Showing posts with label St. Thomas Aquinas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label St. Thomas Aquinas. Show all posts

January 28, 2018

St. Thomas Aquinas on Salvation

Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do. 
— St. Thomas Aquinas
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Tantum Ergo Sacramentum

(A Hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas)

Down in adoration falling, lo! the sacred host we hail; lo! o'er ancient forms departing, newer rites of graces prevail; Faith for all defects supplying, where the feeble senses fail. To the everlasting Father, and the Son, who reigns on high, with the Holy Ghost proceeding forth from each eternally, be salvation, honor, blessing, might and endless majesty. Amen. (See Benediction of the Eucharist)

St. Thomas Aquinas’ Rejection of Islam was Based on Divine Truth, Not Political Correctness

St. Thomas Aquinas

In honor of Saint Thomas Aquinas' feast day, [January 28th] here is the Angelic Doctor’s consideration of Islam and the teachings of its prophet Mohammed. It is noteworthy but hardly surprising that one of the most brilliant theologians in the Church’s history was beholden to truth, not morally devoid political correctness.

Aquinas rarely discusses Islam expressly, save for two instances.* In one, he defends Christianity against Muslim objections [See Summa Contra Gentiles] noting that; the blood of Christian martyrs leads to coverts, whereas Islam is spread by the sword. Moreover, Aquinas compares and contrasts Christ’s selfless divinity with Mohammed’s ruthless inhumanity. To wit, in Aquinas’ own words:
He [Mohammed] did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the contrary, Mohammed said that he was sent in the power of his arms – which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning. Those who believed in him were brutal men...utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through [Whom]... Mohammed forced others to become his followers by the violence of his arms.
What is more, Aquinas directly impugns Mohammed's message and method's: "Mohammed seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh urges us. His teaching also contained precepts that were in conformity with his promises, and he gave free rein to carnal pleasure. In all this, as is not unexpected; he was obeyed by carnal men. As for proofs of the truth of his doctrine, he brought forward only such as could be grasped by the natural ability of anyone with a very modest wisdom. Indeed, the truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity." (From the Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Chapter 16, Article 4, Footnote 1.)

Read Twelve Things About St. Thomas Aquinas Every Catholic Should Know

In today’s increasingly secularized society, particularly in the arenas of academia, entertainment and the public square, such forthright commentary would be met with condemnation and disdain. Aquinas was concerned with empirical evidence and objective truth that are at the heart of his marriage of faith and reason. His moral insights are unencumbered by any kind of politically correct sentimentality.

O God, who made Saint Thomas Aquinas outstanding in his zeal for holiness and his study of sacred doctrine, grant us, we pray, that we may understand what he taught and imitate what he accomplished. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. St. Thomas Aquinas, pray that our minds seek God's will.

*The other instance of Aquinas addressing Islam was his brief tract, De rationibus fidei contra Saracenos, Graecos et Armenos ad Cantorem Antiochenum, wherein he discusses and defends Christianity's dogmas in the face of Muslim criticisms.

January 7, 2018

St. Raymond of Peñafort, Patron of Canon Lawyers

Saint Raymond of Peñafort

(In 2018, this feast is superseded by the Sunday liturgy.) From 2017:

December 7th is the optional memorial of Saint Raymond of Peñafort (1175-1275), a 13th century Dominican priest and theologian who, as a contemporary of Saint Thomas Aquinas, worked to help Christian captives during the period of the Crusades and added greatly to Canon Law, the Church’s legal code. A brilliant evangelist, in his writings, utterances and example, St. Raymond won numerous souls for Christ. Over 10,000 Muslims converted as a result of his efforts. Named the Superior General of the Dominican Order, he retired after only two years due to his advanced age. (Following this, he lived another 35 years during which he skillfully advanced the Good News.) His most notable work, the Summa Casuum, concerns the importance and correct administration of the Sacrament of Penance.

He was born into a Spanish noble family, with ties to the royal house of Aragon, at the castle of Pennafort, in the Catalonian region of present-day Spain. The future saint received a world class education, studying in Barcelona and at the University of Bologna. There, from 1195 to 1210, he taught Canon law. At some point, Barcelona’s Bishop convinced him to return to Spain where he was named one of the canons in the cathedral. Still, Raymond wanted a deeper relationship with the Lord. On Good Friday, 1222, he petitioned to join the Dominican Order.

He made his solemn profession in the Order of Preachers when he was about forty-five years of age. Excelling in all the virtues, he devoted himself especially to charity toward the poor, and also to those taken captive by the infidels. (This was necessary because the invading Moors were exacting great cruelties on their Christian captives.) Through his exhortation, his penitent Saint Peter Nolasco devoted all his possessions to this work of mercy. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Peter, Raymond and James I, the King of Aragon, extolling them to institute an Order of men whose mission was to deliver captives from the tyranny of infidels. After deliberating together, they founded the Order of our Lady of Mercy for the Ransom of Captives. St. Raymond wrote the rules for the Order, adapted to its spirit and vocation. Later, Pope Gregory IX recognized the nascent Order, and St. Raymond would name St Peter Nolasco, its first Master General.

Having appointed Raymond as his chaplain, penitentiary, and confessor. Pope Gregory IX was well aware of his abilities. He summoned Raymond to Rome and appointed him to compile together in the volume, the Decrees of the Roman Pontiffs. In three years time, Raymond collected and wrote commentaries on all the decretal letters that had been issued. The Holy Father was so impressed he published a bull making St. Raymond’s work alone authoritative. This collection, called the Liber extra was the standard of canon law for 700 years.

Twice the Holy Father named St. Raymond to the archbishopric of Tarragona, but each time he refused the appointment. Raymond was elected the third Master-General of the Dominican Order in 1238. His tenure was brief and marked by pious humility. So inspiring was his witness that the Order grew dramatically in numbers and influence. St. Raymond retired to the convent of Barcelona where he lived for 35 more years, working and praying incessantly for the conversion of the Moors, Jews, and heretics. He continued writing, preaching and evangelizing.

Saint Raymond died on the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, 1275, in his hundredth year. Many miracles credited to his intervention occurred following his death. He is the patron of lawyers, the legal profession, and in particular, Canon lawyers. He was canonized by Pope Clement VIII in 1601. O God, who adorned the Priest St. Raymond with the virtue of outstanding mercy and compassion for sinners and for captives, grant us, through his intercession, that, released from slavery to sin, we may carry out in freedom of spirit what is pleasing to you.

November 14, 2017

Saint Albert the Great, the "Doctor Universalis"

Saint Albert the Great

On November 15th, the Church celebrates the optional memorial of Saint Albert the Great. The son of a German nobleman, he was studying at Padua when the Master General of the Dominicans, Jordan of Saxony, succeeded in attracting him to that Order. He was to become one of the Dominicans' greatest glories. After taking his degrees at the University of Paris, he taught philosophy and theology at Paris and then in Cologne. Saint Thomas Aquinas was among his pupils.

St. Albert, the "light of Germany," called the Great because of his encyclopedic knowledge, was born in 1193 at Lauingen, Donau. He joined the newly-founded Order of Preachers in 1223. Soon he was sent to Germany where he taught in various cities. In 1248 he received the honor of Master in Sacred Theology at Paris. Throngs attended his lectures, drawn by his piety and towering intellect.

In 1254, Albert was chosen provincial of his Order in Germany. For a time, he lived at the court of Pope Alexander II, who in 1260, made him the bishop of Regensburg. Two years later, however, he returned to his community at Cologne. There he acted as counselor, peacemaker and shepherd of souls with enormous success. He died at the age of 87. Pope Pius XI numbered him among the saints on December 16, 1931, solemnly declaring him a Doctor of the universal Church.

Much of his life was given to writing. His twenty-one folio volumes are devoted to commentaries on Aristotle (whose works were just then becoming known in the West) and the Bible. Legend credits him with drawing the ground plans for the cathedral at Cologne. Albert, the greatest German scholar of the Middle Ages, was outstanding in the disciplines of natural science, theology, and philosophy.

O God, who made the Bishop Saint Albert great by his joining of human wisdom to divine faith, grant, we pray, that we may so adhere to the truths he taught, that through progress in learning we may come to a deeper knowledge and love of you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever. Amen. Saint Albert the Great, pray for us.

November 6, 2017

St. Thomas Aquinas on the Principal Pain of Purgatory

Saint Thomas Aquinas

The brilliant theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas thought deeply about the ends of Christian life, including and especially on the "Last Things". His comment on the souls' longing for God in Purgatory reminds us that to live virtuously is our duty.
The more one longs for a thing, the more painful does deprivation of it become. And because after this life, the desire for God, the Supreme Good, is intense in the souls of the just (because this impetus toward him is not hampered by the weight of the body, and that time of enjoyment of the Perfect Good would have come) had there been no obstacle; the soul suffers enormously from the delay.
— St. Thomas Aquinas
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Prayer for St. Thomas Aquinas' Intercession

Almighty ever-loving God, who made Saint Thomas Aquinas outstanding in his zeal for holiness and his study of sacred doctrine, grant us, we pray, that we may understand what he taught and imitate what he accomplished by his witness and holy intercession. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your only Son, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

September 28, 2017

Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

Feast of the Archangels

Feast Day - September 29th

Angels are pure, created spirits. The word angel means servant or messenger of God. Angels are celestial or heavenly beings, on a higher order than human beings. Angels have no bodies and do not depend on matter for their existence. They are distinct from saints, which men can become. Angels have intellect and will, and are immortal. They are a vast multitude, but each is an individual person. Archangels are one of the nine choirs of angels listed in the Bible. In ascending order, the choirs are: 1) Angels, 2) Archangels, 3) Principalities, 4) Powers, 5) Virtues, 6) Dominations, 7) Thrones, 8) Cherubim, and 9) Seraphim.

On the penultimate day in September, the Church celebrates the feast of the Archangels. As purely incorporeal, rational beings, Angels are extensions of God Himself, personifying his grace, majesty and intellect. The Angelic Doctor explains that each individual Angel is its own species within the genus "Angel". Archangels have crucial roles in the story of our redemption. The Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael — the only Angels that are named in Sacred Scripture, have been instrumental in advancing God's plan of salvation, both in heaven and on earth.

Saint Michael 

St. Michael, the "Prince of the Heavenly Host", is second only to the Mother of God in leading the angels. His name in Hebrew means "Who is like God?". It was Michael who commanded heaven's forces in casting down Lucifer and the fallen angels into hell. In 1886, after receiving a prophetic vision of the evil to be visited upon the world in the 20th century, Pope Leo XIII instituted a prayer invoking St. Michael's protection. Scripture mentions him four times (in Daniel 10:13-21 and 12:1, in Jude 1:9 and in Revelation 12:7-9).

The Church recognizes four distinct offices of St. Michael; 1.) to oppose Satan, 2.) to defend the souls of the faithful against the power of Satan, especially at the hour of death. 3.) to champion God's people, 4.) to accompany souls to their particular judgment, bring them to purgatory, and present them to God following their purgation before entering heaven.

Patron saint: against temptations, against powers of evil, artists, radiologists, bakers, bankers, battle, cemeteries, endangered children, dying, emergency medical technicians, holy death, paramedics, paratroopers, police officers, sailors, the sick, security forces, soldiers, and against storms at sea, among others.

Saint Gabriel

Saint Gabriel's name means "God's strength". He is mentioned in Scripture four times. Gabriel is the archangel most affiliated with the Incarnation and earthly ministry of Christ. Twice in Luke's Gospel, he foretells the arrival of consequential figures: the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zacharias (Luke 1:11–25) and the birth of the Savior to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26–38.).

Tradition holds that Gabriel appeared to Saint Joseph and to the shepherds, and that he "strengthened" Christ during His agony in the garden of Gethsemane.

Patron saint: ambassadors, broadcasting, childbirth, clergy, communications, diplomats, messengers, philatelists, postal workers, public relations, radio workers, secular clergy, stamp collectors and telecommunications, among others.

Saint Raphael

All that we know of Saint Raphael, whose name means "God has healed", comes from the Book of Tobit in which he heals Tobias' blindness. His office, according to popular piety, is that of healing and facilitating acts of mercy. He is affiliated with young people venturing into world, particularly concerning learning and marriage.

The angel in John's Gospel who descended to the pool of Bethesda and imbued it with healing powers so that the first to enter it after it moved would be healed of whatever infirmity they possessed is identified with Raphael (John 5:1-4).

Patron saint: physicians, medical workers, love, lovers, mental illness, nurses, pharmacists, shepherds, against sickness, therapists, travelers, young people, young people leaving home for the first time, the blind, happy meetings, matchmakers, Christian marriage, and Catholic studies, among others.

Almighty and everliving God, who disposes in marvelous order ministries both angelic and human, graciously grant that our life on earth may be defended by those who watch over us as they minister perpetually to you in heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and with the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen. Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, pray for us.

September 9, 2017

St. Thomas of Villanova, Bishop, "Father of the Poor"

St. Thomas of Villanova

(In 2017, this feast is superseded by the Sunday liturgy.)

September 10th, is traditionally the feast of Saint Thomas of Villanova (1488-1555), the 16th century Spanish Augustinian friar, theologian and bishop. Given his habits and proclivities, some thought him "eccentric," despite his brilliance and the universal praise of his students and colleagues. Thomas’ intellectual legacy is marked by his insistence that learning be inspired by the desire for God. From his parents, he inherited a special love for the poor and deep compassion.

Thomas García was born the son of a miller in Fuenllana, a village near Villanova in Spain. From a young age, he exhibited a great proclivity for personal piety and scholarship. His mother’s example of charity toward the poor inspired in him a lifelong mission to aid the needy. He studied at the University of Alcalá where he received his master’s degree in 1509, and a doctorate shortly thereafter. In 1512, he became a professor of philosophy at the University of Alcalá where his lectures were lauded enthusiastically for their clarity and conviction. His reputation grew.

In 1516, Thomas was offered the chair of philosophy at the prestigious University of Salamanca, where the Augustinians founded a monastery in 1377. He declined the chair and instead entered the Augustinian Order in that city. Ordained to the priesthood in 1520, Thomas was soon asked to assume administrative positions in the Order. He served as prior of the Augustinian houses in Salamanca, Burgos, and Valladolid, and was elected provincial of Andalusia and Castile. As provincial, he sent the first Augustinian missionaries to the New World where they labored to evangelize what is now present day Mexico and, from there, the Philippines.

When he became an Augustinian friar, he continued to teach but was renowned for his embrace of personal poverty and love of the poor. Throughout his life, he wore the same habit he had received in the novitiate, mending it himself year after year. The poor flocked to his door in droves and he never refused them, even when others said he was being taken advantage of. He took in orphans and was merciful with sinners. All of this resulted in criticism from his contemporaries, including members of his own Order, but Thomas was unceasing in his efforts.

Thomas' numerous gifts, especially his intelligence, powerful oratory, skills as a mediator and administrator, and his sensitivity to the needs of others, brought him to the attention of Emperor Charles V, who against the friar’s will appointed him court chaplain and then archbishop of Valencia in 1544. Thomas exercised the office as a zealous shepherd of souls and a great friend of the destitute.

In Thomas’ writings we find a rich synthesis of the thought of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, especially his emphasis on the innate desire for God in all peoples, the image of God in the human person, the power of grace, and a theology of love. He died peacefully at age 77, his last words being, "Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit." St. Thomas of Villanova once observed "If you want God to hear your prayers, hear the voice of the poor. If you wish God to anticipate your wants, provide those of the needy without waiting for them to ask you. Especially anticipate the needs of those who are ashamed to beg..."

August 7, 2017

Saint Dominic, Priest and Founder

Saint Dominic

Memorial – August 8th

The Martyrology gives the following: "At Bologna (upper Italy) the holy confessor Dominic, the saintly and learned founder of the Order of Preachers. He preserved his virginity inviolate and gained for himself the grace of raising three dead persons to life. By his word he crushed heresy in the bud and led many souls to piety and to religious life." He was notable for his learning and love of poverty.

Born about 1175 in Castile (Spain), Dominic hailed from the illustrious Guzman family. First he was a canon regular at Osma; then he founded the Dominican Order, which was approved in 1216. Alongside the Franciscans, it became the most powerful Order in medieval times, giving the Church illustrious preachers — St. Vincent Ferrer, and contemplatives, Sts. Thomas of Aquinas and Pius V — and contributing immeasurably to maintaining the purity of the faith. Through the example of apostolic poverty and the preaching of the word of God the Friar Preachers were to lead men to Christ. To St. Dominic is attributed the origin and spread of the holy rosary. This devotion he spread tirelessly the rest of his days.

The two contemporaries, Dominic and Francis, effected a tremendous spiritual rejuvenation through their own spiritual personalities and through their religious foundations. Of the two, Dominic was the realist who surpassed the other intellectually and in organizational talent. His spirit of moderation, clarity of thought, and burning zeal for souls have become the heritage of the Dominicans.

Legend has contributed the following rare anecdote as preserved in the Breviary: "During pregnancy, Dominic's mother dreamed she was carrying in her womb a little dog that held a burning torch between its teeth; and when she had given birth, it set the whole world on fire. By this dream it was made manifest beforehand how Dominic would inflame the nations to the practice of Christian virtue through the brightness of his holy example and the fiery ardor of his preaching." He died at Bologna upon hearing the liturgy's prayer for the dying: "Come, ye saints of God, hasten hither, ye angels!", on August 6th, 1221.

His friend, Pope Gregory IX, canonized him three years later. He is the patron of astronomers, scientists and people falsely accused. May Saint Dominic come to the help of your Holy Church by his merits and teaching, O Lord, and may he, who was an outstanding preacher of your truth, in his words and example, be a devoted intercessor on our behalf. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever. Amen.

Adapted excerpt from The Church's Year of Grace, Fr. Pius Parsch.

July 30, 2017

Reflection on the Transfiguration of Christ

Transfiguration of Christ


At the Transfiguration, Moses was there representing the law and Elijah was there representing the prophets. But why were Peter, James, and John present? And what does this event mean to us today?

St. Thomas Aquinas devotes an entire section in his Summa theologiae to this event. His treatment sums up much of the wisdom of the Fathers, so looking at his reflections may give us some answers.

Aquinas says that it was fitting that Christ be manifested in his glory because those who are walking an arduous path need a clear sense of the goal of their journey. The arduous path is this life, with all of its attendant sufferings, failures, setbacks, disappointments, and injustices, and its goal is heavenly glory, fullness of life with God, the transformation of our bodies.

As he makes his way toward the cross, Jesus accordingly allows, for a brief time, his glory to shine through, the radiance of his divinity to appear. We are not meant finally for this world. This event is meant to awaken our sense of wonder at the world to come.

Next, Aquinas asks about the “light” or the “glory” that envelops Christ during the Transfiguration. It “shines.” Why have people, trans-historically and trans-culturally, associated holiness with light? Well, light is that by which we see, that which illumines and clarifies. But at bottom it is the fact that light is beautiful. Beautiful things shine. Aquinas says that Jesus, at the Transfiguration, began to shine with the radiance of heaven so as to entrance us with the prospect of our own transfiguration.

Finally, Aquinas talks about the witnesses to the Transfiguration, namely Peter, James, John, Moses, and Elijah. Moses stands for the Law. Jesus recapitulates, perfects, and illumines the Mosaic law: “I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” Christ is the new Moses, the new Lawgiver.

Similarly, Elijah stands for the prophets; he was the greatest of the prophets. The prophets spoke the words of God; Jesus is the Word of God. Therefore, the prophetic books are read in his light.

But why is Peter there? Because, says Aquinas, he loved the Lord the most. Why is John there? Because the Lord loved him the most. Why is James there? Because he was the first of the Apostles to die for his faith.

Who gets access to the glory of Jesus? Those who are tied to him through love

July 25, 2017

Prayer for Saint Anne’s Intercession

St. Anne

O Holy Saint Anne, you were especially favored by God to be the mother of the most Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of our Savior. By your powerful intercession in union with your most pure daughter and with her divine Son, kindly obtain for us the grace and the favor we now seek. Please secure for us also forgiveness of our past sins, the strength to perform faithfully our daily duties and the help we need to persevere in the love of God and the imitation of Jesus our Lord. Amen.
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St. Anne: A Powerful Intercessor and Protectress

Great saints and Doctors of the Church including Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint John Damascene, and Saint Teresa of Ávila, had devotions to St. Anne. In the words of St. Teresa of Ávila, “We know and are convinced that our good mother St. Anne helps in all needs, dangers and tribulations.” Among other things, she is the patroness of the childless, the help of the pregnant, and the protectress of widows. She is a powerful intercessor for single women who seek a Godly husband, married couples, expectant mothers and married couples who have difficulty conceiving, as well as all who have grown old. Those who honor St. Anne will receive her aid in every need especially, at the hour of their death.

July 14, 2017

St. Bonaventure, Franciscan Doctor of the Church

St. Bonaventure

Memorial of St. Bonaventure - July 15th

Legend has it that it was Saint Francis of Assisi who gave Saint Bonaventure his name, long before anyone else realized to what heights this young boy would ascend. As a child, Bonaventure — who was baptized John — became seriously ill. His mother, hoping that the saint would intercede with God on behalf of her son, brought him to St. Francis. Francis did pray for the boy and he was made well. The saint also foresaw a great future for the child. "O Buona ventura!" (O Good Fortune!) Francis was reported to have exclaimed, and the name stuck. Whether or not there is truth to this story is debatable; however, Bonaventure went on to live a life of compassion, holiness, and remarkable scholarship, leaving an indelible imprint on the Franciscan Order and the Universal Church.

Born in the town of Bagnoregio, Italy, around the year 1217, the boy who would become the saint grew up in relative obscurity. Little is known of his early years; even the exact year of his birth is uncertain. It was only when he entered the Franciscan Order at the age of 22, that any reliable information about him becomes available. Recognizing his superb intellectual gifts, Bonaventure was sent to Paris to study under Alexander of Hales, one of the most outstanding Scholastic theologians of his day. Praised by that scholar for his "virtue and brilliance," Bonaventure went on to teach in Paris with another intellectual giant, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Both became friends of the French king, Saint Louis IX.

Bonaventure  became minister general of the Franciscan Order in 1257 at the age of 36. This was a more difficult position than it might appear on the surface because at the time, the Franciscan Order was suffering from internal divisions between two factions, each of whom interpreted the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi differently. Bonaventure not only reconciled these groups, thereby bringing unity to the Order, but he also wrote a biography of St. Francis, which helped elucidate and clarify the true ideals and teachings of the great Franciscan mystic and saint.

His wisdom and charity also led him to preside at the Second Council of Lyons, which was convened in 1274 and attempted to reestablish the unity of the Church following the 1054 schism between the Western Church governed by the pope at Rome, and the Eastern Church headed by the patriarch of Constantinople. The agreements reached at this meeting were short-lived, only lasting until 1289.

In the midst of this council, on July 15, 1274, St. Bonaventure died. The pope and all those in attendance were shocked and grief-stricken. A contemporary chronicler described their feelings about the saint this way: "A man of eminent learning and eloquence, and of outstanding holiness, he was known for his kindness, gentleness, and compassion. Full of virtue, he was beloved of both God and man, whoever came to know him was at once drawn to a deep love of him."

Because of his formidable intellect and wisdom, St. Bonaventure, who is a Doctor of the Church, has also acquired the sobriquet “the Seraphic” or angelic doctor.  In him the ideals and virtues of St. Francis of Assisi came together in such a way that he not only helped transform the Franciscan Order, but also enriched the Universal Church.  Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, just as we celebrate the heavenly birthday of the Bishop Saint Bonaventure, we may benefit from his great learning and constantly imitate the ardor of his charity. Through our Lord Jesus Christ who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen.

June 16, 2017

Saint John Paul II on the Power of the Eucharist

St. John Paul II celebrating Mass

Christ instituted this sacrament [that is His Most Holy Body and Blood] as the perpetual memorial of his Passion..., the greatest of all his miracles; and he left this sacrament to those whom his absence filled with grief, as an incomparable consolation" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Office of Corpus Christi, 57, 4). Every time we celebrate the Eucharist in the Church, we recall the death of the Saviour, we proclaim his Resurrection as we await his return. Thus no sacrament is greater or more precious than that of the Eucharist; and when we receive Communion, we are incorporated into Christ. Our life is transformed and taken up by the Lord.

— St. John Paul II from his letter to Bishop Albert Houssiau of Liege, Belgium, entitled "Eucharist: Sacrament to be Adored"
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Almighty ever-living God, who have called us to participate in this most sacred Supper, in which your Only Begotten Son, when about to hand himself over to death, entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity, the banquet of his love, grant, we pray, that we may draw from so great a mystery, the fullness of charity and of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

June 4, 2017

St. Francis Caracciolo, Founder

Saint Francis Caracciolo

It would have been easy for St. Francis Caracciolo to be a name dropper; born at Naples into Italian nobility in 1563, he was related on his mother’s side to the great St. Thomas Aquinas. But the word that described him best was humility, for it was this virtue that guided him throughout his life. When he was 22, Francis developed a skin condition resembling leprosy; he vowed that, if he was cured, he would devote the rest of his life to God.

When the condition disappeared, Francis made good on his promise; he sold everything he owned, gave the proceeds to the poor, and went to Naples to study for the priesthood. While there, he became cofounder of a religious order, the Congregation of the Minor Clerks Regular.

Members of this new order took the usual three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, to which they added a fourth — that they would not actively seek positions of authority either within the Church or the order itself. Even though elected superior several times, Francis kept that vow by doing whatever menial tasks the members needed.

Francis, the patron saint of Naples, died of natural causes in 1608.  His feast day is June 4. St. Francis Caracciolo was much sought after as a confessor while his exhortations brought to repentance numerous public sinners, and he fortified the wavering and the despondent by his extensive personal encouragement and the recommendation of the two great Catholic devotions, those to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Lady. Graciously grant to your Church, O merciful God, that, gathered by the Holy Spirit, she may be devoted to you with all her heart and united in purity of intent. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.

February 17, 2017

Aquinas is the Reason Catholicism Does Not Have a ‘Radical Islam’ Problem

St. Thomas Aquinas and Averroes

Tradition holds that the medieval saint Thomas Aquinas levitated and had visions of our Lord. He was greatly concerned with explaining the mind of God, and he continues to matter because he helps us with a problem which still confounds us today; how we can reconcile religion with science and faith with reason.

Aquinas’ monumental contribution was to teach Western civilization that any person could have access to great truths whenever they made use of God's gift of reason. Aquinas broke a log jam in Christian thinking over the question of how non-Christians could have both wisdom and at the same time no interest in or even knowledge of Jesus. Aquinas universalized intelligence. He opened the Christian mind to the insights of all of humanity from across the ages and the continents. The modern world insofar as it insists that good ideas can come from any quarter regardless of creed or background remains hugely in Aquinas’ debt.

As a young seminarian, Aquinas went to study at the University of Naples and there came into contact with a source of knowledge which had just been rediscovered, ancient Greek and Roman texts. Aquinas became an academic at the University of Paris where he was an exceptionally prolific writer, producing nearly 200 pieces about Christian theology in less than three decades. Aquinas brilliantly proposed that the universe and all its dynamics operate according to two kinds of law, secular natural law, and religious eternal law.

For Aquinas, a lot of the world follows natural laws. We can find out for ourselves how to smelt iron, build an aqueduct or organize an economy, and none of this relies on believing in God. Aquinas discussed Jesus's injunction to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Jesus may have given this idea a particularly memorable formulation, conceded Aquinas, but it's in fact been a cornerstone of moral principles in most societies at most times. How could this be possible? Well the reason Aquinas argued, is that it's an idea that belongs to natural and not eternal law.  Aquinas conceded that in a few situations, God does work simply through eternal law outside of human reason and he cited prophetic revelations and the visits of angels as examples. However, he reassured us that most knowledge can be found by anyone within the realm of natural law.

Aquinas’s ideas unfolded at a time when Islamic culture was going through a very similar dilemma as Christianity in terms of how one can reconcile reason and faith. For a long time, the Islamic caliphates in Spain, Morocco and Egypt had flourished by being open to knowledge from all over the world, generating a wealth of new scientific ideas and philosophy. However, due to the increasing influence of fanatical religious leaders, Islam had become more dogmatic and oppressive, by the time Aquinas was born. It had for example, reacted violently against the Muslim philosopher Averroes.

Like Aquinas, Averroes had been deeply influenced by Aristotle, and had argued that reason and religion could be compatible. However, the caliphates anxious never to depart from the literal words of God made sure that Averroes’ ideas would be banned and his books burnt. Aquinas knew that the Muslim world's increasingly radical rejection of reason was harming what had once being its thriving intellectual culture, and it was overwhelmingly thanks to Aquinas’s ideas that Christianity did not suffer the same process of stratification.

Though Aquinas was a man of deep faith, he provided a philosophical framework for open scientific inquiry. He reminds us that knowledge can and should come from multiple sources; from intuition, but also from rationality, from science, but also from revelation, from pagans, but also from monks. That sounds obvious until we notice just how often civilization has been, and is still being harmed, by people’s refusal to accept Aquinas’ profound insight.

January 27, 2017

Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor

Saint Thomas Aquinas

January 28th, is the feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century Dominican theologian who demonstrated that faith and reason are complementary, not contradictory. Renowned among the greatest theologians of the Catholic Church, his master work, the Summa Theologica, was placed on the altar alongside the Bible and the Decretals at the Council of Trent. Aquinas was both a philosopher and a priest. Confronting new developments in thought, he refused either to lose faith or mindlessly believe, and developed a new understanding of the place of reason in human life. His virtuous example and ethereal theological insights are reasons why in 1568, Pope Pius V proclaimed Saint Aquinas the ‘Angelic Doctor’.

Thomas Aquinas was born to a noble family in Roccasecca, Italy in 1225. As a young man with preternatural spiritual gifts. he went to study at the University of Naples and there encountered sources of knowledge which had just begun to be rediscovered, ancient Greek and Roman texts. Aquinas became an academic at the University of Paris where he was an exceptionally prolific writer, producing nearly 200 writings about Christian theology in less than three decades. Next to the Summa Theologica, he is best known for his work, Summa Contra Gentiles.

In the 13th century, when better translations of Aristotle’s works came to the attention of European scholars, new questions emerged. The dissemination of these works along with doctrinal disagreements threatened to divide the Church between traditionalists, those adhering rigidly to the letter of Church law at the expense of the spirit of the law, and modernists, those embracing a theology based on novelty, often at the expense of Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

Aquinas answered these questions and in the process prevented a rift between traditionalists and modernists. His resulting theology, Thomism, is a synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy and Revelation. Like his predecessors, Aquinas’s theology is objective, deductive, and principled. It remains the theological standard today.

Father Pius Parsch’s summation of his life speaks to Aquinas’ total dedication to God and His Church: "To a deeply speculative mind, he joined a remarkable life of prayer, a precious memento of which has been left to us in the Office of Corpus Christi. Reputed as great already in life, he nevertheless remained modest, a perfect model of childlike simplicity and goodness. He was mild in word and kind in deed. He believed everyone was as innocent as he himself was. When someone sinned through weakness, Thomas bemoaned the sin as if it were his own. The goodness of his heart shone in his face, no one could look upon him and remain disconsolate. How he suffered with the poor and the needy was most inspiring. Whatever clothing or other items he could give away, he gladly did. He kept nothing superfluous in his efforts to alleviate the needs of others."

St. Thomas Aquinas died on March 7, 1274, reputedly in the middle of writing an extended commentary on the Song of Songs. Various miracles owed to St. Thomas Aquinas’ intercession would grace the faithful who prayed at his tomb or invoked his help. He was canonized in 1323, and named a Doctor of the Church in 1568. The Second Vatican Council stated that seminarians should strive for knowledge “under the guidance of St. Thomas,” so as to “illumine the mysteries of salvation as completely as possible.” He is the patron of seminarians, students, apologists, theologians, Catholic schools, Catholic Universities, chastity and teachers, among others. O God, who made Saint Thomas Aquinas outstanding in his zeal for holiness and his study of sacred doctrine, grant us, we pray, that we may understand what he taught and imitate what he accomplished out of love. 

January 23, 2017

Twelve Things About Saint Thomas Aquinas That Every Catholic Should Know

Saint Thomas Aquinas

One of the most brilliant minds in the history of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 at the castle of Roccasecca, in the present day Lazio region of Italy, the youngest of nine children. Thomas’ father was a man of means and nobility. Thomas's mother would try to prevent Thomas from joining the Dominican Order. His family expected him to enter the Benedictine Abbey where his uncle was the abbot. Thomas Aquinas dedicated his life to creating a complete synthesis of Catholic philosophy and theology. In honor of his feast day, [January 28] here are twelve things every Catholic should know about the Angelic Doctor.

1. Before Aquinas was born, a holy hermit told his mother that her son would be a great learner and achieve unrivaled sanctity.

From, Saint Thomas Aquinas of the Order of Preachers, by Fr. Placid Conway, OP, comes this account of the holy hermit’s prediction concerning the unborn Aquinas’ future life and accomplishments:
The future holiness of the unborn babe was disclosed to his mother by a holy hermit of the neighbourhood, known simply as Buono, or God’s good man. Clad in a rough garment, and with hair unkempt, he presented himself at Rocca Secca, and pointing to a picture of the holy patriarch Saint Dominic, who was not yet canonized, he thus addressed the Countess: Lady, be glad, for thou art about to have a son whom thou shalt call Thomas. Thou and thy husband will think if making him a monk in the Abbey of Monte Cassino, where Saint Benedict’s body reposes, in the hopes that your son will attain to its honours and wealth. But God has disposed otherwise, because he will become a friar of the Order of Preachers and so great will be his learning and sanctity that his equal will not be found through the whole world. Theodora listened with awe to the presage, then, falling upon her knees, exclaimed "I am all unworthy of bearing such a son, but, God’s will be done according to His good pleasure."
The pride Aquinas’ mother must have felt at hearing the hermit’s words was tempered by disappointment. Her long held aspiration was for her youngest son to join the Benedictine Order. The Dominicans were mendicants – preaching beggars who evangelized and served the unwashed masses of the poor – a vocation she felt was beneath Thomas. Together with her husband and sons, Theodora would spend the next two decades trying to dictate Thomas’ calling.

2. Why was Aquinas called "The Dumb Ox"?

According to popular piety, one day, Thomas’ brothers mocked his trusting nature by telling him that an ox had taken flight. As Thomas rushed to the window, his brothers burst out laughing. One brother asked, "Thomas, are you so dumb that you think an ox can fly!" to which Thomas replied, "I would sooner believe that an ox could fly than that my own brothers would lie to me."

Another oft quoted explanation for Aquinas’ sobriquet:

Because Thomas was quiet and spoke little, fellow students thinking he was slow named him "the dumb ox". But one of their lecturers [the great Medieval German philosopher and saint] Albertus Magnus prophetically exclaimed: "You call him the dumb ox, but in his teaching he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world."

3. Aquinas repulsed an "indecent proposal".

Not long after entering the Order of Preachers, Thomas was abducted by his brothers who imprisoned him at the castle tower in the village of Monte San Giovanni. There he was stripped of his religious habit, deprived of every comfort and humiliated. Despite his treatment, Thomas showed no signs of acquiescing to his family’s demand that he become a Benedictine.

So desperate was his family to dissuade Thomas that two of his brothers hired a prostitute to seduce him. According to legend, Thomas drove the woman away with a fire iron. That night as he slept, two angels appeared to him and strengthened his determination to remain celibate with the grace of eternal virginity by girding him with a mystical belt of purity.

St. Thomas Aquinas

Chesterton’s account, while dated in expression, is worth reading:
[Thomas’] brothers introduced into his room some specially gorgeous and painted courtesan, with the idea of surprising him by a sudden temptation, or at least involving him in a scandal. His anger was justified, even by less strict moral standards than his own; for the meanness was even worse than the foulness of the expedient. Even on the lowest grounds, he knew his brothers knew, and they knew that he knew, that it was an insult to him as a gentleman to suppose that he would break his pledge upon so base a provocation; and he had behind him a far more terrible sensibility; all that huge ambition of humility which was to him the voice of God out of heaven.
In this one flash alone we see that huge unwieldy figure in an attitude of activity, or even animation; and he was very animated indeed. He sprang from his seat and snatched a brand out of the fire, and stood brandishing it like a flaming sword. The woman not unnaturally shrieked and fled, which was all that he wanted; but it is quaint to think of what she must have thought of that madman of monstrous stature juggling with flames and apparently threatening to burn down the house. All he did, however, was to stride after her to the door and bang and bar it behind her; and then, with a sort of impulse of violent ritual, he rammed the burning brand into the door, blackening and blistering it with one big black sign of the cross. Then he returned, and dropped it again into the fire; and sat down on that seat of sedentary scholarship, that chair of philosophy, that secret throne of contemplation, from which he never rose again.
Read G. K. Chesterton‘s Saint Thomas Aquinas in its entirety.

4. Aquinas wrote the Summa as an introductory text for beginners.

In 1265, Pope Clement IV summoned Aquinas to Rome to serve as the papal theologian. Later, he was ordered by the Dominicans to teach at the studium conventuale, the first school of its kind to teach the full range of philosophical subjects of both the moral and natural natures of man.

There Thomas wrote his most famous work, Summa Theologica, which he deemed particularly useful to beginning students "Because a doctor of Catholic truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but to him pertains also to instruct beginners. As the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 3:1–2, as to infants in Christ, I gave you milk to drink, not meat, our proposed intention in this work is to convey those things that pertain to the Christian religion in a way that is fitting to the instruction of beginners." Aquinas intended the Summa to be an introductory text; to be followed later by more advanced treaties. [After reading the Summa Theologica it is hard to image a more superlative volume of theology.]

5. Aquinas "baptized" Aristotle.

Combining the theological principles of faith with Aristotle’s empirical philosophy, Aquinas was the most influential thinker of Medieval Scholasticism. One often hears said that Aquinas "baptized" Aristotle. It is an apt metaphor as James Kiefer’s commentary illustrates:

"In the thirteenth century, when Thomas Aquinas lived, the works of Aristotle, largely forgotten in Western Europe, began to be available again, partly from Eastern European sources and partly from Moslem Arab sources in Africa and Spain. These works offered a new and exciting way of looking at the world. Many enthusiastic students of Aristotle adopted him quite frankly as as an alternative to Christianity. The response of many Christians was to denounce Aristotle as an enemy of the Christian Faith. A third approach was that of those who tried to hold both Christian and Aristotelian views side by side with no attempt to reconcile the two. Aquinas had a fourth approach. While remaining a Christian, he immersed himself in the ideas of Aristotle, and then undertook to explain Christian ideas and beliefs in language that would make sense to disciples of Aristotle. At the time, this seemed like a very dangerous and radical idea, and Aquinas spent much of his life living on the edge of ecclesiastical approval. His success can be measured by the prevalence today of the notion that of course all Christian scholars in the Middle Ages were followers of Aristotle.

Aristotle is no longer the latest intellectual fashion, but Aquinas’s insistence that the Christian scholar must be prepared to meet other scholars on their own ground, to become familiar with their viewpoints, to argue from their premises, has been a permanent and valuable contribution to Christian thought."

Aquinas believed that reason – what we know through our intellect, and revelation – what God tells us through revelation, are complementary not contradictory. His revolutionary insight has reached throughout the world and across time.

6. During his lifetime, portions of Aquinas’ Summa were condemned.

In December 1270, the Bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier, formally condemned thirteen Aristotelian and Averroistic propositions as heretical. Critics in the ecclesiastical community feared that the introduction of such concepts would undermine the purity of the Christian faith.

Again in 1277, Bishop Tempier, issued a second more extensive condemnation. Its primary objective was to assert that God's power transcended any principles of logic. Contained within it was a list of 219 propositions that the Bishop deemed to violate the omnipotence of God, including twenty Thomistic propositions. This badly damaged Aquinas’ reputation for decades. It took nearly a century for Thomism to regain its standing.

7. Aquinas was beholden to the truth, not political correctness.

Aquinas does not discuss Islam expressly, save for two instances. In one, he defends Christianity against Muslim objections [See Summa contra Gentiles] noting that; the blood of Christian martyrs leads to coverts, whereas Islam is spread by the sword. Moreover, Aquinas compares and contrasts Christ’s selfless divinity with Mohammed’s ruthless inhumanity. To wit, in Aquinas’ own words:
He [Mohammed] did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the contrary, Mohammed said that he was sent in the power of his arms – which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants.
Today, in the increasingly secularized arenas of the academy and the public square, such commentary would be met with condemnation and disdain. Aquinas was more concerned with empirical evidence and objective truth that are at the heart of his marriage of faith and reason. His moral and theological insights are unencumbered by a politically correct sentimentality.

8. On occasion, Aquinas had spiritual ecstasies and could levitate.

For centuries, there have existed recurring claims that Aquinas had the ability to levitate. G. K. Chesterton wrote that, "His experiences included well-attested cases of levitation in ecstasy; and the Blessed Virgin appeared to him, comforting him with the welcome news that he would never be a Bishop."

One contemporary of St Thomas, a Dominican brother, recorded in his diary that Aquinas had levitated while praying in the chapel. Other friars testified to miraculous events surrounding Thomas during his lifetime.

Skeptics of Aquinas’ levitation say the stories are the product of subsequent hagiographers seeking to embellish the saint's legacy. Whatever the case, it is beyond doubt that St. Thomas Aquinas knew the mind of Christ and the will of God to a privileged degree.

9. While saying Mass, Aquinas experienced an epiphany and would never write again.

One morning, after celebrating Mass, when Thomas was 48 years old, he stopped writing. When asked why, he answered: "The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me."

This is what happened. On the feast of St. Nicholas [December 6] Thomas had a vision of Christ, who said to him, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labor?” Thomas answered, "Nothing but you, Lord." Jesus gave him what he asked, and Thomas seems to have recognized how infinitely superior this new wisdom was to anything he had ever known. Three months later he passed into eternal life.

10. Numerous miracles attended the Angelic Doctor’s death — both immediately and years afterward.

The day that Aquinas died, a comet that had shone over the monastery for three years disappeared.

As Thomas lay dying, the vicegerent at the Fosanova Abbey, entered Aquinas’ room to pay his respects. When the vicegerent, whose eyes had long been ailing, looked on Aquinas’ face, his vision was instantly restored. Upon Aquinas’ death, his earthly remains were solemnly interred in the monastery’s Church.

Later, the Abbot of the monastery wished to secretly move Aquinas’ body. Prying open the tomb, the sweet smell of roses filled the air, alerting the other friars. Gazing in at Aquinas’ corpse they observed that his body was incorrupt.  Fourteen years afterward, Lady Theodora desired to possess a relic from Aquinas’ person. Upon breaking the tomb’s seal, the fragrance of rose became immediately apparent. The remains of Thomas appeared as before, as if he were sleeping.

Various other miracles, owed to St. Thomas Aquinas’ intercession would grace the faithful who prayed at his tomb or invoked his help. There can be no doubt that this great light of the Church has joined the celestial choir of the elect in heaven.

11. The Pope Who Canonized Aquinas Paid Him the Ultimate Compliment.

St. Thomas Aquinas has long been considered the Catholic Church's preeminent theologian. St. Pius V declared him a Doctor of The Church, stating he was “the most brilliant light of the Church,” whose works are “the most certain rule of Christian doctrine by which he enlightened the Apostolic Church in answering conclusively numberless errors … which illumination has often been evident in the past and recently stood forth prominently in the decrees of the Council of Trent.” Pope Benedict XV observed, "This (Dominican) Order ... acquired new luster when the Church declared the teaching of Thomas to be her own and that Doctor, honored with the special praises of the Pontiffs, the master and patron of Catholic schools."

But of all the popes, Pope John XXII, the pontiff who canonized St. Thomas was most laudatory. Speaking of Aquinas John XXII said that “his life was saintly and his doctrine could only be miraculous … because he enlightened the church more than all the other doctors. By the use of his works a man could profit more in one year than if he studies the doctrine of others for his whole life.”

12. At the Council of Trent, Aquinas’ Summa Theologica was placed on the altar alongside the Bible and the Decretals.

The Jacques Maritain Center’s website features an excellent overview of Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and the role it has played in guiding and safeguarding Church doctrine during numerous Ecumenical Councils. From the website:
The greatest praise that can be bestowed upon St. Thomas is to be found in the history of the General Councils of the Church. "In the Councils of Lyons, Vienne, Florence, and in the Vatican Council," writes Leo XIII, "you might say that St. Thomas was present in the deliberations and decrees of the Fathers and, as it were, presided over them, contending against the errors of the Greeks, the heretics, the rationalists, with overpowering force and the happiest results. And it was an honor reserved to St. Thomas alone, and shared by none of the other Doctors of the Church, that the Fathers of Trent in their hall of assembly decided to place on the altar side by side with the Holy Scriptures and the Decrees of the Roman Pontiffs the Summaof St. Thomas, to seek in it counsel, arguments and decisions for their purpose
Over seven centuries since his death, St. Thomas Aquinas’ thought still resonates. Its value is universally recognized and respected. Aquinas’ intellectual curiosity and life of heroic virtue continue to enlighten and inspire. Reading the Summa Theologica in a spirit of understanding, openness and prayer will profit one immensely. St. Thomas Aquinas, Universal Teacher, pray for us!

January 6, 2017

Optional Memorial of St. Raymond of Peñafort, Priest

St. Raymond of Peñafort
December 7th, is the optional memorial of Saint Raymond of Peñafort (1175-1275), a 13th century Dominican priest and theologian who, as a contemporary of Saint Thomas Aquinas, worked to help Christian captives during the period of the Crusades and added greatly to Canon Law, the Church’s legal code. A brilliant evangelist, in his writings, utterances and example, St. Raymond won numerous souls for Christ. Over 10,000 Muslims converted as a result of his efforts. Named the Superior General of the Dominican Order, he retired after only two years due to his advanced age. (Afterward, he lived another 35 years during which he skillfully advanced the Good News of Christ.) His most notable work, the Summa Casuum, concerns the importance and correct administration of the Sacrament of Penance.

He was born into a Spanish noble family, with ties to the royal house of Aragon, at the castle of Pennafort, in the Catalonian region of present-day Spain. The future saint received a world class education, studying in Barcelona and at the University of Bologna. There, from 1195 to 1210, he taught Canon law. At some point, Barcelona’s Bishop convinced him to return to Spain where he was named one of the canons in the cathedral. Still, Raymond wanted a deeper relationship with the Lord. On Good Friday, 1222, he petitioned to join the Dominican Order.

He made his solemn profession in the Order of Preachers when he was about forty-five years of age. Excelling in all the virtues, he devoted himself especially to charity toward the poor, and also to those taken captive by the infidels. (This was necessary because the invading Moors were exacting great cruelties on their Christian captives.) Through his exhortation, his penitent Saint Peter Nolasco devoted all his possessions to this work of mercy. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Peter, Raymond and James I, the King of Aragon, extolling them to institute an Order of men whose mission was to deliver captives from the tyranny of infidels. After deliberating together, they founded the Order of our Lady of Mercy for the Ransom of Captives. St. Raymond wrote the rules for the Order, adapted to its spirit and vocation. Later, Pope Gregory IX recognized the nascent Order, and St. Raymond would name St Peter Nolasco, its first Master General.

Having appointed Raymond as his chaplain, penitentiary, and confessor. Pope Gregory IX was well aware of his abilities. He summoned Raymond to Rome and appointed him to compile together in the volume, the Decrees of the Roman Pontiffs. In three years time, Raymond collected and wrote commentaries on all the decretal letters that had been issued. The Holy Father was so impressed he published a bull making St. Raymond’s work alone authoritative. This collection, called the Liber extra was the standard of canon law for 700 years.

Twice the Holy Father named St. Raymond to the archbishopric of Tarragona, but each time he refused the appointment. Raymond was elected the third Master-General of the Dominican Order in 1238. His tenure was brief and marked by pious humility. So inspiring was his witness that the Order grew dramatically in numbers and influence. St. Raymond retired to the convent of Barcelona where he lived for 35 more years, working and praying incessantly for the conversion of the Moors, Jews, and heretics. He continued writing, preaching and evangelizing.

Saint Raymond died on the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, 1275, in his hundredth year. Many miracles credited to his intervention occurred following his death. He is the patron of lawyers, the legal profession, and in particular, Canon lawyers. He was canonized by Pope Clement VIII in 1601. O God, who adorned the Priest St. Raymond with the virtue of outstanding mercy and compassion for sinners and for captives, grant us, through his intercession, that, released from slavery to sin, we may carry out in freedom of spirit what is pleasing to you.

November 27, 2016

A Primer on the Incarnation

Madonna and Child

Fr. Philip N. Powell OP, PhD

The Nativity of Christ, or Christmas ("Christ Mass"), celebrates one of the most important events of the Church:  the incarnation of the Son of God.  Like the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, etc., the Incarnation is one of those rock-bottom Christian beliefs that most Christians assent to but probably don't really understand.  Though Catholics all over the world affirm their belief in the incarnation every Sunday by reciting the Creed, how many could explain this tenet of the faith in the simplest terms?

Let's start with a story...

The archangel Gabriel appears to Mary and announces to her that God has chosen her to be the mother of the Christ Child, His Son.  Mary says, "Your will be done" and the Holy Spirit descends on Mary, giving her the child.  Nine months later the Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Simple enough story, right?  If we left the incarnation there, we would still have the basic truth of Christ's arrival into the world.  Things get a little more complicated when we start to think about what it means for the Son of God (who is God) to take on human flesh and live among us.  How does the God of the Old and New Testament become incarnated yet remain sovereign God?  We are immediately confronted by what theologians call "the Christological question": how is the man Jesus also God?

Before this question was settled by the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., a number of answers were offered and rejected:

Jesus is really a man who possesses God-like qualities.
Jesus is really God in the appearance of a man.
Jesus is half-God and half-man.
Jesus' soul is divine but his body is human.
Jesus' body is human but his mind is divine.

Complicating matters even more was the lack of an adequate theological vocabulary with which to think about and write about the incarnation.  Early Christian theologians turned to the available philosophical vocabularies for help. The most prominent philosophical system in the first few centuries of the Church was a developed form of Platonism.  Borrowing heavily from the Platonists, the Church Fathers crafted a creedal statement that said:  The Father and the Son are the same in substance ("consubstantial"), meaning that they are the same God.:  "God from God, light from light, true God from true God." The Son was not created in time like man but rather begotten from all eternity.  He "became incarnate" through the Virgin Mary--fully human in all but sin.

This creedal statement defined the orthodox position of the Catholic Church. However, interpretations of the creed abounded and additional councils had to sort through them all in order to discover the orthodox expression of the true faith.  In the end, the Nicene Creed was taken to mean that Jesus was fully human and fully divine:  one divine person (one body/soul) with two natures (human and divine).  "Person," "essence," "being," "nature" are all terms borrowed from Greek philosophy.  So, as the West discovered new ways of thinking philosophically, these terms took on different meanings and our interpretations of theological expressions of the truth developed as well.  The basic truth of the incarnation does not change; however, how we understand that truth does change.

For example,  the Greek word we translate as "person" is prosopon, or mask. This term was used in the Greek theater to denote the different characters played by one actor.  A single actor would hold a mask in each hand and shift the masks in front of his face to say his lines, indicating that the lines were being said by different characters.  Applying this term to God, the Blessed Trinity, we arrive at a single actor (God) using three masks (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).  Same actor, different characters. Ultimately, this metaphor is woefully inadequate for expressing the deepest truth of the Trinity.  Yet, we still say that the Trinity is three divine persons, one God.  "Person" as a philosophical term used to describe a theological truth had to be developed.

Eventually, we came to understand several vital distinctions:  The Church uses the term "substance" (rendered also at times by "essence" or "nature") to designate the divine being in its unity, the term "person" or "hypostasis" to designate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the real distinction among them, and the term "relation" to designate the fact that their distinction lies in the relationship of each to the others (CCC 252).

So, God is one substance; three divine persons; distinguished  from one another not by their natures or persons but by their relations one to another.  The incarnation then is the second divine Person of the one God becoming a divine person with two substances or natures.

You are one person with one nature:  "I am human."
God is three divine persons with one nature: "I am divine."
Christ is one divine person with two natures:  "I am human and divine."

Aquinas, quoting Irenaeus, writes, "God became man so that man might become God."  The incarnation of the Son makes it possible for us to become God (theosis).  This is how Catholics understand salvation.
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See Fr. Powell's website Domine mihi hanc aquam! for more.

September 28, 2016

Feast of the Archangels — Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael

The Archangels — Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael

September 29th, the Church celebrates the feast of the archangels. Angels are purely incorporeal, rational beings, extensions of God himself, personifying His grace, majesty and intellect. The Angelic Doctor explains that each individual angel is its own species within the genus "angel". Archangels have important roles in the history of salvation. There is no doubt that the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael — the only angels named in Sacred Scripture, have been instrumental in advancing God's divine plan, both in heaven and on earth.

Saint Michael 

St. Michael, the "Prince of the Heavenly Host", is second only to the Mother of God in leading the angels. His name in Hebrew means "Who is like God?". It was Michael who commanded heaven's forces in casting down Lucifer and the fallen angels into hell. In 1886, after receiving a prophetic vision of the evil to be visited upon the world in the 20th century, Pope Leo XIII instituted a prayer invoking St. Michael's protection. Scripture mentions him four times (in Daniel 10:13-21 and 12:1, in Jude 1:9 and in Revelation 12:7-9).

The Church recognizes four distinct offices of St. Michael; 1.) to oppose Satan, 2.) to defend the souls of the faithful against the power of Satan, especially at the hour of death. 3.) to champion God's people, 4.) to accompany souls to their particular judgment, bring them to purgatory, and present them to God following their purgation before entering heaven.

Patron saint: against temptations, against powers of evil, artists, radiologists, bakers, bankers, battle, cemeteries, endangered children, dying, emergency medical technicians, holy death, paramedics, paratroopers, police officers, sailors, the sick, security forces, soldiers, and against storms at sea, among others.

Saint Gabriel

Saint Gabriel's name means "God's strength". He is mentioned in Scripture four times. Gabriel is the archangel most affiliated with the Incarnation and earthly ministry of Christ. Twice in Luke's Gospel, he foretells the arrival of consequential figures: the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zacharias (Luke 1:11–25) and the birth of the Savior to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26–38.).

Tradition holds that Gabriel appeared to Saint Joseph and to the shepherds, and that he "strengthened" Christ during his agony in the garden of Gethsemane.

Patron saint: ambassadors, broadcasting, childbirth, clergy, communications, diplomats, messengers, philatelists, postal workers, public relations, radio workers, secular clergy, stamp collectors and telecommunications, among others.

Saint Raphael

All that we know of Saint Raphael, whose name means "God has healed", comes from the Book of Tobit in which he heals Tobias' blindness. His office, according to popular piety, is that of healing and facilitating acts of mercy. He is affiliated with young people venturing into world, particularly concerning learning and marriage.

The angel in John's Gospel who descended to the pool of Bethesda and imbued it with healing powers so that the first to enter it after it moved would be healed of whatever infirmity they possessed is identified with Raphael (John 5:1-4).

Patron saint: physicians, medical workers, love, lovers, mental illness, nurses, pharmacists, shepherds, against sickness, therapists, travelers, young people; young people leaving home for the first time, the blind, happy meetings, matchmakers, Christian marriage, and Catholic studies, among others.

Almighty and everliving God, who disposes in marvelous order ministries both angelic and human, graciously grant that our life on earth may be defended by those who watch over us as they minister perpetually to you in heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

August 6, 2016

Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Transfiguration

Transfiguration of Our Lord

Question 45 in the Summa theologiae:

1. In St. Matthew's Gospel (chap. 17) we read that our Lord was transfigured in the sight of his apostles Peter, James,and John. "And he was transfigured before them. And his face did shine as the sun, and his garments became white as snow." Thus the three apostles had a glimpse of such glory as would come to them after their life of fidelity to God, through hardships and trials. Our Lord had told the apostles of his coming Passion before he gave them this encouraging experience of seeing the Transfiguration. Christ as man had the glory of the beatific vision from the first instant of his existence in Mary's womb. But he was not to have the "overflow of heavenly glory into his body" until his Resurrection from the dead.

2. In the Transfiguration, our Lord showed by way of anticipation the clarity of his bodily glory. This was the essential clarity of true heavenly glory, here manifested in a new mode, that is, as miraculously produced. In the glory following the Resurrection, the clarity of the glorified body is not a miracle;it belongs to the glorified body as such.

3. Our Lord chose as witnesses to the Transfiguration, not only the three apostles, but Moses and Elias who appeared visibly.

4. As at the baptism of Christ by St. John, so here on the mountain of Transfiguration, the voice of God the Father proclaimed the divine Son ship of Christ. The baptism of Christ by John foretold the true baptism which brings grace; the Transfiguration foretold the triumph of grace in glory. Both grace and glory are available to man, but only through the Son of God who became man. Hence it is notably suitable that the divinity of Christ should be divinely proclaimed on these two occasions: the baptism by John, and the Transfiguration on the mount.

"The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you."