Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Saint of the Week: St. Thomas Aquinas
Our Saint of the Week this week, in celebration of the diocesan Year of the Eucharist, is a saint who is famous and popular for many reasons: Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). One of just thirty-six Doctors of the Church, he is arguably the most brilliant theologian in the history of Christianity. He is a priest of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), becoming a Dominican in those earliest years of the Dominican Order. And he is patron saint of Catholic schools – and so, our parish and school of St. Mary certainly has a devotion to him.
Saint Thomas likely was born in the castle Roccasecca in the old county of the Kingdom of Sicily, in 1225. His parents were wealthy and influential, but as the youngest son, Saint Thomas was expected to enter the monastery. And indeed, at age five, he began his education at the famous monastery of Monte Cassino, founded by Saint Benedict himself in the 6th Century. There, Saint Thomas stayed until the military conflict between Emperor Frederick II (Frederick Barbarossa) and Pope Gregory IX reached the monastery. He was then was transferred to Naples, and there, he met John of Saint Julian, a Dominican priest, who inspired him to join the recently founded Dominican Order. But when his family learned of his decision, his mother arranged for him to be moved to Paris. Soon after, he was travelling to Rome, and his brothers captured him and returned him to their parents.
Saint Thomas was held captive for a year as his family tried to keep him from joining the Dominican Order. During that year, he tutored his sisters and managed to communicate with members of the Dominican Order. Finally, in an effort to change his mind, his brothers hired a prostitute to try to seduce him, but legend tells of Saint Thomas driving her off with a fire-hot iron, and that night, two angels appeared to him in a dream and strengthened his resolve to remain chaste celibate.
When she realized that he would not be persuaded, his mother tried to preserve the family name by arranging for his escape through a window. She believed a secret escape was better than appearing to accept his decision.
After his “escape” and his eventual return to Paris by way of Rome, he met Albertus Magnus (Saint Albert the Great). As an apprentice of Saint Albert, Saint Thomas learned much, and he learned very quickly. He completed his scholarship and went with Saint Albert to Cologne (present-day Germany) in order to teacher there.
Saint Thomas was quiet and seldom spoke at the university, leading other students to believe that he was mentally delayed, even calling him “the dumb ox,” but Saint Albert prophetically said, “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.”
In 1256, Saint Thomas returned to the University of Parish to teach theology. In 1265, he was called to Rome to serve as papal theologian and was later ordered by the Dominican Chapter of Agnani to teach, among other subjects, the full range of philosophical topics of both moral and natural natures.
While teaching, Saint Thomas composed his most famous work,
, which he believed was 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.” In 1273, Saint Thomas was seen by the monastery sacristan to be crying and levitating in prayer before an icon of the crucified Christ at the Dominican convent of Naples, in the Chapel of St. Nicholas. During this prayer, Jesus is said to have told Saint Thomas, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labor?” And Saint Thomas replied, “Nothing but you, Lord.” After this exchange, something happened but him, but he never wrote or spoke of it. He abandoned his routine, and when begged to return to his writing, he replied, “I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”
In May of 1274, Saint Thomas was called to the Second Council of Lyon, where his works for Pope Urban IV would be presented. While traveling to the meeting, Saint Thomas was struck on the head by a of a fallen tree and fell ill. He was taken to Monte Cassino to recover, and he tried too quickly to set out again, taking ill once more on his way to the Council, and at the Cistercian Abbey called Fossanova, the monks cared for him for several days. There, he received last rites and prayed, “I receive Thee, ransom of my soul. For love of Thee, have I studied and kept vigil, toiled, preached and taught.”
The Eucharistic devotion of Saint Thomas is demonstrated most abundantly in the Mass setting (prayers and hymns) for the newly-promulgated Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Among his many prayers and hymns in honor of the Blessed Sacrament are famous Latin prayer-hymns still sung today in the context of Eucharistic Adoration:
Adoro Te devote
O Salutaris Hostia
Saint Thomas Aquinas…pray for us.
~ Fr. Lewis
on Saturday, July 18 at 2:00PM