Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Priest Thomas Aquinas and the love of Divine Wisdom

(A meditation delivered during the first day of the Triduum for the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, Sacred Heart Seminary Chapel, Palo, Leyte, 25 January 2011)

With your license, Oh Lord present in this most holy Sacrament of the Altar!

We begin this evening the triduum of devotion in honor of one of our holy patrons, St. Thomas Aquinas. Before the presence of Our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament, we in the first place praise God who has blessed us with the life and example of so many of his friends, the saints. The Lord has never been known to be limited in his blessings, and in the saints he has blessed the Church exceedingly. They show to the world the holiness with which the Lord has blessed His Church; in their lives He continues to show his saving power that transforms man in his weakness and enables him to love and to be true to his human dignity, which is the dignity of a child of God. Furthermore, in the life and witness of the saints the Lord continues to call us all into an ever-intimate friendship with Him, something which is never beyond our capability, a friendship which ennobles us and makes us truly human.

These days we begin our local celebration of the feast of this great Doctor of the Church. The Angelic Doctor, as he is oftentimes called, has undoubtedly left a huge mark in the life of the Church. He was a big man, and in this I do not refer merely to his physical build—he was rather rotund if not fat, if we are to trust contemporary descriptions about him ; spiritually he was a giant, and it is this spiritual greatness of his that has left a huge imprint among us. One aspect of true devotion to the memory of the saints and the blessed is the inculcation of the virtues that they have showed in their lives here on earth and our imitation of them, aided by the grace of God. In Thomas of Aquino we could learn a lot of virtues for which he could be held up as a fine example of Christian holiness and for which he could be imitated. He was know for his angelic purity and chastity, for his meekness and obedience. But that which makes him most renowned is his wisdom, something which did not primarily come from his love of study and his hours of reflection (though of course these helped a lot), but rather it is a wisdom that comes from a loving relationship and conversation with the Divine Wisdom, who is the Lord himself. It is from this loving and sustained conversation with God that Thomas, even from his childhood years, became like the Lord himself, who grew in age and wisdom (cf. Lk 2:52).

One thing perhaps that we could meditate on is his love for wisdom, a love for wisdom all the more tempered by the fact that he was a priest of Jesus Christ. For us in this setting of seminary formation, what could the colossal figure of St. Thomas Aquinas teach us about the figure of a priest of Jesus Christ? How is the priestly figure of Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the 13th century, relevant to us at this moment, priests and aspirants to the priesthood of the Third Christian Millenium?

St. Thomas shows us that the priest is the one who seeks the Wisdom of God and is blessed because of it. He is the one of whom the Scriptures refer to when it says “Happy the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding” (Prov. 3:13). This wisdom does not entail knowing a lot of things; wisdom does not refer to any object that could be coldly assimilated by the intellect and expressed in rational speech. This is rather called knowledge and in itself, mere knowledge can never save, it never make us happy on its own, neither can it make us holy and truly happy. This wisdom is not merely an assimilation of things to be learned, but rather it means knowing and distinguishing those things that can really bring us happiness. In the final instance, this Wisdom is none other than God himself. This was the Wisdom which Thomas in all of his years of study and research had yearned to possess. It is said that after writing so much about the mysteries of the faith in his famous Summa, Our Lord made known to him how pleased He was for Thomas had written so well of Him. When Our Lord asked Thomas what he wanted in return for all of his labors, the saint is said to have uttered “only You, Lord, only you”. Thomas teaches us that the quest of the priest is not a quest for mere learning, but that of Wisdom, a wisdom that is eternal, the wisdom that has created the world; wisdom that has a face and a name: Jesus Christ, to see whom is to see the Father. The quest for wisdom ends, not in me knowing more than I had before, but in me entering into a loving relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the wisdom of the ages.

From another angle, being a lover of wisdom means that the priest, as with Thomas, must be able to share that wisdom and learning with the people entrusted to his pastoral care. This is not something new, but it could even be found in the priesthood of the Old Testament. The priest had to be wise and learned so as to be able to educate the people of God with the ways of God: “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction--because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty” (Mal.2:7). Fresh from his encounter with God, with His commandments present in his heart, the priest ought to impart these same commandments to the people, in keeping with his identity as an angel, a messenger of the Lord to his people. Harsh are the words which the Lord directs to the priests who failed in their task to impart and teach wisdom through any fault of their own. In the lips of the prophet Hosea the Lord condemns his negligent priests for letting the people perish for lack of knowledge, knowledge which was to be imparted by them in the first place: my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. "Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children (Hos.4:6).

It would be very hard—if not impossible—to imagine St. Thomas being the recipient of these reproaches, because by his teaching he had fed the Church from the springs of Divine Wisdom. Because of his writings and doctrine he had made clear the Word of God to the Church; he has fortified many a soul in its quest for God and in its thirst for God.

The responsibility of the priest now as before is to give true and substantial doctrine to the people whom he shepherds. This responsibility begins in the early days of seminary formation. In your dedication to study and learn you are teaching yourself to fulfill this priestly task of teaching. Let us not take our studies lightly; knowing that for a seminarian preparing himself for the priesthood, to study is a grave responsibility. Use all of the means that you have at your disposal to learn, for to be able to serve one needs to be ready, and one cannot be ready if he does not know. Furthermore, this study must be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church.

Let us continue to be guided by the example of St. Thomas Aquinas, and may the Angelic Doctor obtain for us the grace to be holy and learned priests should God will it so in the future, priests who would be vested with true and holy wisdom, who would place themselves in the service of a people called to be holy as the God who calls them. Amen.

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