Saint of the Day OCT 30, 2021

Tragedy and challenge beset today’s saint early in life, but Alphonsus Rodriguez found happiness and contentment through simple service and prayer.

Born in Spain in 1533, Alphonsus inherited the family textile business at 23. Within the space of three years, his wife, daughter, and mother died; meanwhile, business was poor. Alphonsus stepped back and reassessed his life. He sold the business, and with his young son, moved into his sister’s home. There he learned the discipline of prayer and meditation.

At the death of his son years later, Alphonsus, almost 40 by then, sought to join the Jesuits. He was not helped by his poor education. He applied twice before being admitted. For 45 years he served as doorkeeper at the Jesuits’ college in Majorca. When not at his post, he was almost always at prayer, though he often encountered difficulties and temptations.

His holiness and prayerfulness attracted many to him, including Saint Peter Claver, then a Jesuit seminarian. Alphonsus’ life as doorkeeper may have been humdrum, but centuries later he caught the attention of poet and fellow-Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins, who made him the subject of one of his poems.

Alphonsus died in 1617. He is the patron saint of Majorca.


Reflection

We like to think that God rewards the good, even in this life. But Alphonsus knew business losses, painful bereavement, and periods when God seemed very distant. None of his suffering made him withdraw into a shell of self-pity or bitterness. Rather, he reached out to others who lived with pain, including enslaved Africans. Among the many notables at his funeral were the sick and poor people whose lives he had touched. May they find such a friend in us!

BOOK REVIEW – UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

UNDERGROUND RAILROAD – COLSON WHITEHEAD

Colson Whitehead is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Underground Railroad, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, the 2016 National Book Award, and named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, as well as The Noble HustleZone OneSag HarborThe IntuitionistJohn Henry DaysApex Hides the Hurt, and The Colossus of New York. He is also a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a recipient of the MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships. He lives in New York City.

In his dynamic new novel, Colson Whitehead takes the Underground Railroad — the loosely interlocking network of black and white activists who helped slaves escape to freedom in the decades before the Civil War — and turns it from a metaphor into an actual train that ferries fugitives northward.

The result is a potent, almost hallucinatory novel that leaves the reader with a devastating understanding of the terrible human costs of slavery. It possesses the chilling, matter-of-fact power of the slave narratives collected by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s, with echoes of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” and with brush strokes borrowed from Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka and Jonathan Swift.

The book chronicles the life of a teenage slave named Cora, who flees the Georgia plantation where she was born, risking everything in pursuit of freedom, much the way her mother, Mabel, did years before. Cora and her friend Caesar are pursued by a fanatical, Javert-like slave catcher named Ridgeway, whose failure to find Mabel has made him all the more determined to hunt down her daughter and destroy the abolitionist network that has aided her.

Traveling from Georgia to South Carolina to North Carolina to Tennessee to Indiana, Cora must try to elude not just Ridgeway, but also other bounty hunters, informers and lynch mobs — with help, along the way, from a few dedicated “railroad” workers, both black and white, willing to risk their lives to save hers.

Although the basic escape narrative will remind some readers of the WGN America television series “Underground” (about a group of slaves fleeing a Georgia plantation), this novel jumps around in time and space, lending Cora’s story a fractured, modernist feel and reminding the reader of the inventive storytelling in such earlier Whitehead novels as “The Intuitionist” and “John Henry Days.”

In “Underground Railroad,” there’s a kind of prologue that recounts the story of Cora’s grandmother Ajarry, who was kidnapped in Africa, sold into slavery and repeatedly swapped and resold in America; and Cora’s story is intercut with interludes featuring portraits of other characters, like Ridgeway and Caesar.