Saint Thomas Aquinas, Patron Saint of Philosophy, Angelic Doctor of the Church – A Reflection

Saint Thomas AquinasWhen I finally made it to university, I went to a place named for this man, The University of Saint Thomas, in Saint Paul, Minnesota and I studied philosophy there.

It was a grand place, it felt like a university, with its tall stately buildings made from massive blacks of light tan stone, Minnesota sandstone quarried from the hills nearby, when I passed through the arches into the quad I felt like I had arrived.

I studied philosophy, theology and the classics during my time there. Saint Thomas prepared me for advanced studies elsewhere, I continued my theological work, though not as exhaustively as he, his Summa Theologica remains a unique achievement in the history of Western thought, more important for the mode of thinking he transmitted his ideas through, than for the conclusions that he made. His work bridged the gap between the ancient philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle (and others), re-employing the tools of logic, and discursive reasoning that allowed Europeans to leave the Dark Ages, clearing the way for the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason that followed.

Saint Thomas died on March 7th, 1274. In 1969 the Church moved the day we celebrate his feast to January 28th, we celebrate his sainthood today. He was Italian by birth, and a member of the Dominican order, a scholastic, and he was famous in his day. He died while making a pilgrimage on the Appian Way, death took him at the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova, and the monks there knowing that he would be famous, and a saint of great renown, coveted the relics of his body.

They boiled his carcass down and polished his bones, preserving all of the water for distribution in the relic-trade, they refused for years to turn his body over to his Dominican brothers, parceling out his bones and the water bit by bit over time, keeping his skull until the very end.

The University of Saint Thomas has a vial of that water in its collection of sacred artifacts, as silly business, really, and beneath the dignity of the intellectual giant that Aquinas was known to be.

There is a prayer that Thomas wrote, it is carved into a column of the main entrance to the school grounds, and I read it every day or recited it aloud every day that I attended classes on the campus in Saint Paul.

It is a prayer that I carry with me still, as if it were written in my heart:

Grant, O Merciful God
That I may ardently desire,
Prudently examine,
Truthfully acknowledge,
And perfectly accomplish
What is pleasing to thee
For the praise and glory
Of thy name
Given First 2020.01.28

A Homily – Thirty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) – Christ the King

First Reading – 2 Samuel 5:1-3 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 121(122):1-5
Second Reading – Colossians 1:12-20 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Mark 11:10
The Gospel According to Luke 23.35 – 43 ©
Christ the King
Beware the folly of kings, beware of their pride and their vanity.

Human beings were not made to be ruled by tyrants.

Remember this!

You were conceived in the womb of salvation; it is pointless to seek that which has already found you.

Open your eyes.

Pay no attention to what the psalmist says: all this talk of secure cities and ramparts and thrones. God has nothing to do with these.

God, creator of the universe; is not a tribal deity.

God, creator of the universe; does not belong to one people, one nation, one world or one galaxy.

God is not a king, God does not dwell behind a walled city.

God is infinite and eternal and beyond our comprehension, and yet God is with us, within us; the being through whom we have our existence, in whom we came into being, God is everywhere..

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

The thanks that we give for our own well-being reflects a hope we should foster for all people, for the fullness of humanity.

Listen to the Apostle.

He see in Jesus the image of the unseen God, of God the creator of the Universe, the unknowable, the un-nameable God.

The Apostle tells us what the writers of John’s Gospel affirm, that all things were created in Christ, the Word of God, who Jesus of Nazareth is a reflection of.

All things redound to God, all things and beings are created through God and for Gods purposes; all principalities and all powers, all of the poor, all of the the alienated and all of those who suffer.

God holds all things together in unity.

Remember this, always keep this in the forefront of your mind:

God is not a king, a prince or a lord.

The Church, following in the way Jesus taught, can never be the extension of a royal dynasty, the Chruch is not an empire, it is not a feudal kingdom. The Church is a society of servants.

Listen!

A person cannot expect a reward in this life, for having lived a good life.

No reward shall be forth coming.

One person may experience a long life, surrounded by family and friends, admired by their community, living out their days in peace, and abundance. While another person may be reviled by their community, abandoned by their friends, framed for criminal offences and executed for crimes they did not commit.

There is no divine plan concerning what happens to us in this life.

God, the creator of the universe, God has made each of us free, and all of creation is free from divine coercion. The divine plan does not touch us in this world, it only promises to deliver us to another world when we are done with this one.

That is the way of things.

Believe in God’s promise.

The things we enjoy, and the things we suffer here, they are temporary; this is the promise of God.

We have no choice but to endure the things that come our way, or enjoy them, such as the case might be.

Our experience of this world is ephemeral.

A person may live their entire life outside of the bounds of good society and wisdom may still come to them at the end.

Listen to the voice of wisdom when you hear it.

Wisdom is wisdom regardless of the voice that speaks it.

Truth is truth, and lies are lies. Attenuate yourself to the differences between them.

Reflect on this:

Do not make the mistake of believing that God saved one of the criminals who died next to Jesus, and condemned the other.

Both men are children of God, and beloved by the creator.

A person is not saved because of their ability to recognize the divinity in Jesus, we are saved because God loves us and made us to be saved, there is no other causal factor than love.

The divine plan encompasses everyone; this is the good news that Jesus preached.
First Reading – 2 Samuel 5:1-3 ©

They Anointed David King of Israel

All the tribes of Israel then came to David at Hebron. ‘Look’ they said ‘we are your own flesh and blood. In days past when Saul was our king, it was you who led Israel in all their exploits; and the Lord said to you, “You are the man who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you shall be the leader of Israel.”’ So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a pact with them at Hebron in the presence of the Lord, and they anointed David king of Israel.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 121(122):1-5
They filled me with joy when they said,

“We will go to the house of the Lord.”

Now our feet are standing

within your gates, Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, built as a city,

whole and self-contained:

there the tribes have gone up,

the tribes of the Lord –

the witness of Israel,

to praise the Lord’s name.

For there are the thrones of justice,

the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

“Safety for those who care for you,

peace inside your walls,

security within your ramparts!”

For my brethren and those near to me I will say

“Peace be upon you.”

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,

I will call blessings upon you.
Second Reading – Colossians 1:12-20 ©

The Father has created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves

We give thanks to the Father who has made it possible for you to join the saints and with them to inherit the light.

Because that is what he has done: he has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves, and in him, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.

He is the image of the unseen God and the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, Thrones, Dominations, Sovereignties, Powers – all things were created through him and for him.

Before anything was created, he existed, and he holds all things in unity.

Now the Church is his body, he is its head.

As he is the Beginning, he was first to be born from the dead, so that he should be first in every way; because God wanted all perfection to be found in him and all things to be reconciled through him and for him, everything in heaven and everything on earth, when he made peace by his death on the cross.
Gospel Acclamation – Mark 11:10

Alleluia, alleluia!

Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessings on the coming kingdom of our father David!

Alleluia!
The Gospel According to Luke 23.35 – 43 ©

‘Today you will be with me in paradise’

The people stayed there before the cross watching Jesus. As for the leaders, they jeered at him. ‘He saved others,’ they said ‘let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer vinegar they said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

One of the criminals hanging there abused him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself and us as well.’ But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus,’ he said ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ ‘Indeed, I promise you,’ he replied ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’
Thirty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) – Christ the King

The Patron Saint of Doubters – Mother Theresa of Calcutta

Sometimes I get ahead of myself, I think we all do at times, projecting what we to see, over and against the reality of what is, as in the title of this piece.

Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta; the patron saint of doubters.

In truth, the Church has named Mother Theresa the Patron Saint of World Catholic Youth Day, and that is fair: in her time the good mother inspired many young people, she inspired them through her life of austerity and selflessness. She inspired many of us to good things, to want to be good people.

In the most significant ways Mother Theresa;s life was emblematic of what we see reflected in the first reading for today (Colassians 1:9 – 14) .

She was a tiny woman, but she was strong. She inspires through her strength and her commitment to her ideals, despite the painful realities that she experienced, despite her understanding that the suffering she sought to ease would never cease, that the suffering of the world has no end.

We must be like the wise mother and pray for strength, for wisdom and understanding, for perseverance. Mother Theresa did not expect that by praying for these things God would transform her, or that God would give her supernatural powers, but that the act of praying would fortifies her, that it would give her the strength she needed to get through her day.

Mother Theresa was sainted for her life-long commitment to the good, to serving the poor, for setting an example of patience and endurance; for setting such a strong example that if each of the rest of us were able to approximate a small degree of her fundamental stance toward justice and compassion, to give a small part of ourselves over to the healing of the world, the world might stop spinning in its spiral of violence. In that moment we might see something of the glory that is sung in the psalm we are given for today’s meditation (Psalm 97[98]) .

It is right and good to praise God, the creator of the universe, because creation is miraculous and mysterious, and beyond the scope of human comprehension.

And while it is right and good to praise God, to doubt God’s purpose in the world is not a sin, but rather it is the natural movement the heart, beating within the breast of a person who loves, of someone who confronts the pain and suffering of the world, and falls into despair.

It is not sinful to doubt God, or God’s purpose in the world or what the tradition of the Church has said about God so fulsomely.

Let us be clear about a few things:

God is not a giver of victories. God has no enemies. In God, within whom all things exist and have their being…in God there is no conflict.

It is not God’s justice that is shown in the work of human beings, it is human justice, and when human justice approximates the justice of God, it is expressed in mercy and compassion and that is good.

Pope Francis, canonized Mother Theresa on September the 4th, 2016, on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time of that year, her feast was celebrated for the first time and from that day forward, on the 5th of September, which is today.

Christians of every stripe, and non-Christian alike, remember her for her desire to embrace all people, no matter how flawed or marginalized they might be, and all people will remember this brilliant woman, servant and sister, this theologian; they will remember her for a brilliance that grows even greater in her afterlife.

Consider the acclamation from today’s reading (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14) .

God chose her, as God chooses all of; God chose her from the beginning, to receive the sanctifying spirit, he created her in the divine image, placing within her a seed of the eternal Word to enliven her. God made her this way, in the same way that God makes everyone, but what made the sainted mother different from most of the rest of us was that she saw clearly the truth of it, she saw the divine image in the people she bent down to serve, she saw it in the poor and the sick, in the blind and the leper, she saw God suffering in them and she responded with the love God had instructed her in.

Mother Theresa is famous for her service and her impressive life, and the inspiration she gave to millions of people. She heard the call and followed (Matthew 4:19) .

When I reflect on the life of Saint Theresa of Calcutta, it is her memoirs, which were published after her death, which had the greatest impact on me.

Saint Theresa struggled, like all of us do, with the sense that God had abandoned her, and that God had abandoned the world. She managed to do the good works she did, to serve the Church and all of its members, to fulfill her commitment to her order, to lead them; to make of her life a daily sacrifice even in the midst of her own profound doubt, great personal suffering, as she experienced the suffering of other’s (which she shared), and in consideration of her deep-felt sense of alienation from God.

To persevere in goodness, in the face of her doubts, to admit to the pain that she brought to others, even as she tried to serve them, to confess and ask forgiveness, and to lead them. To bear witness to the suffering of the world, even to hold God accountable for it in her heart, and still follow the calling of the Spirit despite her indictment of the even, that is why she will be known as the Patron Saint of Doubters.

Mother Theresa was different from the disciples who followed Jesus and witnessed his miraculous life, as we read about in today’s gospel (Luke 5:1-11) .

Her example of how to fulfill the Christian life in the face of the deepest doubts is what makes her life exemplary, a life that will continue to shine on us long after the sun has collapsed and human beings are scattered throughout the galaxy.

We will carry the memory of Saint Theresa of Calcutta with us, a shining light for us in the darkness.

Let us take a moment to reflect on this in consideration of the gospel reading for the day.

This is not a story about fishing, and there is no such thing as magic, it is right to doubt a literal reading of the gospel.

This is a story about moving beyond boundaries, reshaping context, exceeding expectations, and organizing the work of one’s partners.

These are the things Mother Theresa exemplified most.

Jesus led his closest followers into a new way of life, and a new mode of teaching, he showed them how to go beyond the boundaries, so that they were able to provide their ministry to greater numbers of people. Mother Theresa did this and followed the example to the end, go to the poorest places, to serve the most downtrodden, the people who were being crushed by the wheel of life. She lifted them up and cared for them, to show them for a moment something of God’s love that they may not have felt before.

In the Gospel reading we see that Saint Peter goes to Jesus to ask for forgiveness on account of him being a sinful man. Peter had doubted Jesus’ method, and when he came to understand his misjudgment he felt a deep sense of shame and guilt.

Peter’s doubts were not sinful.

Doubt is not a sin.

Mother Theresa taught us this in her final words to us.

There is something historically significant about her relationship to her doubts that we would all do well to be mindful of.

The history of Christianity in India has always been connected to the missionary work of the Apostle Thomas, of Saint Thomas the doubter who did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he placed his own fingers into the wounds Christ bore, the wounds which still marred his body even after he was reborn.

Never mind the historical realities of the origin of the Church in India, set aside the legends held closely by the faithful in India, the accuracy of that history is unimportant, what matters is their faith.

It is not important that Saint Thomas the disciple of Jesus never travelled there; a myth that Christians in India have believed this for centuries, what is important is that the beliefs of the Church in India are themselves a historical reality, a reality that cannot be ignored one that has shaped their communities for as long as those communities have existed.

There is no doubting that, or how the character of Saint Thomas the doubter has shaped the character of their faith, to be free doubt, as Thomas did, as Theresa did, as Peter did not.

Thomas is the patron saint of doubt, Theresa is the patron saint of doubters. Saint Thomas tells us that doubt is an integral part of faith. Saint Theresa comes to aid us in the midst of it.

Be mindful of this as you struggle to persevere.
09.05.2019

Given First 09.03.2016