“Follow your heart” and “pursue your dreams” are advice often given to young people today. In eighteenth century Italy, however, young Alphonsus Liguori faced an entirely different set of expectations. Because he was “upper class” by birth, he was expected to pursue a professional career and get married to someone of his social standing. Therefore, when Alphonsus decided to enter the priesthood, his father was outraged, and refused to speak with him for two years. Alphonsus was resolute, however, and after ordination he continued his break from aristocratic expectations by serving in desolate city slums and remote mountain regions. Later, when he was named bishop in a mostly well-to-do diocese, he thought that it must be a punishment for his sins.
The experiences of St. Alphonsus Liguori remind us that when we open our hearts and allow God to touch our lives, our future will be anything but conventional, safe, or predictable. Indeed, we’ll find ourselves challenging our culture, and being challenged by it; we’ll break molds, and break out of pigeonholes; we’ll defy the expectations of others, but with grace we’ll exceed them. God’s plans are indeed full of surprises, presenting us with both joys and crosses that we could never foresee.
Today, as we continue our uncharted journeys, we’d do well to echo these words of St. Alphonsus himself: “I offer myself entirely to you (God), that you might do with me and all that belongs to me as you please.”