Aquinas in Brief

St. Thomas Aquinas was a philosopher and theologian (and doctor of the Church) who has had an enormous influence on Catholic thought. Nonetheless, he is not exactly everyday reading for anyone other than theologians, academics and students of theology or philosphy. His writings are massive and written in a style not easy to follow. That’s too bad, since there is much in his writing on which one could profitably reflect.

Thus, John Kavanaugh provides a benefit to many in a column in a recent America Magazine, titled Aquinas, Go with Me. Recognizing that reading Aquinas is a “long and often arduous journey,” he shares with readers what he views as some central sentences of Aquinas, suggesting that each is worth a day of meditation.

I’ve picked just a couple of those maxims to share with you today. While you may not have the entire day to spend reflecting on any or all of them, you will find it worthwhile to grapple a bit with each of them. Here they are:

Evil does not exist, except in a good subject.

Every judgment of conscience, be it right or wrong, be it about things evil in themselves or morally indifferent, is obligatory, in such wise that whoever acts against conscience always does moral evil.

Two main reasons why people fall short of justice – deference to the powerful and deference to the mob.

All fear springs from love. Ordered love is included in every virtue, disordered love in every vice.

You can read the column in its entirety, which will give you a number of other maxims to reflect on, here.

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God’s Nature

My pneumonia has taken a lot out of me the past few days, making any work or serious reading impossible. Poetry, however, has not been impossible. Simple images to convey profound thoughts.

I thought I’d share one this morning from St. Thomas Aquinas that has always resonated with me. Titled God’s Nature, it speaks a beautiful truth on that subject:

Sometimes we think what we are saying about God
is true when in fact
it is not.

It would seem of value to differentiate between what is
God’s nature and what is false about Love.

I have come to learn that the truth never harms
or frightens.

I have come to learn that
God’s compassion and light can never be limited;

thus any God who could condemn is
not a God at all

but some distrubing image in the
mind of a
child

we best ignore, until we
can cure the
dark.

Thomas Aquinas

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, philosopher, theologian and Doctor of the Church.

Aquinas said many things we would find offensive today. I take particular umbrage at some of the things he said about women. Things like: “As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power.”

On a variety of subjects, however, Aquinas has offered much for us to reflect on. In connection with today’s Gospel, the Magnificat reflection for today quotes him talking about Fear of the Lord, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that is frequently misunderstood.

Aquinas explains that one of the things that helps us to persevere in doing good is a “continual wholesome fear, for as soon as man thinks that he is so secure that he cannot fall he then and there fails to perform good words. ‘Unless you hold yourself diligently in the fear of the Lord, thy house will be quickly overthrown.’ (Sir 27:3) The fear of the Lord is the safeguard of life.”

Reading Aquinas’ words reminds us that fear of the Lord is not about fear of punishment. Rather it is about understanding that in ourselves there is no security, but that our security lies in God. Fear of the Lord is about awe and reverence for our God in whom lies our salvation.

St. Thomas Aquinas

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, theologian, philosopher, teacher, pray-er and poet.  One of the books that is never far from my side is a book by Daniel Ladinsky entitled Love Poems from God.  One of the sections contains a number of poems inspired by Aquinas.  I once before posted one of my favorites, Whenever He Looks at You.  Here, in honor of today’s memorial, is another one, a poem that contains a suggestion for how we might live in harmony.  It is called We are Fields Before Each Other.

How is it they live for eons in such harmony–
the billions of stars–

when most men can barely go a minute
without declaring war in their mind against someone they know.

There are wars where no one marches with a flag,
though that does not keep casualties
from mounting.

Out hearts irrigate the earth.
We are fields before
each other.

How can we live in harmony?
First we need to know

we are all madly in love
with the same
God.

God’s Delight

I love poems with simple images I can sit with.  One of the poems I keep going back to is a poem written by Daniel Ladinsky called, Whenever He Looks at You.  The image for God’s delight in us is as simple as one can imagine.  Here is the poem:

“God sees nothing in us that He has not given.
Everything is empty until He places
what He wishes into it.

The soul is like an uninhabited world
that comes to life only when
God lays His head against us.

The delight a child can know
tossing a ball into the air,

my Lord confessed He experiences
whenever He looks at you.

God sees nothing in us that He has not given.”

As I’m writing this post, I’m reminded of a poem that I received by e-mail the other day from the Writer’s Almanac.  The poem is titled Susanna, by Anne Porter, and the speaker describes visiting an old woman in a hospital, an immigrant who spoke only a little English and who had no visitors.  The speaker stops to see her now and then, but the woman is always sleeping.  One day, the woman wakes up and says, “You want to know the truth?….There’s not a single inch of our whole body that the Lord does not love.” 

God experiences utter delight in us.  God loves every single inch of our entire body.  If we could only keep those thoughts with us day after day.