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A fast take on St. Aloysius Gonzaga with author Silas Henderson

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Far from being "a relic of an outdated kind of Catholicism," he found a "middle way" that may speak to our dissatisfied millennials.

Brother Silas Henderson is a member of Society of the Divine Savior (the Salvatorians) and currently serves as the managing editor of Deacon Digest Magazine. He also is the fellow responsible for our daily Saint of the Day feature here at Aleteia, and a weekly contributor whose reflections on the Sunday Gospel appear here each Saturday. A catechist and author, he has written dozens of articles and books, his latest being Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J.: With an Undivided Heart, which he discusses with us, here.

What inspired the book?

This book was truly a labor of love.

I developed a strong affection and devotion for St. Aloysius when I was in high school (Aloysius is my confirmation name), and that has remained with me in the years since. But, as I “grew up,” I began to recognize how much this saint had been dismissed as being a relic of an outdated kind of Catholicism. And yet, hundreds of churches throughout the country have a statue or stained glass window of him and the entire Church celebrates his memorial on June 21.

I began to think that, perhaps, it was time to tell his story again and what began as an article for a magazine evolved into three years of writing and research and this book was the result. In it, I try to not only tell the story of St. Aloysius’ life, but to also explore what was going on in the Church at that time and to talk about the foundations of the Jesuits, the community to which St. Aloysius belonged.

If you could give this book another title, what would it be?

What a great question…

The subtitle that the book has now was suggested by my good friend, Bro. Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.. He’s a gifted liturgical artist and illustrator and made an image of St. Aloysius for me several years ago. It’s something that I really treasure and I love the subtitle that we have.

However, I think if I were to pick another, I would say, “Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J.: A Saint for Seekers.” This man’s entire life was oriented toward seeking God’s will and living that to the best of his ability. And, as people come to know his story, we can quickly see how his spirit of discernment and total dedication have a lot to say to us today.

What story or anecdote (or piece of advice) in this book most personally resonated with you? 

As I’ve said, his commitment to the will of God is really an inspiration and I think that is what has kept me coming back to St. Aloysius all these years. Here is a man who died when he was only 23 years old, and yet he became one of the most celebrated saints of the past few centuries and numerous saints had a great devotion to him, including St. John Berchmans, St. John Baptist Rossi, Pope St. John XXIII,  and St. Joseph Cafasso, and the Carmelite martyr Bl. Maria Sagrario of St. Aloysius Gonzaga. His message is timeless and his life is a witness to the kind of dedication and selfless love that each of us is called to as disciples of Jesus.

Every day I ask him to pray for my own Salvatorian community and for all those people who want to grow in their relationship with God.

Did writing this book teach you anything?

I learned that the world in which St. Aloysius lived isn’t really all that different than our world today, and I definitely think young adults–especially as they often struggle to make sense of life–can find a friend in Aloysius. He can relate to so many of the struggles that Christians face today, especially when we seem to be faced with only two choices: Life in God or the values of the broader world. Here is a young man who had to learn to negotiate a middle way, honoring the demands of his family and society but still taking a prophetic stance that there is more to life that wealth, power, and comfort. It is possible to stand for something and by doing so we can help change the world.

Although 16th-century Italy might seem totally disconnected from life in the United States in the 21st century, we share many of the same temptations and struggles that the people of Aloysius’ day would have faced. These include a quest for power, ambition, exploiting others for our own advantage, a huge division between the rich and the poor, and even divisions within the Church. But this was also an age of saints and it’s a powerful reminder that God is at work in the Church and the world and that there are always saints among us and we should be open to the fact that we are also called to be saints for our time.

If there is one person you want to reach with this book, who would that be?

Obviously this book will of interest to devotees of St. Aloysius and to anyone who enjoys Church history or studying the Society of Jesus. However, I think this book would be especially helpful for anyone who is struggling to understand God’s will for their lives or what their place in the Church is.

St. Aloysius was a crown-prince of the Holy Roman Empire and the eldest son and heir of one of the most powerful families in Italy. But, as he struggled and prayed with these same questions, he discovered his true vocation: to give himself completely to God and to others as a religious. And, although he never fulfilled his dream of becoming a Jesuit missionary-priest in Asia, he became something so much more because his love knew no limits.

What is the ideal beverage to have in hand while reading your book? 

I love this question … I’m a Bourbon drinker so, of course, I’m going to say Bourbon. However, I’d also say a nice, dry red wine would be a great choice, as well.

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