Today, August 1, we celebrate St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s anniversary of death in 1787 at the age of 91. The Founder of the Redemptorists was born in Naples on September 27, 1696, just a month earlier than our Foundress Ven. Mother Maria Celeste Crostarosa.
Alphonsus was an extremely intelligent man. Early in his life he once made a vow never to waste a moment of time so he wrote over 100 books, painted, played the organ and composed songs. His most famous hymn is the Italian Christmas carol, Tu Scendi Delle Stelle (From Starry Skies Descending).
A renowned preacher and confessor, he won the hearts of the simple people by teaching them to pray to God as to a dear friend. This may seem ironic because Alphonsus himself was a man plagued by scruples but he recognized the truth that God was pure love and that we may approach God without fear.
When I was a Postulant, Sr. Peg gave me a pamphlet of one of Alphonsus’ teachings that described a method of prayer which I found helpful. It had the mnemonic device of the word ACTS which stands for Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, Supplication.
You may well ask what does St. Alphonsus, the great moral theologian of the eighteenth century, who wrote uncountable treatises on prayer and the founder of the Redemptorists has in common with T’ai Chi, a philosophy that has its roots in sixth century BCE (Before the Common Era) Taoism? Truthfully, not much; perhaps the only connection is that when Alphonsus was a young diocesan priest he desired to go on the missions to China.
It is only because of my temperament did I find a connection between Alphonsus’ method of meditation and T’ai Chi: movement in meditation.
I’m sure you have all seen people doing T’ai Chi on TV or maybe in the park. I’ve taken a couple of basic courses in it. The one you see people doing in the park in English is called ‘The Flowing River.’ Another form I learned once while on retreat is simple, gentle, repetitive movements that lend themselves to meditation.
T’ai Chi has its roots in Taoism. The Chinese mystic Lao Tse, a contemporary of Confucius, and India’s Buddha, in the sixth century BCE in his book, Tao te Ching, wrote, ‘All things come from the Way: it creates without owning, gives without demanding. This is harmony.’ The Way is Chi: the energy which flows in the harmony of nature and in each of us. Lao Tse looked to nature to give examples: ‘As spring overcomes the cold and autumn overcomes the heat, so calm and quiet overcomes the world.’
Lao Tse’s contemplative eye on nature taught him that in order to be calm and quiet one needs to meditate so one may be engaged in the world in a harmonious fashion.
Years ago I wedded St. Alphonsus’ ACTS with the gentle repetitive movements of T’ai Chi. Perhaps, if St. Alphonsus was alive today he would still heartily encourage this form of meditation and add, "Jesus is The Way, our Chi! (energy/lifeforce)
These prayerful movements can be done standing or sitting. All the motions and the thoughts flow from the heart and continue to do so with each letter of ACTS until you feel the natural end to each intention.
The first letter A stands for Adoration. With hands raised heart high I circle those palms up around in front of me conscious of the presence of God and adoring the Creator of all things. The second letter C stands for Contrition. My hands move out and back, pushing from the heart, all my failings that stand between me and God. The letter T is for Thanksgiving. This time my hands, palms up, come up from the side of my body to my heart in a circular motion recounting all the blessings I have received as gift in my life. The final letter is S for Supplication. Here my palms face down and circle heart high blessing and beseeching God’s mercy and love on my family, community, the world.
St. Alphonsus used all kinds of prayer in his life. I can imagine he raised his hands and prayed from his heart as he taught the poor and abandoned to do likewise in these words, “Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends. Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears— of everything that concerns you. Converse with Him confidently and frankly; for God is not wont to speak to a soul that does not speak to Him.”
Let us then, whether still or in motion, pray confidently to our dearest friend, Jesus, The Way.