The saint we are to honor today is one of the most sublime and most lucid interpreters of divine truth. He rose up in the Church many centuries after the apostolic age, nay, long after the four great Latin Doctors—Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory. The Church, the ever young and joyful Mother, is justly proud of Her Thomas, and has honored him with the splendid title of the Angelic Doctor, on account of the extraordinary gift of understanding wherewith God had blessed him; just as his contemporary and friend, St. Bonaventure, has been called the Seraphic Doctor, on account of the wonderful unction which abounds in the writings of this worthy disciple of St. Francis. St. Thomas Aquinas is an honor to mankind, for perhaps there never existed a man whose intellect surpassed his. He is one of the brightest ornaments of the Church, for not one of Her Doctors has equaled him in the clearness and precision wherewith he has explained Her doctrines. He received the thanks of Christ Himself, for having well written of Him and His mysteries. How welcome ought this Feast of such a Saint be to us during this season of the year, when our main study is our return and conversion to God! What greater blessing could we have than to come to the knowledge of God? Has not our ignorance of God, of His claims, and of His perfections, been the greatest misery of our past lives? Here we have a Saint whose prayers are most efficacious in procuring for us that knowledge, which is unspotted, and converteth souls, and giveth wisdom to little ones, and gladdeneth the heart, and enlighteneth the eyes (Ps. 18: 8, 9). Happy we, if this spiritual wisdom be granted us! We shall then see the vanity of everything that is not eternal, the righteousness of the divine commandments, the malice of sin, and the infinite goodness wherewith God treats us when we repent.
Let us learn from the Church the claims of the Angelic Doctor to our admiration and confidence:
The distinguished ornament of the Christian world and light of the Church, the most Blessed man Thomas, was born of noble parents, his father being Landulph, Count of Aquino, and his mother Theodora, a Neapolitan lady. While yet an infant he gave proof of his future devotion towards the Mother of God; for having found a leaflet on which was written the Angelical Salutation (Ave Maria), he clenched it so fast that the nurse tried in vain to take it from his hand. His mother, however, having forced it from him, the child succeeded by tears and signs, in recovering the paper, which he immediately swallowed. When he was five years old he was sent to Monte Cassino, that he might receive from the Benedictine monks his first training. Thence he was sent to Naples, where he went through a course of studies, and, young as he was, joined the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans). This step caused great displeasure to his mother and brothers, and it was therefore deemed advisable to send him to Paris. He was waylaid by his brothers, who seized him and imprisoned him in the castle of Saint John. After having made several unsuccessful attempts to induce him to abandon the holy life he had chosen, they assailed his purity by sending to him a wicked woman; but he drove her from his chamber with a firebrand. The young Saint then threw himself on his knees before a crucifix. Having prayed some time, he fell asleep, and it seemed to him that two angels approached him, and tightly girded his loins. From that time forward, he never suffered the slightest feeling against purity. His sisters also had come to the castle, and tried to make him change his mind; but he, on the contrary, persuaded them to despise the world, and devote themselves to the exercise of a holy life.
It was contrived that he should escape through a window of the castle, and return to Naples. He was thence taken by John the Teutonic, the General of the Dominican Order, first to Rome and then to Paris, in which latter city he was taught philosophy and theology by St. Albert the Great. At the age of 25, he received the title of doctor, and explained in the public schools, and in a manner that made him the object of universal admiration, the writings of philosophers and theologians. He always applied himself to prayer, before reading or writing anything. When he met with any difficult passage in the Sacred Scriptures, he both fasted and prayed. He used often to say to his companion, Brother Reginald, that if he knew anything, it was more a gift from God, than the fruit of his own study and labor. One day, when at Naples, as he was praying with more than usual fervor before a crucifix, he heard these words: "Well has thou written of Me, Thomas! What reward wouldst thou have Me give thee?" He answered: "None other than Thyself, Lord." His favorite spiritual reading was the Conferences of the Fathers, and there was no kind of writing with which he was not most diligently familiar. His writings are so extraordinary, not only for their number and variety, but also for their clearness in explaining difficult points of doctrine, that his copious and sound teaching, so wonderfully consonant with revealed truth, is most apt for utterly refuting the errors of all ages.
Being called to Rome by Pope Urban IV, he composed, at his command, the ecclesiastical Office for the solemnity of Corpus Christi; but he refused to accept any honors, as likewise the archbishopric of Naples offered to him by Pope Clement IV. He was most zealous in preaching the Word of God. On one occasion, during Easter week, as he was preaching in the Church of St. Peter, a woman touched the hem of his habit, and was cured of an issue of blood. He was sent by Pope Gregory X to the Council of Lyons; but having reached Fossa Nova, he fell sick, and was received as a guest in the monastery of that place, where he wrote a commentary on the Canticle of Canticles. There he died in the 50th year of his age, in the year of Our Lord 1274, on the Nones of March (March 7). His sanctity was made manifest after his death by miracles: which being proved, he was canonized by Pope John XXII in the year 1323. His body was translated to Toulouse by command of Blessed Urban V. Being comparable to the angels, no less by his innocence than by his genius, he has received the title of Angelic Doctor, confirmed by the authority of St. Pius V. Pope Leo XIII, joyfully acceding to the desires and petitions of the bishops of the Catholic world, by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites and by Letters Apostolic, ordained and declared him the heavenly Patron of all Catholic schools; and this especially for the purpose of repelling the evil of so many philosophical systems abandoned to error, for the increase of knowledge, and for the common utility of mankind.
How shall we worthily praise thee, most Holy Doctor! How shall we thank thee for what thou hast taught us? The rays of the Divine Sun of Justice beamed strongly upon thee, and thou hast reflected them upon us. When we picture thee contemplating truth, we think of those words of Our Lord: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God." (Matt. 5: 8) Thy victory over the concupiscence of the flesh merited for thee the highest spiritual delights; and our Redeemer chose thee, because of the purity of thy angelic soul, to compose for His Church the Office whereby She should celebrate the Divine Sacrament of His Love. Learning did not impair thy humility. Prayer was ever thy guide in thy search after truth; and there was but one reward for which, after all thy labors, thou wast ambitious—the possession of God.
Thy life, alas! was short. The very masterpiece of thy angelical writings (Summa Theologica) was left unfinished. But thou hast not lost thy power of working for the Church. Aid Her in Her combats against error. She holds thy teachings in the highest esteem, because She feels that none of Her Saints has ever known so well as thou, the secrets and mysteries of Her Divine Spouse. Now, perhaps more than in any other age, truths are decayed among the children of men (Ps. 11: 2); strengthen us in our faith, procure us light. Check the conceit of those shallow self-constituted philosophers, who have dared to sit in judgment on the actions and decisions of the Church, and to force their contemptible theories upon a generation that is too ill-instructed to detect their fallacies. The atmosphere around us is gloomy with ignorance; loose principles, and truths spoilt by cowardly compromise, are the fashion of our times. Pray for us; bring us back to that bold and simple acceptance of truth, which gives life to the intellect and joy to the heart.
Protect us also from those modern-day usurpers of the once-glorious habit and name of the Order of Friars Preachers. May thy Patriarch St. Dominic, and all the Saints of the Dominican Order, obtain for us the grace to be immune from the poison of false doctrine—from the heresies of our times, which thou, St. Thomas, would have utterly condemned.
We are beginning the Season of Lent and the great work of earnest conversion of our lives. Thy prayers must gain for us the knowledge both of the God we have offended by our sins, and of the wretched state of a soul that is at enmity with its Maker. Knowing this, we shall hate our sins; we shall desire to purify our souls in the Blood of the Spotless Lamb; we shall generously atone for our faults by works of penance.
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