Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thomas Aquinas: Patron of Prophets

On Monday, March 8, the Church celebrated, in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, according to the traditional Roman calendar, the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. The feast was transferred this year from March 7 (the date of Thomas's death) due to that date's falling on the Third Sunday of Lent. As mandated by Pope Pius XI in Studiorum Ducem, in schools or seminaries, this feast is to be celebrated with great festivity (as a first-class feast). At one seminary, a private Solemn High Mass was organized and celebrated, with about 20 students and faculty in attendance. The following is the text of the sermon preached at that Mass.

On Thomas Aquinas (A panegyric for future and present ministerial prophets)

The images of salt and light, used by Our Lord in our Gospel today, are particularly apt descriptors for the savor and radiance of the doctrine and example of Thomas Aquinas. Above all other doctors, the Universal Doctor stands out as the chosen instrument of the Lord, providing, in the order of sacred doctrine, the purest salt for the earth and the most brilliant light for the world.
Yet we miss the point of our feast today if we do not recall that the glory of the teaching of St. Thomas is a direct result of his remarkable docility before Reality: before God, Who through creation and revelation and the Incarnation, speaks His one Word to us for our salvation. This docility, this radical openness of St. Thomas before being, is the virtue that we must make our own if we are to follow in the prophetic footsteps of the saint whom we celebrate this evening.

In order to imitate the Angelic Doctor’s docility, however, we must also make real in our lives his other virtues – the virtues that made his remarkable docility possible. The first of these is the theological virtue of faith. It was through a deep faith, given to him at baptism, and exercised tenaciously from the first stirrings of reason, that Thomas Aquinas was able to be taught by God. He believed God and he believed what God taught. His faith sought understanding, as he asked in his earliest years, “What is God?” Thomas’s was a living faith. He believed into the mystery of God, entering into a loving relationship with the One Whom he believed.

Our faith also must be a living faith, of course, lest sin prevent us from believing into the divine mystery, into a life-changing relationship with God. And for this, faith needs charity, the second docility-creating virtue exemplified by St. Thomas. Thomas’s charity was unshakeable – his will was almost locked into its ultimate end as he lived his mature years in the divine mode of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, engaging in a quasi-experiential relationship with God, an approximation and foretaste of the Beatific Vision. His charity was increased every day as he offered and received the Holy Victim of the Altar. From this rightly ordered will, he preferred nothing to God and so could listen to Him with a complete and confident trust. Indeed, Thomas received the truth with joy because the One Who gave the truth was the One Whom his heart loved.

In his deep and abiding charity, Thomas was protected by the virtues of temperance and fortitude. By the former, he was preserved from allowing his love for created goods to become an obstacle to his listening before reality; by the latter, he was fortified to “wrestle with the angels,” as he described the theologian’s task. The tranquil equilibrium of his concupiscible appetite was matched in its excellence only by the ferocity with which his fortitude checked his irascible appetite. No attachment to any cause or person or idea or position was going to prevent him from listening to the true voice of reality. No difficulty or suffering was going to impede him from following the truth wherever it led, even to conclusions that would force him to admit past error or disagree with men of high repute. Because of these virtues in his soul, neither love of creatures nor fear of difficulty could prevent him from listening in living faith to the voice of the Logos.

This purity of Thomas’s soul – made possible by faith, charity, temperance, and fortitude – gave birth to such docility that Thomas was in this life almost a conduit of Divine Wisdom, acting as a sort of mediator between the infinite Word made flesh and the finite minds many students. Indeed, Thomas was so pure that his soul seemed to assume the very likeness of the Logos Himself, becoming in Christ truly salt and light for the world. He was salted and so he became salt; he was illumined and so he became light. His docility was the source of his wisdom.

Brothers, can we, who are called to this same task, fail to follow in these holy footsteps? Can we, who are called to be salt and light, fail to purify our souls through the virtues so that we can be docile before the Word of God? Just as he leads us surely in matters of sacred doctrine, let Thomas Aquinas be our guide also in this. Amen.


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