach great holiness. She said that her way of reaching God is all about confidence and love. She had a very positive image of God, whom she saw as full of merciful love. She was blessed to have had a beautiful loving relationship with her father, who was a kind and gentle man. Those who have had a difficult relationship with their father may find it harder to follow Thérèse’s little way. They might struggle to have a positive, trusting relationship with God, but God’s grace can overcome all barriers. God will give them the grace to realize his love.

Thérèse took advantage of every opportunity to show her love for God. She offered up the smallest things, such as when one of the other nuns kept splashing her with dirty water while they were doing laundry. But she endured great suffering in other ways. During her final illness as she battled tuberculosis she also experienced a profound spiritual darkness. She was tempted to atheism and to think that heaven was not real. That was a huge trial but God allowed it so that she would become even holier and help to save more souls.

As we follow Thérèse’s way to holiness, we too can offer everything to God—big sufferings and small ones, whatever comes into our life. God calls us to holiness too, and Saint Thérèse will intercede for us on our own journey to God.

Some practical things to do:

  • Get a copy of Saint Thérèse’s autobiography, The Story of a Soul, and read it.
  • Form the habit of offering up small trials and inconveniences to Jesus as a token of your love for him and ask for the conversion of someone you know who is away from the Church.
  • Make a novena in honor of Saint Thérèse for some special intention you have. Don’t be surprised if by the end of the novena someone gives you a rose!


Saint Thérèse, you led a cloistered life in a hidden way. But your heart expanded to embrace the entire world. Pray for us that we too may gain graces for others by offering to Jesus small actions with great love. Help us to see everything that happens in our lives as part of God’s providential plan for us.

Feast: October 1
Patron: Missionaries, France, Russia, florists, gardeners, loss of parents, tuberculosis

Excerpt from Story of a Soul

“In the heart of the Church I will be love.”

The answer was clear, but it did not satisfy my desires, it did not give me peace…. Without being discouraged I continued my reading, and this phrase comforted me: “Earnestly desire the more perfect gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31). And the Apostle explains how all gifts, even the most perfect, are nothing without Love… that charity is the excellent way that leads surely to God. At last I had found rest…. Considering the mystical Body of the Church, I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by St. Paul, or rather, I wanted to recognize myself in all… Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church has a body composed of different members, the noblest and most necessary of all the members would not be lacking to her. I understood that the Church has a heart, and that this heart burns with Love. I understood that Love alone makes its members act, that if this Love were to be extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, the martyrs would refuse to shed their blood… I understood that Love embraces all vocations, that Love is all things, that it embraces all times and all places… in a word, that it is eternal!

Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: “O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation, my vocation is Love!… Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place… in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!…. Thus I shall be all things: thus my dream shall be realized!!!”

Excerpt from writings of Saint Thérèse. Click here for entire selection.

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Image Credit: Celine Martin (Sor Genoveva de la Santa Faz), CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Athanasius (c. 296–May 2, 373)

Saint Athanasius is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Athanasius’ particular prescription for holiness can help us be courageous and strong in our love for Jesus in the midst of life’s challenging situations.

As a young man, Athanasius spent some time with Saint Anthony of the Desert to learn the ways of the spiritual life. That formation served him well, for Athanasius became one of the most important defenders of the Christian faith at a time when the early Church was finding a way to teach clearly about who Jesus is. Athanasius accompanied Bishop Alexander of Alexandria to the Council of Nicea in 325. The Council upheld the divinity of Jesus Christ and condemned Arianism, the false teaching that Jesus was not divine. Despite the Council’s clear teaching, Arianism spread widely, especially because it was supported by the emperors.

In 328, Athanasius became bishop of Alexandria. He constantly struggled to uphold the true teaching about Jesus Christ. Four emperors exiled Athanasius five times, for a total of seventeen years. Athanasius spent years in hiding from his enemies who wanted him dead. Even when it seemed as if Arianism could triumph in the Church, Athanasius never gave up. He wrote important theological works, including De Incarnatione, (On the Incarnation of the Word), and a biography of Saint Anthony, which helped Christian monasticism to grow. In 381, after Athanasius’ death, the Council of Constantinople reaffirmed that Jesus is fully human and fully divine.

Athanasius’ prescription: Jesus is both God and man. Put him in charge of your life!

Athanasius spent much time in exile and suffering because of his tenacity in upholding the truth about Jesus Christ: he is fully divine and fully human. In Athanasius’ day, Arianism had spread widely and had many influential supporters in both the Church and the government. At that time, the emperors often meddled in Church affairs and this imperial support for Arianism was hard to overcome. Athanasius had so much opposition in upholding the truth of the Catholic faith that he was often described as Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the world.)

Why did he insist on upholding his position? Because it was the truth of the Catholic faith, not just some idea that Athanasius had. What was at stake? To deny the truth of the divinity of Jesus Christ would have meant rejecting the Catholic faith. It would have meant there was no redemption, because if Jesus was not divine his death on the cross could not have saved us. Saint Paul wrote this in regard to the resurrection:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.. . .  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:13-14, 17). If Christ is not divine, then we are still in our sins. That is why the divinity of Christ is so crucial.

On a practical level, what does this mean for us?

It means that we must place Christ at the center of our lives, and believe in the teaching of the Catholic Church that Jesus is both God and man. It means growing in union with Jesus by prayer, the sacraments and good works—knowing that whatever we do to another, we do it to Jesus (see Mt. 25). It means reading the Gospel and meditating on what Jesus said and did. It means completely entrusting ourselves to him, knowing that we are in his safe hands.

Some practical things to do:

  • Honor the divinity of Christ by making a holy hour at church in front of the tabernacle.
  • Honor the holy Name of Jesus by always using it in a respectful way, never as a swear word.
  • Pray for persecuted Christians around the world.


Saint Athanasius, you dedicated your whole life to preaching the true faith about Jesus Christ, that he is fully divine and fully human. Despite all the opposition you endured you clung to the truth and never stopped proclaiming it. Help us to have a deep faith and to be fully Catholic in our way of thinking despite all the errors that are so prevalent in our own time. Pray that we will have the light and courage to proclaim the truth like you did.

Feast: May 2

Patron: Theologians, those who uphold the truth of the Christian faith

A selection from Saint Athanasius

But for the searching of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them, an honorable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect guiding its path by it, may be able to attain what it desires, and to comprehend it, in so far as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God. For without a pure mind and a modelling of the life after the saints, a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints. For just as if a man wished to see the light of the sun, he would at any rate wipe and brighten his eye, purifying himself in some sort like what he desires, so that the eye, thus becoming light, may see the light of the sun. Or it is as if a person would see a city or country, he at any rate comes to the place to see it. Thus he who would comprehend the mind of those who speak of God must needs begin by washing and cleansing his soul, by his manner of living, and approach the saints themselves by imitating their works. Then, associated with them in the conduct of a common life, he may understand also what has been revealed to them by God. Thenceforth, as closely knit to them, he may escape the peril of the sinners and their fire at the day of judgment. He will thus receive what is laid up for the saints in the kingdom of heaven, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, whatsoever things are prepared for them that live a virtuous life, (see 1 Cor 2:9). They will then love our God and Father, in Christ Jesus our Lord: through whom and with whom be to the Father himself, with the Son himself, in the Holy Spirit, honor and might and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

From On the Incarnation, no. 57, as found here:

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Francis de Sales (August 21, 1567 – December 28, 1622)

Francis was born the eldest in a wealthy noble family in the Savoy region of France. His father was a severe man who hoped Francis would pursue a career in public service. Francis greatly desired to be a priest but, knowing his father’s desires, he patiently waited to reveal his vocation to his family. Soon after acquiring his doctorate at the prestigious University of Padua, a relieved Francis was able to obtain permission from his father to become a priest.

Not long after he was ordained in 1593, Francis was sent to the Chablais region to reconvert an area that had fallen under Calvinist control. He embraced this work with fervor despite difficult conditions and an initial lack of success. Francis wrote leaflets on the faith for distribution to the people. These were recopied by hand. In 1602, Francis was consecrated bishop of Geneva. With his characteristic determination and gentleness, Francis preached many eloquent sermons, taught catechesis, wrote countless letters, and worked to educate the laity and priests of his diocese.

In 1604, Francis met a young widow, Jane Frances de Chantal. A spiritual friendship developed between the two saints and was the source of fruitfulness both in their lives and in the Church. Together, they founded the Visitation Order of women religious. After working tirelessly his entire life, Francis died and was buried, at his request, at the convent of the Visitations nuns.

Saint Francis de Sales’ prescription: Evangelize with gentleness, humility, and simplicity.

Francis de Sales is known as “the gentleman saint” because he was gentle with people and showed great humility and delicacy in speaking with others. By nature he was inclined to anger but he worked on himself so much that his gentleness and kindness overcame his anger. He wanted to win people back to the Catholic faith and to do this he always used kindness. He didn’t engage in debates or harangue people. When he was working in the Calvinist area of the Chablais, sometimes his life was in danger because the people were so opposed to the Catholic Church. But through it all Francis managed to keep calm and reach out with humility.

At a certain point he decided it might be more effective to write pamphlets, and he wrote many of them explaining the Catholic faith and its teachings. Little by little these had an effect and people started to return to the Catholic faith. Francis always welcomed them back with great kindness and his gracious manner attracted people.

He was also convinced that holiness is for everyone and he was a great spiritual director. His book An Introduction to the Devout Life is still a best-selling volume for lay people who want to grow in holiness. His other best seller, Treatise on the Love of God, is a long work that goes into great detail about how we can love God in our lives.

We can learn a lot from Francis about effective evangelization. Today the internet can be an excellent tool to use in evangelizing, but too often it degenerates into angry debates that don’t help anyone. Francis can teach us a lot about how to evangelize in a way that attracts people instead of driving them away.

Some practical things to do:

  • Examine the way you typically interact with others on the internet, especially if you use it to evangelize. Are there some ways you can follow Francis’ lead in order to win people over?
  • Pray for missionaries throughout the world.
  • Think of small ways you can evangelize among your friends. For example, you might try inviting someone to go to Mass with you, or to pray the rosary together.


Saint Francis de Sales, please pray that I may grow in humility and faith so that, like you, I can give my entire life to God. Amen.

Feast: January 24
Patron: Writers, confessors, the deaf, journalists, the press, teachers

Selection from the writings of Saint Francis de Sales

Devotion is suitable to all sorts of vocations and professions.

In creation God commanded the plants to bring forth fruits, each one according to its kind; even so he commands all Christians, which are living plants of the Church, to bring forth their fruits of devotion, each one according to his quality and vocation. Devotion ought to be differently exercised by the prince, by the gentleman, by the tradesman, by the servant, by the widow, by the married person: and not only so, but the practice also of devotion must be accommodated to the health, the capacity, the employment, and the obligations of each one in particular.

For would it be fit for a bishop to be as retired as a Carthusian, and for married people to store up no more wealth than a Capuchin, for a working person to spend all day in church like a monk, and the religious continually exposed to all the exterior exercises of charity for the service of his neighbor as a bishop, would not this devotion be ridiculous, preposterous, and insupportable? This fault, nevertheless, happens very often, and the world, which does not, or will not discern any difference between real devotion and the indiscretion of those who pretend to be devout, blames and murmurs at it, which cannot remedy such disorders.

No, Philothea, devotion prejudices nothing when it is true, but rather makes all things perfect. The bee draws honey from flowers without hurting them, leaving them as entire and fresh as it found them; but true devotion goes yet farther, for it does not injure any calling or employment, but, on the contrary, adorns and beautifies all. . . .

Wherever we are, we can and ought to aspire to a perfect life.

From An Introduction to the Devout Life (Part I, Chapter 3)

(Taken from public domain edition found on the internet (published in Dublin in 1885):

Image credit: RickMorais, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310—c. 368)

Saint Hilary is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Hilary’s particular prescription for holiness can help us understand how to live in closer unity with the Trinity.

Born to pagan parents, Hilary had an excellent education steeped in classical Latin and Greek authors. When he studied philosophy, it didn’t satisfy his inquisitive mind. This search led him to Christianity, to which he converted and was baptized when he was about thirty years old. He was married and had at least one daughter. Though he was a layman, around the year 350 he was elected bishop of Poitiers by popular acclaim. He accepted it and was ordained.

Hilary is known as “the Athanasius of the West” because most of his life as a bishop was spent fighting Arianism. Hilary’s efforts helped the West steer clear of Arianism, though there were still some Arians there. Hilary preached tirelessly on the divinity of Christ. But a big problem was that the Roman emperor Constantius favored Arianism. When Hilary attended a church council in 356, his strong denunciation of Arianism angered the emperor so much that he threw Hilary into an exile that would last four years. During that time Hilary wrote an important treatise called On the Trinity, which clarified Catholic teaching on the Holy Trinity.  He also continued to confront the Arians. In 360 or 361 he was finally sent home and the people greeted him with great enthusiasm, including Saint Martin of Tours, one of Hilary’s good friends. Things began to calm down after the death of the emperor. Hilary went to Milan to debate its Arian bishop, Auxentius. Hilary’s calmness and clear teaching won the day and Auxentius had to concede defeat.

Hilary’s prescription: Live in union with the Holy Trinity.

When he was exiled to the East, Hilary decided to use his time well by writing a theological reflection on the Holy Trinity.   It is the first extant study of the Trinity in Latin. In many parts his study was written like a prayer. Hilary was clarifying doctrine not just for an academic purpose, but so that his readers would be able to live their lives in a closer union with the Trinity. In those days many errors were floating around about the Trinity and ordinary Christian people were very confused. Hilary’s writing gave them a clear insight into the Trinity and how that could help them grow in their spiritual life. The key concept was the equality and union of the three divine Persons in the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

This is a prescription that can help us today to live in a closer union with the Trinity. The unity and equality of the three Persons can foster in us a greater awareness of the divine indwelling in our soul. It is a teaching of the Church that when a person is in the state of grace (that is, not guilty of any unconfessed mortal sin) the holy Trinity dwells within their soul by grace. God is so close to us that he completely indwells us to the point where little by little we become more and more like the holy Trinity. In other words we become holy and can live in a very close union with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This bond with the indwelling Trinity can transform our life. Imagine how you would feel if you could see Jesus at your side all through the day. Imagine how that would transform your behavior. Even though we can’t see him with our eyes, Jesus really is living not just at our side but within our souls. That one thought would be able to transform our lives as we grasp more and more the great truth that Jesus dwells within us.

Some practical things to do:

  • We can easily fall into the habit of making the sign of the cross in a hurried, distracted way. Try to make the sign of the cross with attention and devotion as a way of honoring the indwelling Trinity.
  • Read the section on the Trinity that is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 232-297.
  • Think of the dignity of the human person who is indwelt by God, and see what a difference it can make in your relationships with other people.

Prayer (by Saint Hilary)

“Obtain, O Lord, that I may keep ever faithful to what I have professed in the creed of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit. That I may worship you, our Father, and with you, your Son; that I may deserve your Holy Spirit, who proceeds from you through your Only Begotten Son… Amen” (On the Trinity, 12, 57).

Feast: January 13
Patron: Children with disabilities, lawyers, and the sick

Excerpt from On the Trinity:

[Jesus] has commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (see Mt 28:19), that is, in the confession of the Author, [the Father] of the Only-Begotten One [the Son] and of the Gift [the Holy Spirit]. The Author of all things is one alone, for one alone is God the Father, from whom all things proceed. And one alone is Our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist (see 1 Cor 8:6), and one alone is the Spirit (see Eph 4:4), a gift in all…. In nothing can be found to be lacking so great a fullness, in which the immensity in the Eternal One, the revelation in the Image, joy in the Gift, converge in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit” (On the Trinity, 2, 1).

God [the Father] knows not how to be anything other than love; he knows not how to be anyone other than the Father. Those who love are not envious and the one who is the Father is so in his totality. This name admits no compromise, as if God were father in some aspects and not in others (ibid., 9, 61).

Translation of above quotes as found in Benedict XVI’s General Audience Address October 10, 2007

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Image Credit: wikimedia commons

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Basil the Great (c. 330–January 1, 379)

Saint Basil the Great is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Basil’s particular prescription for holiness will help you create and keep a simple plan of holiness for your life.

Basil came from a family of saints. His parents are Saint Basil the Elder and Saint Emmelia of Caesarea. Four of their ten children also became saints—Basil, Macrina, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter. Basil studied in Athens, where he became close friends with Saint Gregory Nazianzen. After this, Basil had a spiritual awakening that led him to focus on his interior life. He visited various monasteries and later established his own. He wrote a Rule for monks that became the foundation of monastic life in the East. His Rule influenced Saint Benedict who wrote the Rule that would influence the West.

Basil eventually left the monastery to become a hermit. However, Archbishop Eusebius of Caesarea soon summoned him to refute Arius’s teachings that Christ was not divine. Basil had much success in refuting Arianism and in 370 became a bishop himself. Basil also wrote important works that helped the Church articulate the dogma of the Trinity. Basil had a great influence on the Eastern liturgy, composing many prayers and hymns. As bishop, Basil was known for his tireless work for the sick and the poor, for whom he built many soup kitchens and a huge hospital. He was so beloved by Christians and non-Christians alike that upon his death, the entire city mourned.

Basil’s prescription: Have a balanced plan for your spiritual life.

Saint Basil’s rule for monks is essentially a very balanced plan for growing in the spiritual life. But if it’s for monks, what does that have to do with the lives of busy people today?

It doesn’t mean adopting his particular plan, also called a rule of life. The first responsibility each of us has is to faithfully fulfill the duties of our state in life. Most people are called to marriage, so their plan will have a lot to do with loving one’s spouse and children, while pursuing a career to support their family.

Basil’s rule is known for balance and moderations. He did away with any extreme ascetical practices (like excessive fasting or sleep deprivation). So any plan we develop for our own lives should also be balanced. Lay people can’t live as if they were monks. They can love their family in practical ways and be Christ for each other.

Write down your own personalized plan of life.

You can include some spiritual practices that you can take on. Sunday Mass should be a given, because it is an obligation for all Catholics. But could you attend Mass on another day too? Or put in some prayer time such as the rosary and reading the Bible? If you are a parent you can help your children to learn about and practice their faith.

Some practical things to do:

  • Write your own spiritual plan of life. For help with this consult the book Plan of Life by Fr. Roger Landry.
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself. It’s better to do a few things you can follow through on, rather than trying to do so many things you’ll give up.
  • Is there some area of life where you need better balance? For example, people often have trouble finding balance in regard to food. If you find yourself eating too much junk food, learn how to cook simple, healthful meals and don’t buy the junk food. Focus on the area that will make the most difference in your life.


Saint Basil, you knew how to lead a balanced life centered on God. Pray for us as we too strive to give our whole lives to God day by day, practicing virtue and loving God and our neighbor day by day.

Feast: January 2 (with Saint Gregory Nazianzen)
Patron: Russia, monks, tailors

Selection from Saint Basil:

On Charity toward One’s Neighbor

We have already said that the law [of God] develops and maintains the powers existing in germ within us. And since we are directed to love our neighbor as ourselves, let us consider whether we have received from the Lord the power to fulfill this commandment also. Who does not know that man is a civilized and gregarious animal, neither savage nor a lover of solitude? Nothing, indeed, is so compatible with our nature as living in society and in dependence upon one another and as loving our own kind. Now, the Lord himself gave to us the seeds of these qualities in anticipation of his requiring in due time their fruits, for he says: “A new commandment I give you: that you love one another” (Jn 13:34). Moreover, wishing to animate our soul to the observance of this commandment, he did not require signs of wonders as the means of recognizing his disciples (although he gave the power of working these also in the Holy Spirit), but he says: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). Further, he establishes so close a connection between the two great commandments that benefit conferred upon the neighbor is transferred to himself: “For I was hungry,” he says, “and you gave me to eat” (Mt 25:35). . . .

It is, accordingly, possible to keep the second commandment by observing the first, and by means of the second we are led back to the first. He who loves the Lord loves his neighbor in consequence. “If anyone love me,” said the Lord, “he will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:23); and again, he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). On the other hand, he who loves his neighbor fulfills the love he owes to God, for he accepts this favor as shown to himself. Wherefore Moses, that faithful servant of God, manifested such great love for his brethren as to wish his name to be struck off the book of God in which it was inscribed, if the sin of his people were not pardoned (see Ex 32:32). Paul, also, desiring to be, like Christ, an exchange for the salvation of all, dared to pray that he might be an anathema from Christ for the sake of his brethren who were his kinsmen according to the flesh (see Rom 9:3).Yet, at the same time he knew that it was impossible for him to be estranged from God through his having rejected his favor for love of him and for the sake of that great commandment; moreover, he knew that he would receive in return much more than he gave.

From the Long Rules for monks

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

St Basil, On the Long Rules part I, Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1950, page 25-26.

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Alphonsus (September 27, 1696–August 1, 1787)

Saint Alphonsus is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Alphonsus’s particular prescription for holiness can lead us to a greater love for Jesus.

Alphonsus was born near Naples, Italy. His wealthy family provided him with the finest education and by age sixteen he had earned doctorates in both civil and canon law. Two years later, he joined the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy and cared for the sick at the hospital for “incurables.” At the same time, he began to practice law. However, after several years, Alphonsus left the bar, disgusted by the unscrupulous machinations of the court system.

Alphonsus entered the seminary and was ordained in 1726. He soon became known for his sermons, which were eloquent and persuasive. His great compassion led him to evangelize everyone, especially the poor, with patience and love. Due to his untiring efforts, groups in which people would pray and reflect on the Word of God began to arise throughout the city. In 1732, Alphonsus founded the Redemptorists, dedicated to evangelizing the materially and spiritually poor the world over. He became an expert in moral theology and was widely sought after as a compassionate confessor. Despite resisting the honor, Alphonsus was made a bishop when he was sixty-six years old. He wrote over one hundred books, including classics such as The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ and The Glories of Mary. Known for his strong devotion to Mary, Alphonsus died at the age of ninety-one, just as the Angelus bells tolled.

Alphonsus’ prescription:  Live with a penitent heart. Go to confession on a regular basis.

Being an expert in moral theology, Alphonsus did his best to help people to have a spirit of contrition for their sins. He knew that people often sinned from weakness and did not realize the seriousness of their sins. His remedy was to move people to have a deeper love for Jesus, a penitent heart that would help them to want to invite Jesus more and more into their lives. Alphonsus focused on love more than on sin itself. He would preach about the sufferings of Jesus, which he endured out of love for each one of us. This emphasis on love had the power to help people come to a deeper conversion in their lives. Alphonsus moved many hearts when he preached and gave parish missions. It was because Alphonsus himself had a penitent heart that he was able to move people so deeply.

Some practical things to do:

  • Go to confession. If it has been a while since you’ve received this sacrament, prepare for it by focusing on Jesus’ love for you. He is ready to pour out his love and mercy on you and forgive all your sins through the ministry of the Church. After your initial confession put it on your schedule to go regularly. A monthly confession is a good ideal to strive for.
  • Do you have some resentment in your heart against any particular person? If so, pray for the grace to give up the bitterness and reconcile with that person if possible. It may not be possible to have an actual reconciliation. In that case simply forgive in your heart.
  • Practice gratitude. Praise God for the many gifts he has brought into your life. You may wish to pray with the Psalms, which are full of praise prayers.


Saint Alphonsus Liguori, pray for me that I might live with a penitent heart just as you did. Inspire me with thoughts and sentiments of love for God and for my neighbor. Help me to see Jesus in each person whom I meet. Amen.

Feast: August 1
Patron: Moral theologians, confessors, and those suffering from arthritis

Excerpt from the writings of Saint Alphonsus:

The Scriptures are clear enough in pointing out how necessary it is to pray, if we would be saved. “We ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Lk 18:1). “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation” (Mt 26:41). “Ask, and it shall be given you” (Mt 7:7). The words “we ought,” pray,” “ask,” according to the general consent of theologians, impose the precept, and denote the necessity of prayer. . . .

 Without the assistance of God’s grace we can do no good thing: “Without Me, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Saint Augustine remarks on this passage, that our Lord did not say, “Without Me, you can complete nothing,” but “without Me, you can do nothing;” giving us to understand that without grace we cannot even begin to do a good thing. Even more, Saint Paul writes, that of ourselves we cannot even have the wish to do good. “Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor 3:5). If we cannot even think a good thing, much less can we wish it.

The same thing is taught in many other passages of Scripture: “God works all in all. I will cause you to walk in my commandments, and to keep my judgments, and do them.” (Ezek 37:27). So, as Saint Leo I says, “Man does no good thing, except that which God, by his grace, enables him to do.”. . .  

From these two premises, on the one hand, that we can do nothing without the assistance of grace; and on the other, that this assistance is only given ordinarily by God to the person who prays, who does not see that the consequence follows, that prayer is absolutely necessary to us for salvation? And although the first graces that come to us without any cooperation on our part, such as the call to faith or to penance, are, as Saint Augustine says, granted by God even to those who do not pray; yet the Saint considers it certain that the other graces, and especially the grace of perseverance, are not granted except in answer to prayer: “God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray.”

Hence it is that the generality of theologians, following Saint Basil, Saint Chrysostom, Clement of Alexandria, Saint Augustine, and other Fathers, teach that prayer is necessary to adults, not only because of the obligation of the precept (as they say), but because it is necessary as a means of salvation. That is to say, in the ordinary course of Providence, it is impossible that a Christian should be saved without recommending himself to God, and asking for the graces necessary to salvation. Saint Thomas teaches the same: “After Baptism, continual prayer is necessary to man, in order that he may enter Heaven; for though by Baptism our sins are remitted, there still remains concupiscence to assail us from within, and the world and the devil to assail us from without” (Part 3, q. 39, a. 5).

From The Great Means of Prayer, chapter 1, “The Necessity of Prayer.”

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP