Thursday, January 28, 2010

St Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor (1225-1274)

By universal consent, Thomas Aquinas is the pre-eminent spokesman of the Catholic tradition of reason and of divine revelation. He is one of the great teachers of the medieval Catholic Church, honoured with the titles Doctor of the Church and Angelic Doctor. At five he was given to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino in his parents’ hopes that he would choose that way of life and eventually became abbot. In 1239 he was sent to Naples to complete his studies. It was here that he was first attracted to Aristotle’s philosophy. By 1243, Thomas abandoned his family’s plans for him and joined the Dominicans, much to his mother’s dismay. On her order, Thomas was captured by his brother and kept at home for over a year. Once free, he went to Paris and then to Cologne, where he finished his studies with Albert the Great. He held two professorships at Paris, lived at the court of Pope Urban IV, directed the Dominican schools at Rome and Viterbo, combatted adversaries of the mendicants, as well as the Averroists, and argued with some Franciscans about Aristotelianism. His greatest contribution to the Catholic Church is his writings. The unity, harmony and continuity of faith and reason, of revealed and natural human knowledge, pervades his writings. One might expect Thomas, as a man of the gospel, to be an ardent defender of revealed truth. But he was broad enough, deep enough, to see the whole natural order as coming from God the Creator, and to see reason as a divine gift to be highly cherished. The Summa Theologiae, his last and, unfortunately, uncompleted work, deals with the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped work on it after celebrating Mass on December 6, 1273. When asked why he stopped writing, he replied, “I cannot go on.... All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” He died March 7, 1274.

“Hence we must say that for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs divine help, that the intellect may be moved by God to its act. But he does not need a new light added to his natural light, in order to know the truth in all things, but only in some that surpasses his natural knowledge” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, 109, 1).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (4:21-25)

Jesus said to them, Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. Consider carefully what you hear, he continued. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you— and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

Becoming rich
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

The visible world is the source of unending fascination. Inanimate matter is teeming with unsolved mysteries, and the mystery deepens as we pass to the contemplation of living things. Let us divide life into two broad groups: life that has the power of awareness, and life that does not. An ant has awareness. A mighty oak tree does not. For all its luxurious growth, the oak will never attain to the slightest awareness. The ant has the power of awareness from the instant of its appearance. But if we compare the awareness of a gifted sheep dog with the awareness of a ten-year old child, there is a critical difference between the two. The child has self-awareness, while the sheep dog does not. There are numerous other differences between human awareness and animal awareness too, of course. The human being is aware of abstractions and categories: he is aware that he is, for instance, “a human being.” The animal is not aware of such abstractions. It has no idea that it is, say, “a tiger” — even though it feels at home with tigers as the case may be. Very importantly, the human being is aware of objective duty. For instance, he knows he should not murder. The animal has no such awareness. It would be absurd to speak of an animal “murdering” another. The animal is driven by instinct. I make these brief observations to introduce another distinctive feature of the human being. I refer to the power of the human being freely to perfect himself. It would be ridiculous to expect an animal to set out to perfect itself, to enrich itself by deliberately cultivating its powers, indeed to set its goals for a flourishing life. It acts by instinct and its development is instinctive. It cannot get beyond where its instincts take it, however impressive those instincts may be. The human being can set his goals for an enriched life, and he is even obliged to do this. He is obliged not to squander his capacity for self-improvement, but to seek what is truly best for himself. He has a duty not to impoverish himself by neglect, but to become genuinely rich.

The question is, what does this really mean? What does it mean to enrich oneself? Many think that it means becoming rich in material goods. If a person acts on this and makes this the dominant goal of his life, then the danger is that he will be impoverished — through neglect — in more important riches. He may find himself with scarcely any true friends, even within his own family life. Another person may silently have formed the notion that he will be most fulfilled if he gains most power. So he sets out to attain that goal and he may or may not achieve it, depending on his abilities. But in the process he may find himself bereft of other riches. He may have virtually no religion in his life, through neglect. God is distant from him. So the seeking of riches — or, to put it better, enrichment and perfection — is a good thing and is a moral obligation. But part and parcel of the fulfilment of this obligation is the duty to determine correctly what is true enrichment in life. For this we need not only a prudent personal judgment, but the guidance of God himself. We need this divine guidance because our own minds — as is evident from ordinary experience — are clouded and influenced by sin. We tend to think that self-gratification, personal power, and other egocentric goals are the way to true wealth in life. We need the guidance of God and his grace to follow this guidance. But the ultimate goal remains the same: personal perfection and the flourishing of our best potential. We just need to know clearly in what this really consists, how to get there, and whatever help we need to attain it. All of this brings us to our Gospel today. “Consider carefully what you hear, he continued. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you— and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Mark 4: 21-25). Whoever has, will be given more, our Lord says. What is it that we must have? We must have the love of God in our hearts. That is what true wealth consists in. If we have that, we shall be truly rich. All other things we seek and attain in life ought serve to enrich ourselves in the love of God. With this we are rich indeed.

We ought aim to become rich in life. By the time our last breath arrives, we ought be wealthy. But it has to be wealth that we can take with us, wealth that is not subject to destruction. The wealth that God wants us to have is faith, hope and love for him. At great cost to himself God made available to us real wealth, not the wealth that is a mere illusion. The one thing necessary is the love and friendship of Christ. It is in him that we are to seek and use the other things of life, which all too many consider to be the only true wealth. Let us then seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these other things will be given us, in the measure that God sees fit.

A second thought: Consider carefully — take notice of — what you hear (Saint Mark 4: 21-25).

What we take notice of in life depends largely on what our interest is. If we are interested, we will take notice of what we are seeing and hearing. And there is much in life that we see and hear which we take little notice of. If we take little notice of something, we will scarcely remember much of it, nor will it play much part in our life. Our having seen or heard will bring little profit. Our Lord said that, in respect to his word, we must take notice. We can know his word by means of the inspired Scriptures and the teaching and preaching of the Church, but do we take notice? In our Gospel today, our Lord says this: “Take notice of what you are hearing... for the man who has will be given more; from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’..” (Mark 4: 24-25). On another occasion our Lord told the parable of the sower going out to sow. The seed that fell on the good soil is the man who hears the word of God and accepts it (Mark 4: 20). But to accept it, one must take notice of it. If we are to take notice of it, we must be genuinely interested, committed to God and his word. That is to say, we must be good soil. We must be disposed to take notice. It is this soil that, with the seed having fallen, produces the harvest.

This is a crucial matter because our Lord says that ‘the man who has will be given more; from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’

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