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St. Thomas Aquinas

Well, here you go!

As you know, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave several series of General Audiences on the great men and women of the Church, beginning with the apostles.  Thomas Aquinas, not surprisingly, takes up three sessions:

June 2, 2010 – an Introduction.

In addition to study and teaching, Thomas also dedicated himself to preaching to the people. And the people too came willingly to hear him. I would say that it is truly a great grace when theologians are able to speak to the faithful with simplicity and fervour. The ministry of preaching, moreover, helps theology scholars themselves to have a healthy pastoral realism and enriches their research with lively incentives.

The last months of Thomas’ earthly life remain surrounded by a particular, I would say, mysterious atmosphere. In December 1273, he summoned his friend and secretary Reginald to inform him of his decision to discontinue all work because he had realized, during the celebration of Mass subsequent to a supernatural revelation, that everything he had written until then “was worthless”. This is a mysterious episode that helps us to understand not only Thomas’ personal humility, but 220px-Thomas_Aquinas_by_Fra_Bartolommeoalso the fact that, however lofty and pure it may be, all we manage to think and say about the faith is infinitely exceeded by God’s greatness and beauty which will be fully revealed to us in Heaven. A few months later, more and more absorbed in thoughtful meditation, Thomas died while on his way to Lyons to take part in the Ecumenical Council convoked by Pope Gregory X. He died in the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova, after receiving the Viaticum with deeply devout sentiments.

The life and teaching of St Thomas Aquinas could be summed up in an episode passed down by his ancient biographers. While, as was his wont, the Saint was praying before the Crucifix in the early morning in the chapel of St Nicholas in Naples, Domenico da Caserta, the church sacristan, overheard a conversation. Thomas was anxiously asking whether what he had written on the mysteries of the Christian faith was correct. And the Crucified One answered him: “You have spoken well of me, Thomas. What is your reward to be?”. And the answer Thomas gave him was what we too, friends and disciples of Jesus, always want to tell him: “Nothing but Yourself, Lord!” (ibid., p. 320).

June 16, 2010- Thomas’ theology and philosophical insights

To conclude, Thomas presents to us a broad and confident concept of human reason: broadbecause it is not limited to the spaces of the so-called “empirical-scientific” reason, but open to the whole being and thus also to the fundamental and inalienable questions of human life; and confident because human reason, especially if it accepts the inspirations of Christian faith, is a promoter of a civilization that recognizes the dignity of the person, the intangibility of his rights and the cogency of his or her duties. It is not surprising that the doctrine on the dignity of the person, fundamental for the recognition of the inviolability of human rights, developed in schools of thought that accepted the legacy of St Thomas Aquinas, who had a very lofty conception of the human creature. He defined it, with his rigorously philosophical language, as “what is most perfect to be found in all nature – that is, a subsistent individual of a rational nature” (Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 29, a. 3).

The depth of St Thomas Aquinas’ thought let us never forget it flows from his living faith and fervent piety, which he expressed in inspired prayers such as this one in which he asks God: “Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you”

June 23, 2010 – what we can learn from Thomas

In presenting the prayer of the Our Father, St Thomas shows that it is perfect in itself, since it has all five of the characteristics that a well-made prayer must possess: trusting, calm abandonment; a fitting content because, St Thomas observes, “it is quite difficult to know exactly what it is appropriate and inappropriate to ask for, since choosing among our wishes puts us in difficulty”(ibid., p. 120); and then an appropriate order of requests, the fervour of love and the sincerity of humility.

Also – from Fr. Robert Barron, 10 of his own resources on St. Thomas Aquinas. 

Lenten Study Groups?

It’s not too late to pull something together for a parish or less formal group study during Lent.  I’ve contributed to two resources that you might find useful in that regard:

First, this volume from Loyola’s Six Weeks with the Bible series –  6-week study of the Passion Narratives in Matthew.  For some reason, the Loyola listing doesn’t list me as author, but believe me, I wrote it!

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Fr. Robert Barron has a few topical studies available, and they’ve just redesigned and upgraded them – I wrote the study guide for the Conversion series  – quite suitable for Lent. 

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Throughout the years, parish groups have used The Words We Pray for study groups - you might consider that, as well.

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From Paul, servant of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ to bring those whom God has chosen to faith and to the knowledge of the truth that leads to true religion; and to give them the hope of the eternal life that was promised so long ago by God. He does not lie and so, at the appointed time, he revealed his decision, and, by the command of God our saviour, I have been commissioned to proclaim it. To Titus, true child of mine in the faith that we share, wishing you grace and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our saviour.   - Paul to Titus

In 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of these missionary saints in his general audience (part of the series he did on the Apostles, gathered in this volume and other similar titles by different publishers. Study guide that I wrote here.).  After going over what Scripture and Tradition reveal to us about the two, he concluded:

To conclude, if we consider together the two figures of Timothy and Titus, we are aware of certain very significant facts. The most important one is that in carrying out his missions, Paul availed himself of collaborators. He certainly remains the Apostle par excellence, founder and pastor of many Churches.

"timothy and titus" January 26Yet it clearly appears that he did not do everything on his own but relied on trustworthy people who shared in his endeavours and responsibilities.

Another observation concerns the willingness of these collaborators. The sources concerning Timothy and Titus highlight their readiness to take on various offices that also often consisted in representing Paul in circumstances far from easy. In a word, they teach us to serve the Gospel with generosity, realizing that this also entails a service to the Church herself.

Lastly, let us follow the recommendation that the Apostle Paul makes to Titus in the Letter addressed to him: “I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men” (Ti 3: 8).

Through our commitment in practice we can and must discover the truth of these words, and precisely in this Season of Advent, we too can be rich in good deeds and thus open the doors of the world to Christ, our Saviour.

In case you missed it, Saturday was the memorial of St. Francis de Sales – and from today, here’s a good introductory post to that saint at the Word on Fire site from seminarian and blogger Joe Heschmeyer:

 It would have been easy for him to give up, but by the grace of God, he didn’t. His persistence paid off. Over the span of a few years, fruit began to sprout up. Ultimately, the mission was a huge success, with nearly every one of the 72,000 souls living in the Chablais returning to Catholicism. Mackey describes it this way: “At the end of four years the whole country was Catholic, the parishes organized, churches being restored and scarcely one hundred Calvinists remained.”
 

This legacy continues to the present day, in the form of a continual Catholic presence. For example, the great Church of Saint Hippolytus, built in the 12th century, became Calvinist in 1536. Under the influence of St. Francis de Sales, it returned to the Catholic Church in 1594, and remains Catholic today.

So what contributed to the success of St. Francis’ mission to the Chablais? Certainly, his natural talents play some role, but I would suggest that God made great use of his charity and his persistence.

He combined a solid orthodoxy with an intense pastoral devotion. On doctrine, he wouldn’t move an inch; pastorally, there was nothing he wouldn’t do. In fact, he coined the saying, “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.” He lived out Matthew 18:12 in a radical way, going to extreme (sometimes life-threatening) ends to save even a few souls. He’s the Patron Saint of the Catholic press, because of the way that he used media (at the time, printed tracts and books) to evangelize when all of the other doors were shut, and to provide spiritual direction. He’s also the Patron Saint of the deaf, for an even more radical reason: in order to teach a deaf man about God, St. Francis invented a form of sign language.

 

After becoming Bishop of Geneva, he visited every one of his diocese’s 450 parishes, five abbeys, six conventual priories, four Carthusian monasteries, and five convents. Even those who disagreed with his theology couldn’t doubt his love for the people of God. Rightly has he been called the “Gentleman Saint,” and named the Doctor of Charity.

St. Francis de Sales

First, if you are not familiar with this saint whose memorial is Saturday the 24th…fix that! 

Bishop, evangelist, teacher, writer, spiritual director and friend.

Links to his works – start with the most familiar, Introduction to the Devout Life, and go on from there.  Don’t forget his correspondence with St. Jane de Chantal, either. 

From Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s General Audience presentation on Francis de Sales, back in 2011: 

In his harmonious youth, reflection on the thought of St Augustine and of St Thomas Aquinas led to a deep crisis. This prompted him to question his own eternal salvation and the predestination of God concerning himself; he suffered as a true spiritual drama the principal theological issues of his time. He prayed intensely but was so fiercely tormented by doubt that for a few weeks he could "amy welborn"barely eat or sleep.

At the climax of his trial, he went to the Dominicans’ church in Paris, opened his heart and prayed in these words: “Whatever happens, Lord, you who hold all things in your hand and whose ways are justice and truth; whatever you have ordained for me… you who are ever a just judge and a merciful Father, I will love you Lord…. I will love you here, O my God, and I will always hope in your mercy and will always repeat your praise…. O Lord Jesus you will always be my hope and my salvation in the land of the living” (I Proc. Canon., Vol. I, art. 4).

The 20-year-old Francis found peace in the radical and liberating love of God: loving him without asking anything in return and trusting in divine love; no longer asking what will God do with me: I simply love him, independently of all that he gives me or does not give me. Thus I find peace and the question of predestination — which was being discussed at that time — was resolved, because he no longer sought what he might receive from God; he simply loved God and abandoned himself to his goodness. And this was to be the secret of his life which would shine out in his main work: the The Treatise on the Love of God.

…..

As the Pastor of a poor and tormented diocese in a mountainous area whose harshness was as well known as its beauty, he wrote: “I found [God] sweet and gentle among our loftiest rugged mountains, where many simple souls love him and worship him in all truth and sincerity; and mountain goats and chamois leap here and there between the fearful frozen peaks to proclaim his praise” (Letter to Mother de Chantal, October 1606, in Oeuvres, éd. Mackey, t. XIII, p. 223).

Nevertheless the influence of his life and his teaching on Europe in that period and in the following centuries is immense. He was an apostle, preacher, writer, man of action and of prayer dedicated to implanting the ideals of the Council of Trent; he was involved in controversial issues dialogue with the Protestants, experiencing increasingly, over and above the necessary theological confrontation, the effectiveness of personal relationship and of charity; he was charged with diplomatic missions in Europe and with social duties of mediation and reconciliation.

….

In reading his book on the love of God and especially his many letters of spiritual direction and friendship one clearly perceives that St Francis was well acquainted with the human heart. He wrote to St Jane de Chantal: “… this is the rule of our obedience, which I write for you in capital letters: do all through love, nothing through constraint; love obedience more than you fear disobedience. I leave you the spirit of freedom, not that which excludes obedience, which is the freedom of the world, but that liberty that excludes violence, anxiety and scruples” (Letter of 14 October 1604).

It is not for nothing that we rediscover traces precisely of this teacher at the origin of many contemporary paths of pedagogy and spirituality; without him neither St John Bosco nor the heroic “Little Way” of St Thérèse of Lisieux would have have come into being.

Dear brothers and sisters, in an age such as ours that seeks freedom, even with violence and unrest, the timeliness of this great teacher of spirituality and peace who gave his followers the “spirit of freedom”, the true spirit.

St Francis de Sales is an exemplary witness of Christian humanism; with his familiar style, with words which at times have a poetic touch, he reminds us that human beings have planted in their innermost depths the longing for God and that in him alone can they find true joy and the most complete fulfilment.

MORE

Living Faith Trifecta

This week was one in which I had three entries in the Living Faith devotional.  As I have mentioned before, they post each entry on the appropriate day, but not before.

January 18

More than I care to admit, I enter a room with a great sense of purpose, only to stop and wonder, “Wait. Why am I here? What was I looking for?”  (continued.)

January 20

Do you remember a moment in time when you were convinced you were the height of fashion?

What was it for you? Your bell-bottoms? Leather vest? Fringed bangs? Platform shoes? Miniskirt? Maxidress? Huge glasses? Super narrow glasses? A peasant blouse in your Dorothy Hamill haircut? Who, me?  ….(continued)

January 23

I recently spent time in the City Museum in St. Louis. It’s a multistory playground, the fruit of an extravagant, generous, even wildly creative spirit, filled with mosaics and crazy crawling spaces….(continued)

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Available now…digital versions, too.

7 Quick Takes

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— 1 —

Lent is coming!  Full list of resources here, but take special note today, if you don’t mind, of these Stations of the Cross..and pass it on to your parish!

John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross, published by Ave Maria Press.  This, again, is available as an actual book and in a digital version, in this case as an app.  Go here for more information. (The illustrations are by Michael O’Brien)

"amy welborn"A few years ago, I wrote a Stations of the Cross for young people called No Greater Love,  published by Creative Communications for the Parish. They put it out of print for a while…but now it’s back!

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— 2 —

Podcast listening?  Not much of great interest this past week, since I’m mostly concentrating on that Couch to 5k thing.  I’m up to Week 8! 28 minutes! (But that’s on an indoor track – we’ll see what happens when I am able to go outdoors again, given the harder surfaces and more, er, varied terrain outside.

So, Melvin lost me this week with Phenomenology. I tried – I really did, but listening to philosophy talk about Husserl, Heidegger and meaning through earphones while running with youth basketball going on below was pretty much a lost cause.  What was interesting was this program on Zola in England.  After the Dreyfus trial, Zola fled to London – by doing so, he enabled keeping the case open.  While in England, he began work on his last series of books, the first of which was called Fecundity or Fruitfulness – and, although Zola is a hard slog (I read Lourdes – barely), the premise is fascinating and timely – in which Zola blames oppressive social and economic systems for discouraging the lower classes from reproducing, decrying contraception, abortion and child abandonment….

— 3 —

I’m currently reading The Colony, which is about the history of the leper colony at Molokai. The origins of the place are so sad, an example of incompetent and deceptive government action in the face of tragedy.

Related, but somewhat contrasting is this fascinating story that provided me with a brief excursion down the rabbit hole this past week:

In 1803, King Charles of Spain ordered an extraordinary expedition: Smallpox was, of course, taking a terrible toll on the Spanish colonies so…..

On September 1, 1803, King Charles IV of Spain, who had lost one of his own children to smallpox, issued a royal order to all royal officers and religious authorities in his American and Asian domains, announcing the arrival of a vaccination expedition and commanding their support to

  • vaccinate the masses free of charge,
  • teach the domains how to prepare the smallpox vaccine, and
  • organize municipal vaccination boards throughout the domains to record the vaccinations performed and to keep live serum for future vaccinations.

The expedition to vaccinate the population in South America against smallpox was a public health undertaking of staggering proportions. A small group set out by ship and horse to traverse present-day Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Bolivia, carrying the vaccine and administering it in villages and cities along the way. The territory was not only vast but also brutally harsh, with precipitous mountains, dense jungles, and uncharted rivers. The expedition traveled in primitive riverboats and on mules when the terrain was too rugged for horses.

First Destination: Puerto Rico

The María Pita left the Spanish harbor of La Coruña on November 30, 1803, with the smallpox vaccination expedition team consisting of a director, Dr. Francisco Xavier Balmis; an assistant director, Dr. Jóse Salvany Lleopart; and several assistants and paramedics. The ship reached Puerto Rico in February 1804 with its cargo of vaccine serum preserved between sealed glass plates; also onboard were 21 children from the orphanage at La Coruña who carried the vaccine through arm-to-arm vaccinations performed sequentially during the ship’s journey, and thousands of copies of a treatise describing how to vaccinate and preserve the serum, recounts José Rigau-Pérez in an article on the smallpox vaccine in Puerto Rico.

More here and here. 

— 4 —

I’m going to try to do a learning post tonight, but in short, this week was a week of lots of science (properties of matter, heat transfer), art (printmaking) and puzzles (logic chapter of Beast Academy)

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Also, here’s a fun thing:  Hit the Lego store when the staff is unpacking a shipment and you just might find yourself the recipient of big bags of random pieces they don’t have room to stock in those bins on the back wall….and it might be your lucky day.

— 5 —

Through reading H. Allen’s Smith’s The Pig in the Barber Shop, I discovered a book called Father Juniper and the General, "amy welborn"written in the late 50’s by another American ex-pat in Mexico named James Norman.  It’s in the Don Camillo – Father Malachy genre – priest does battle with and outwits local civil/social authorities, and it’s amusing.  I’m surprised I’d never heard of it, considering I thought I’d read or at least heard of every vaguely Catholic themed middle-brow book published in the US in the mid=century when I was editing the Loyola Classics, but apparently not!

— 6 —

I actually accompanied my kids to the movies the other day (they are old enough to go on their own, together now) – Big Hero 6, which was…good!  As usual with movies today (get off my lawn!) the climactic battle goes on waaaaay too long, but the setting – a mythical more Far Eastern version of San Francisco – was fascinating and the animated characters were surprisingly well individuated.

Speaking of movies: over the holiday weekend, we watched Strangers on a Train, which I enjoyed for some fantastic set-pieces and Robert Walker’s compelling performance, and didn’t enjoy for the mostly-stiff other performances and off-putting amoral tone surrounding the murder of Granger’s wife and the “happy ending” of him and his paramour.  I just thought that was so weird.

Also, The Trouble With Angels, which I hadn’t seen in a while, but is so good. Still. I had remembered the Hayley Mills’ character’s embrace of religious life as more of a surprise, and while it is a bit of a twist, the really observant viewer can see it coming, and her spiritual discomfort and awakening is sketched rather well, as she confronts her own fears about getting old and dying , encounters mercy again and again in the Rosalind Russel’s Mother Superior, and observes the ties of family among the sisters, a kind of family she’s never experienced herself.  It’s based on a memoir called Life With Mother Superior by Jane Trahey, a female pioneer in advertising, and the Hayley Mills character is based on a friend of hers who really did go on to become a Dominican Sinsinawa! 

— 7 —

 

Better Call Saul actually looks like it might be…good.  When it was first floated, I thought, “Oh, no….” and when it was announced as a thing, I thought, “Not a good idea.”  But in reading about the show’s premise, in which there are actually emotional stakes at work and seeing previews, I’m getting excited.  I’ve read a couple of reviewers who opine that it’s better than BB…hard to imagine,but… Love the logo!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum

Life

Here are links to a couple of old columns I wrote – probably for OSV – on life issues.   Old, as in probably 14-15 years ago. They, along with many others,  were stuck in the caverns of my website, so I just cleaned them enough to make them presentable. In other words: forgive the very basic formatting.

We can send a man to the moon….

Mysteries…

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(I got this graphic years ago from a pro-life website/group that no longer exists and the name of which I don’t remember.  So…thanks whoever you are…)
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