Thursday, January 28, 2010

St. Thomas Aquinas - Vox Clara Committee at Work

Today the Church's liturgy recalls the great Dominican Order's theologian-philosopher saint, Thomas Aquinas. He is their greatest glory. He taught philosophy and theology with such genius that he is considered one of the leading Christian thinkers. His innocence, on a par with his genius, earned for him the title of "Angelic Doctor".

Thomas ranks among the greatest writers and theologians of all time. His most important work, the Summa Theologiae, an explanation and summary of the entire body of Catholic teaching, has been standard for centuries, even to our own day. At the Council of Trent it was consulted after the Bible.

To a deeply speculative mind, he joined a remarkable life of prayer, a precious memento of which has been left to us in the Office of Corpus Christi. Reputed as great already in life, he nevertheless remained modest, a perfect model of childlike simplicity and goodness. He was mild in word and kind in deed. He believed everyone was as innocent as he himself was. When someone sinned through weakness, Thomas bemoaned the sin as if it were his own.

The goodness of his heart shone in his face, no one could look upon him and remain disconsolate. How he suffered with the poor and the needy was most inspiring. Whatever clothing or other items he could give away, he gladly did. He kept nothing superfluous in his efforts to alleviate the needs of others.

After he died his lifelong companion and confessor testified, "I have always known him to be as innocent as a five-year-old child. Never did a carnal temptation soil his soul, never did he consent to a mortal sin." He cherished a most tender devotion to St. Agnes, constantly carrying relics of this virgin martyr on his person. He died in 1274, at the age of fifty, in the abbey of Fossa Nuova. He is the patron saint of schools and of sacred theology. (Excerpted from Pius Parsch, The Church's Year of Grace)

Patron of academics; apologists; book sellers; Catholic academies, colleges, schools, universities; chastity; lightning; pencil makers; philosophers; publishers; scholars; theologians.

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From the Dominicans' website, a few reflections for the feast:

Some years ago John Paul II suggested that St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) could rightly be called the ‘doctor of humanity’. He is clearly a doctor of divinity the Pope said, but his greatness consists as much in what he says about the human as in what he says about God.

Aquinas - whose liturgical feast is celebrated today - is one of the foremost representatives of a Christian humanism that has always flourished in the Church. In his understanding of creation and of grace, he draws on the resources of philosophy as well as theology to re-think the terms in which biblical, Christian doctrine may be presented.

He was able to develop a mysticism of creation itself, in which God is understood to be present not only in particular people, places, or experiences, but everywhere and always. As creator, God is mightily active ‘deep down things’, for if God were not constantly willing the world’s being, and empowering its activities, there would be nothing.

Creation itself then – the nature of things as we come to understand and appreciate them – is another book in which the mystery of God is intelligible to us, however dimly.

All creatures bear a trace of their Maker but humans are created in God’s ‘image and likeness’. This is seen, St Thomas says, in our intelligence, in our moral responsibility, and in our creativity. As ‘participants in providence’ we are God’s partners in the unfolding of the world’s history. No longer merely servants, we are brought into friendship with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

St Thomas is very much a saint for our times. Secular humanism fears that God is a threat to humanity, that men and women cannot be truly free until they shake off God. Christian humanism knows that the truth is directly contrary to this: Christ, who is the head of humanity, leads it towards its flourishing, not towards its destruction. Christ is our way to maturity, St Thomas says, the love-breathing Word from God who finally introduces us to ourselves.

St Thomas Aquinas was an intellectual. His business was texts and translations, arguments and ideas. He shows us that holiness is also about the mind. He shows us that ‘mystery’, far from bringing thinking to an end, invites it to continue forever. He teaches us that it is in the light of God’s wisdom, as it is in the warmth of God’s love, that human beings come to their full flourishing.

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Thomas' spiritual greatness is manifest in this prayer attributed to him:

Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas

O Lord my God, help me to be obedient without reserve, poor without servility, chaste without compromise, humble without pretense, joyful without depravity, serious without affectation, active without frivolity, submissive without bitterness, truthful without duplicity, fruitful in good works without presumption, quick to revive my neighbor without haughtiness, and quick to edify others by word and example without simulation.

Grant me, O Lord, an ever-watchful heart that no alien thought can lure away from You; a noble heart that no base love can sully; an upright heart that no perverse intention can lead astray; an invincible heart that no distress can overcome; an unfettered heart that no impetuous desires can enchain.

O Lord my God, also bestow upon me understanding to know You, zeal to seek You, wisdom to find You, a life that is pleasing to You, unshakable perseverance, and a hope that will one day take hold of You.

May I do penance here below and patiently bear your chastisements. May I also receive the benefits of your grace, in order to taste your heavenly joys and contemplate your glory.

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Vox Clara Committee In Session...

Left to right: Cardinals Oswald Gracias (Bombay), Justin Rigali (Philadelphia), George Pell (Sydney), Chair of Vox Clara, getting ready for a morning's work

Here are some photos as our working sessions got underway. Tomorrow, there will be a report on the visit by the new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) and Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Canizares.

Staff advisors Msgr. James Moroney, Fathers Dennis McManus, Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B.

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