Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thomistic Thursday: Thomas Aquinas the Saint

As an apt student of philosophy, I was highly tempted to make my blogging reboot a dedication to St. Thomas Aquinas. I realized, however, that a little Thomas goes a long way and that I should really place most of my emphasis on areas of more importance (e.g. my Psalm Saturday series). Nevertheless, I have decided that my favorite philosopher-saint will get his own day.

That day is, of course, today!

If you’re not familiar with his life, I highly recommend G.K. Chesterton’s biography of St. Thomas Aquinas. He drew the title “Dumb Ox” from the nickname Aquinas had in school – but while he may have been quiet and mild-mannered, Thomas possessed a keen intellect and desire for sanctity. Indeed, when he decided to become a Dominican monk his family locked him away for a time and his brothers tempted him with a prostitute. Driving her away by wielding a firebrand, he used it to sear a cross into the bedroom door and his family quickly realized he was serious about his faith!

During his life, Aquinas wrote volumes of theological works – including his masterpiece, the “Summa Theologica.” It is this very “Summary of Theology” which I would like to discuss through the following series of blogs posts. While Aquinas’ brilliance will be noted here, it is of the most importance to stress once more his desire for holiness. At the proceedings for his saintly canonization, a fellow monk testified that he heard the Lord speak to Thomas in their chapel. God said told Thomas that he had spoken great words of theology and asked him what he desired in return.

Aquinas’ reply: “Only you, Lord.”

Thomas Aquinas is known as the Angelic Doctor – and while this may be particularly true because of his ontology regarding angels, it may also be true because his saintly heart was so open to the grace of God that his intellect was made more free to dwell on theology, the “sacred science.” Ultimately the human person possesses an intellect to know with and a free will to love with. Aquinas’ life was a life of love for God – but this love always led to a hunger for more divine knowledge. Because of this, he found himself in a wonderful cycle: the more he knew God, the more he loved God; the more he loved God, the more he came to knowledge of God. In other words, Aquinas is a model image of what the human person should be like.

That’s why he’s a saint.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Psalm Saturday: Psalm 1

Daily prayer is a must for the Christian. In fact, we are really called to live a life of prayer. Our words and deeds ought to be blessings and moments of sanctity whereby we proclaim God and great gift of salvation he bestows upon us through the merits of his son, Jesus Christ. But when we take time specifically for prayer, the Psalms should be in everyone’s prayer arsenal. Every kind of prayer – and everything you might need to pray about – can be found in the Psalms. Like most Catholics, however, I haven’t spent nearly enough time in Psalms.

But I am now.

While I am spending more time dwelling on the Pslams, I decided it would be a good idea to reflect upon one on the weekend. Today I would like to offer a brief introduction and a look at Psalm 1. These posts, however, will not follow them all in order but I thought best to start at the beginning for this first reflection.

In case you didn’t know there are 150 Psalms, each of which is a prayer offered to God in praise, thanksgiving, adoration, contrition, or supplication. Outside of the Lord’s Prayer, there is no better school of prayer found in the Bible. They are an important element in each and every Catholic Mass and they can also be found in daily Catholic prayers like the Liturgy of the Hours. During the first centuries of Christianity, many monks would recite all 150 Psalms daily and this would become the basis for the pattern of the Rosary (which traditionally included 150 Hail Mary’s). If you’re looking for Psalms in your Bible, you’ll need to turn to the Old Testament as they date from ancient Israel. After centuries of Jewish-Christian strife, the Psalms today provide a wonderful connection between Christians and Jews.

Since Psalm 1 is rather short – only six verses – so let us turn to it in its entirety:

Happy those who do not follow
the counsel of the wicked,
Nor go the way of sinners,
nor sit in company with scoffers.
Rather, the law of the LORD is their joy;
God's law they study day and night.
They are like a tree
planted near streams of water,
that yields its fruit in season;
Its leaves never wither;
whatever they do prospers.

But not the wicked!
They are like chaff driven by the wind.
Therefore the wicked will not survive judgment,
nor will sinners in the assembly of the just.
The LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.

The title for Psalm 1 is True Happiness in God’s Law, and for a practicing Jew the Law of Moses was of the greatest importance. In Gospels, however, Jesus is asked about the Law and he summed it up in two commandments: (1) love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might, and (2) love your neighbor as yourself. If only we follow these two commandments, we shall fulfill what is found in the Law of Moses and find true happiness. The concepts of law and happiness, however, may easily remind us of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount during which he acts like a New Moses who goes up upon the mount and gives us a New Law. Indeed, the beginning of each of the eight beatitudes is often translated as: “Happy are they who…” It is here that we may find our beatitude – our blessing or objective happiness.

It should also be said that this new law of love is by nature active. Our lives in Christ must begin in faith but be expressed and shared with others through love so that we may be, as the Psalm says, “like a tree… that yields its fruit in season.” As Christians, we look forward to the Second Coming of Christ and the union of heaven and earth in the New Jerusalem. Indeed, the Book of Revelation speaks of the tree of life which is united to the river of life-giving water (see Revelation 22:1-2). While there are seasons of fruit in this life, in eternity the fruits of the tree of life are year round and bountiful!

Even in this life, however, St. Paul tells us it is important that our “faith works through love,” (Galatians 5:6), and in order for us to yield good fruit, we must be intimately bound to Christ who is the true vine (see John 15:4-5). When Jesus sent the Apostles out into the world to preach the Gospel, he reminded them that he would be with them – indeed we must remember that Christ is not only with us, he is working through us now precisely because we are members of his body! This is why Pope Leo the Great in the 5th century wrote:

"Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God's own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God."

Nevertheless, there are the wicked who “will not survive judgment.” Yes, Christians do believe in that placed called hell. But it should be noted that avoiding hell is an entirely simple process – I didn’t say it was easy, but it is simple. Whether or not you believe in Purgatory (as I do as a Catholic), we can both agree that following the two great commandments spoken on above will guide one past perdition and on to the gates of heaven. Love is the answer. It means placing God first and serving others. It means self-sacrifice.

Ultimately it means entering into the “assembly of the just” – the Communion of Saints.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

An Unexpected Change of Events

Well it has been a ridiculously long time since my last blog post and it would appear that now is just as good a time as any to resume once again. A month ago I would have figured I’d be pleasantly enjoying (well probably not pleasantly enjoying) my training with the U.S. Army, but as it goes I have found myself along a different and altogether unexpected path. After a week of doctor’s appointments, it appears the Army docs are placing me on hiatus. It’s very long and complicated story which I have had to repeat far too many times to go into much detail here, but all I can really do is relax, pray, and go with the flow.

And since I find myself at home once more, what could be better than write a blog post or two? Well, yeah, visiting family and friends – but I’m doing that, too. But I’ve also taken a good deal of time to reflect and pray and writing more here will be a good thing to get back to. In fact, I even have a set of themes planed to come throughout the week, so you’ll have to check back to find out what I have cooking. I will give a hint, however. While most things we want in life are really not what we need, a great deal of the things that we need are sadly not what we want. Often times it takes the formation of good habits to properly dispose ourselves to simply see and understand what we really need! So on that note, two-thirds of what I write will be on topics that I need to spend more time thinking and writing about, while the other third will regard those things that have been on my mind and I’d really like to talk about. I’m not sure if that’s much of a hint, however. But if you’re at all like me, then perhaps these things are needs for you as well.

And in that case, we’re in this boat together.

Perhaps I should, as this is my first post in since January, be sure I make sense out of my post’s title. You may think that “An Unexpected Change of Events” merely refers to my change of status with the U.S. Army – but it really helps me begin my new series of posts at the beginning: God. More specifically, it refers to His altogether peculiar relationship with all that He has created.

You see, last weekend Catholics throughout the world celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and it is of course more than fitting to speak first about God before going on to any other topic. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus commanded the Apostles to: “…make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20). The heart of Jesus’ words here is the fact that the very nature of God is unitive, self-donating love – a love which enables God to be supremely one in essence but three in person. For a wonderful meditation on the Trinity, check out the Athanasian Creed!

But while Christians believe in the Trinity based on the teachings of Christ, it must be said that God has not merely revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because he wants us to do divine mathematics, but rather because he has called us into a relationship with himself and he has planned this from before the creation of the universe. Even in the event of sin (the choosing of self-love over God’s love), God set in motion a rescue plan for humanity in Christ. Redemption in Christ, however, is not an end in itself, however, but rather the beginning of a new life of sanctity upon a battlefield – for we are war, though “…not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12). We are at war with the enemies of love.

But love is the key to victory and Jesus manifested this at Calvary.

The passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, however, was truly an unexpected change of events – but it is continuing to this day through the application of grace to the faithful. Called into natural life at conception, God calls us into the supernatural life of grace through faith and baptism into a body of believers, the Church (see Mark 16:16 and Ephesians 1:22-23). Redeemed and re-ordered we must now participate in spiritual warfare and “fight the good fight,” as St. Paul would say.

Quite unexpected. Quite peculiar. But that’s what makes God, God.