Friday, 29 January 2010

Feast of Thomas Aquinas

It is a bit late, a day after the feast day, but I like to share a few quotes from the Homily Fr. John Harris OP gave to the novices, students and priests present during the mass to celebrate the Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas:

In his recent catechesis on the Mendicants Pope Benedict said that we can learn from history how it develops and how it can be renewed. He said: “It shows that saints, guided by God's light, are the authentic reformers of the life of the Church and of society. As teachers with their words and witnesses with their example, they can encourage a stable and profound ecclesial renewal because they themselves are profoundly renewed; they are in touch with the real newness: God's presence in the world”.

The saints are the true the salt of the earth and light of the world who maintain that the light of Christ shines and that he continues to give taste to our lives and any true renewal can only come about by our following the example of the saints. That is why it is so important for us Dominicans to celebrate our saints and especially our brother Thomas Aquinas, since he presents to us in a profoundly clear way what it means to be a Dominican. Not simply by the example of his life but also through his thought. Thomas teaches us, he shares with us his own experience of the religious life and what it means to be a follower of St. Dominic. In Thomas Aquinas we have the greatest mind since Aristotle presenting to us his understanding of what it means to be a Dominican.
We joined the Dominican Order so that we would remain salty and our lamps would be filled with oil to keep burning brightly. By living this form of religious life we discover for ourselves that this is the way Our Blessed Lord has laid out for me to stay close to Him and to bring others to his presence.

St. Thomas who understood Dominic’s vision in a way that is clear and precise teaches us to understand Dominic’s insight. From the life of Thomas we discover first of all that for us Dominicans study is not its own reward.

Thomas would become salt to the earth and light for the world as a Dominican. Thomas did not store up his knowledge for himself and his own intellectual enjoyment; he chose to be part of the new evangelization of his day. For St. Thomas chief among the works of the active religious life are those which are directly ordained to the salvation of souls, such as preaching and teaching, putting taste back into people’s life and light into the darkness.

As we know that for St. Thomas such preaching and teaching must come from our specific way of Dominican contemplation. As he writes “it is better to enlighten than merely to shine, so is it better to give to others the fruits of one's contemplation than merely to contemplate.”

Salt is not to be stored but spread liberally bringing out the true flavor of that on which it is poured and a light is not to be put under a bushel, but placed on a lamp stand for all in the house to see. It is Thomas who explains to us so clearly why the new band of preachers established by Dominic put study at its centre, for it is study that keeps the salt tasty and the light burning.

How do studies help our contemplation? Surely all we need is silence (external and internal) and lots of time at prayer. In the Summa when he deals with active religious orders he writes that “the study of letters is becoming to the religious life in three ways”. The first way he divides into two, welcome to St. Thomas:

(A) Study helps us directly to contemplate, enlightening the intellect. For contemplation is concerned chiefly with divine things. and: "The wise man will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients, and will be occupied in the prophets. (Sirach 39:1)" Here is the basis for Dominican optimism. Our study is not fearful or suspicious. But in our search for wisdom we rejoice in the truth. We continue to believe in the goodness of creation and the basic goodness of man who remains fundamentally orientated towards the good and the search for truth. Therefore we can dialogue with every age and all people once there is openness to the truth. Wherever the light shines there is a Dominican to delight in its radiance. We know that our search for the truth leads us to God.

(B) “Study helps our contemplation by removing the obstacles to contemplation, namely the errors which in the contemplation of divine things frequently beset those who are ignorant of the scriptures”. Our optimism is not a naive optimism. It does not swallow the latest fashion or popular opinion but through serious study it endeavors to get to the root of an idea and to bring it into the light. Salt brings out the true flavor of a thing it doesn’t mask or cover up rather it reveals and makes clear. In the light of Sacred Revelation placed on the lamp stand of Holy Church we come to a fuller appreciation of the many questions and answers we meet on the road of life.

Secondly, St. Thomas says “study is necessary in those religious orders that are founded for preaching and teaching so that, quoting Paul’s letter to Titus (1:9), he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it”. If we are to be preachers and teachers then we must know what we are talking about. The light must be burning in you if you hope to set the world alight. Today people are seeking authenticity in teachers and preachers, false substitutes for salt will not do any longer, we are to bring out the taste not cover it up.

Thirdly, the study of letters is becoming to religious as regards that which is common to all religious orders. For it helps us to avoid the lusts of the flesh; For it turns the mind away from lustful thoughts, and tames the flesh on account of the toil that study entails. It also helps to remove the desire of riches, (Wisdom 7:8): "I accounted wealth nothing in comparison with her."

To quote from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. (Phil 4:8) Fill your mind with the light of all that is good. What you read and what you look at, on TV on the internet, should be salty and not raunchy as it were.

What better advice can we take from our Brother St. Thomas on this his feast day as we endeavor to be part of the renewal of a Church that has lost its taste. For we must be part of the desired renewal precisely as Dominicans that is studious contemplatives who wish to gives the fruits of our contemplation to others.

Keep the salt tasty and the light burning brightly by assiduous study of sacred truth and let your light give taste to the world by the teaching of true doctrine. This was Dominic’s way and it remains our way of a "charity of and in the truth", an "intellectual charity" (Benedict XVI) that must be exercised to enlighten minds and renew the Church of today.

1 comment:

Barb Schoeneberger said...

Thanks be to God for St. Thomas and all the wonderful, orthodox Dominicans who have touched my life. The clarity of their teaching leads us to love God more. Thanks for this post. St. Thomas always taught so clearly.

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