My Culture

Living an Abundant Life: St. Alberto Hurtado

When I first came to claim my Catholic faith as my own, I was met with a whirlwind of joy, realizing for the first time how loved I was by Jesus. It was a fulfillment I had never known before that spoke truth into the lies that the world proclaimed. Interestingly enough, it was through service work that I came to solidify this faith, to truly understand how loved I was by witnessing this love in others. I had participated in community service before, but doing so through the lens of faith transformed the very meaning of service. It became less about counting hours and more about encountering souls and building authentic relationships, centered not on have and have-nots, but on shared humanity.

I noticed that I received much more than I gave, that I didn’t have all the solutions like I had once thought. I recognized the poverty within my own heart and the dignity of those before me. This sustained me and was itself sustainable. This notion of reaching out to help those in need (any kind of need) is one of the most beautiful parts of our faith. It ensures we don’t stay complacent, but rather allow Christ to not just live in us, but act in us, too. From an overflowing of His love for us, we are called to share this love with others.

In learning how to be so full of Christ’s love that I eagerly share it, I turn to the example of the saints. I once thought that such figures were unapproachable, unreal, or out of touch with the real world. But then I met the Mother Teresas, the John Paul II’s, the Pier Giorgio Frassati’s of the world… saints who were very real in their outreach and joy, who were so assured of God’s love for them but they couldn’t help pour it out. St. Alberto Hurtado, born in 1901 and canonized in 2005, is one of these saints. You may not have heard of him, but he’s a good one to add to the list of baller saints. He proves that God is still acting through bold witness even in recent history. Yep, that’s right — a saint of our times; he was born in the same century as me and canonized around the time that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out. This Chilean saint is a modern witness of joyful holiness, a holiness that moves to the suffering and does not close itself in.

Young Alberto lost his father at the age of 4 and worked hard to support his family. He was able to attend a Jesuit high school through the gift of a scholarship and went on to study law. He felt a tug to the priesthood, but he postponed his entry so as to better financially support his family first. When he entered, at the age of 22, he instantly felt alive, writing to a friend that he was “as happy and content as one can be on this earth!”

So what was it about this man’s journey that helped him feel such depths of joy? And how can we, as the young people of today, find that same fulfillment in our lives?

Actions

In Pope Francis’ Christus Vivit, the Holy Father offers St. Alberto as an example of a courageous missionary. He quotes St. Alberto’s words when he said:

“Being an apostle does not mean wearing a lapel pin; it is not about speaking about the truth but living it, embodying it, being transformed in Christ. Being an apostle does not mean carrying a torch in hand, possessing the light, but being that light… The Gospel, more than a lesson, is an example. A message that becomes a life fully lived’” (CV 175).

How did St. Alberto fully live this message? He was deeply moved by the poor that roamed Chile’s streets, visiting them weekly throughout his studies. When he became a priest, he delved further into his love for these destitute and forgotten. With the help of donations, he founded Hogar de Cristo, an overnight home and place of refuge for the homeless and poor.

He could have let his heartbreak for the poor and stopped there. He could have learned about Catholic social teaching and done no more. But St. Alberto was moved to action. He saw a need and recognized his own ability to address it. Such action shows that the message of Christ’s love is real and attainable, and that Christ is waiting upon each of us to demonstrate this love in our daily lives.

Hogar de Cristo is still thriving today, its services now expanding to serve the terminally ill, young people with substance abuse problems, and forgotten elderly individuals. St. Alberto’s spark of action has ignited an outreach that extends far beyond his initial hopes or plans.

Rooted in Prayer

St. Alberto provides a living example of Christian action, but there’s another part of his ministry we must not forget: prayer. It is only through understanding God’s love fully and receiving it as his beloved son that St. Alberto could do what he did. To pour out love, we must first possess it abundance.

In her counseling of a young priest, St. Mother Teresa once gave words to what I imagine St. Alberto was often thinking. She said, “Do you think that I could go through the streets looking for the poor if Jesus did not communicate the fire of his charity to my heart?… Without God, we are too poor to be able to help the poor.”

There are plenty of suffering people all around us, afflicted by a variety of ills. But our desire to lift them up must be more than a social cause. Yes, we need a desire for social justice and a plan for effective and sustainable change, but we also need the fire of God in our hearts. This is what allows us to see the suffering in a different light than others, to see them as worthy of immeasurable dignity, as the Father’s beloved child. We see in the suffering the very reflection of Christ and His suffering. Out of love for Him, we must gaze wholeheartedly upon the individual before us and accompany them through their journey, carrying their Cross beside them. Rooted in prayer, we must love with our actions, not just our ideas, and care without tiring, because we know how God has done the same for us.

Vocation

Lastly, St. Albert gives us an example of joy in his yes to God. He was a gifted man, one who could have very easily pursued law or marriage and gained a name for himself. But he handed over his entire life to God as a Jesuit. He sought not worldly praise or extravagance, but to be God’s instrument of love. And he gained more of a name for himself by this love than any career could have ever achieved for him.

Not all of us are called to join a religious order and start an organization like Hogar de Cristo. Some of us are called to little sacrifices or little acts of charity. Some of us are called to be sanctified in marriage, or as lawyers, through a life that may appear to be very normal. But no matter how “exciting” our vocations may seem, one thing is true: our unique vocations are the best way for us to radically receive and give the love of Christ. We can give ourselves to God no matter where we are called.

God has an exciting journey planned for you, no matter what your daily life looks like. All that it takes for your yes to change lives is to hand yourself over to God as His instrument, just as St. Alberto did. Remaining rooted and prayer and action, you can accomplish the life of abundant joy that St. Alberto so beautifully demonstrated.

About the Author

Faith Noah

I’m a college student at Vanderbilt University studying neuroscience. I’m from the great state of Texas, and my hobbies include rapping along to Twenty One Pilots, jamming out on guitar, and watching NCIS marathons. However, at the end of the day, you’ll find me either engaging in sugar-induced fits of hyperactivity or having a deep stimulating theological discussions. One extreme or the other. Fun fact: my whole name (together) is in the Bible. Hebrews 11:7. No big deal.