Homily from the Mass at the 40th Anniversary Celebration for Students and Faculty
Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas
January 28, 2012
by Rev. Paul Raftery, O.P.
The first thing that probably comes to mind for most people when they think of St. Thomas is a man of astounding knowledge, which he certainly was. But, what is even more true, is that he was a man of astounding charity.
Something we also notice about the man in our first reading from the book of Wisdom, a man of great learning, who was knowledgeable of all kinds of things, from plants, to politics, to astronomy. But above all he was a man of love. Who was filled with the love of wisdom, and preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her. Even going to apparent extremes in loving wisdom more than health, willing to sacrifice even the good of the body for wisdom.
So in this case love can sometimes move a person to extremes. But then we look at St. Thomas himself. And there we see love pushing him, in a truly wonderful way, in a life of constant, heroic, self-sacrificing dedication to understanding and clarifying the Faith. Not just because he liked to think and reason things out. But above all because he loved God, and wanted Him to be known and loved. As he himself said in the Summa Contra Gentiles, using the words of St. Hilary: my principle aim in life, to which I feel obligated in conscience before God, is that all of my words and sentiments speak of him (I.9).
St. Thomas wanted love for Christ to shine through in his every word. Such that he would not pursue his theological studies as simply a career, a way of becoming known, a means of making his own personal mark on the world. For he had left behind the craving to become admired for what he was in himself. All he wanted was for Christ to be known and loved.
And this desire did not let up. Such that we see him finally at the end of his life, a man not yet 50 years old, receiving the Eucharistic Lord for the last time. And his words showing so clearly the great intensity of his love: I receive you, price of my soul’s redemption, I receive you, viaticum of my pilgrimage, for love of whom I have studied, watched, labored; I have preached you, I have taught you....
In our Gospel, we have Our Lord spelling out for us what He wants us to do with His divine teaching. You are the light of the world, He says. And so I want you to send out the light of My teaching. It is meant to be spread far and wide. Don’t even think about hiding it.
In fact, the entire life of St. Thomas was spent in following this instruction of Our Lord to its fullest.
He was born into a family of the lower nobility, the Aquino family, in around 1224. When he was just a youngster, to further his education, but also to prepare him to move up in the world, his family put him in the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino, not far from their family castle. It was thought the little Thomas would one day be Abbot of Monte Cassino.
But when it came time for further education, he was sent to the University of Naples, where he came in contact with the Dominican Order. He decided to give himself over to a life of prayer, study, preaching, and teaching as a son of St. Dominic. From then on his life was one of complete dedication to getting the Faith out into the world.
So St. Thomas did not keep back his life and all his considerable talents for his own personal benefit. He spent himself, he gave himself away, he wanted all that was in him to be at the disposal of Christ, for the good of the Church.
Like all the saints, the focus of his life had moved away from self. His gaze was outward, toward God and his neighbor.
And like all the saints, his life was so wonderfully fruitful because of that love of God and neighbor. That title Common Doctor of the Church being given to St. Thomas not because he simply had a great memory and ability to assimilate the thinking of the Church Fathers. But above all because love for Christ constantly urged him on to spend late hours reading, and doing his utmost to understand faithfully what he read. He is the Common Doctor thanks to charity perfecting his knowledge. And we can say without doubt, were it not for his great love for Christ, he would never have learned the Church Fathers with such mastery.
And so today we honor this college which has taken St. Thomas as its patron. And we mark 40 years that God has blessed it with a faculty, and administration, and students who know the great value of a liberal education, and the importance of understanding well our Catholic faith. So much good has come about here through Divine Providence. All of us here are truly part of something much larger than we realize. Each founder, tutor, student, and staff member being an instrument, to bring about the renewal of our church and our society in ways that God only knows, and continues to be revealed as His plan unfolds.
But we also think of how we must resolve not to ruin what Our Lord has begun here. Most especially by resolving to permeate everything we do here with charity. Because it is only through love that God will continue to dwell among us, and bring divine fruitfulness to all that we do.
It is the nature of love, St. Thomas says, to transform the lover into the object loved. And so if we love God, we ourselves become divinized; for... ‘Whoever is joined to God becomes one spirit with him.’ Augustine adds, ‘As the soul is the life of the body, so God is the life of the soul.’ Thus the soul acts virtuously and perfectly when she acts through charity, and through charity God lives in her, indeed, without charity she cannot act...
And to all the more emphasize the importance of this charity, the Angelic Doctor adds: If a person possesses all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but lacks charity, that person has no life. For it matters not whether one has the grace of tongues, or the gift of faith, or any other gift such as prophecy; these do not bring life without charity. Even if a dead body should be adorned with gold and precious jewels, it nevertheless remains dead (from Dominican Proper for feast of St. Thomas).
Here at the College we know how important it is for us to form our minds well in the Truth, and to acquire the good habits of thinking that will prepare us for explaining and defending our faith, defending the dignity of the human person, and promoting the good of our society, which are under attack from all sides. But all this good formation of the mind will ultimately profit us nothing, unless we take the knowledge we gain and put it to work stirring us to love Him, our families, our fellow students, and those we meet with greater selflessness and generosity.
Which should move us move us all the more to follow the example and invoke the intercession of our holy patron, who held nothing back, making all that was in him love, honor, preach Christ the Lord.
“When you first arrive here, the upperclassmen are almost like your heroes because they’re at the place — or approaching the place — where you want to be, both intellectually and spiritually. It promotes friendship in a way that I have never seen before.”
– John Jost (’17)
“Thomas Aquinas College knows this — that the life of the mind involves the spiritual life as well — and that is why I have always thought of this institution as a college in the image and likeness of John Paul II.”
– George Weigel