One of the great masters of the Catholic faith is surely St Thomas Aquinas. Thomas spoke about, practically, every aspect of our faith. Thus, his feast day, which took place yesterday, Thursday 28 January 2021, is a providential moment to remember and appreciate his priceless contribution to our Catholic faith.
Thomas’ reflections on charity are truly amazing! He said that the superabundance that the rich have belongs to the poor. Whatever a man has in superabundance is owed, of natural right, to the poor for their sustenance. So Ambrosius says, and it is also to be found in the Decretum Gratiani: The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry: the clothing you shut away, to the naked: and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless. For Aquinas charity is the basis for all virtues. He said: Charity is the form, mover, mother and root of all the virtues. Charity awakens and brings us in touch with God’s grace. Charity brings to life again those who are spiritually dead. It is charity which brings peace. Peace is the work of justice indirectly, in so far as justice removes the obstacles to peace; but it is the work of charity (love) directly, since charity, according to its very notion, causes peace.
Charity is what makes heaven heaven. Whereas hate, the complete opposite of charity, is what makes hell hell. I answer that, Even, as in the blessed in heaven there will be most perfect charity, so in the damned there will be the most perfect hate. The Sacrament of the Eucharist sets us ablaze with charity. O how unspeakable is this Sacrament which sets our affections ablaze with charity. … It is the fulfillment of Christ’s Mystical Body. Moved by charity the saints intercede for us in their heavenly abode. Their intercession is all the more powerful because they are perfectly united with God. The greater the charity of the Saints in their heavenly home, the more they intercede for those who are still on their journey and the more they can help them by their prayers; the more they are united with God, the more effective those prayers are. This is in accordance with Divine order, which makes higher things react upon lower things, like the brightness of the sun filling the atmosphere.
Furthermore, charity shows one’s perfect friendship with God. Thomas says: Charity, by which God and neighbor are loved, is the most perfect friendship. Charity and love are not the same thing. Charity is love; not all love is charity. Charity is acquired by the practice of it. Thomas said: Charity is not a potency of the soul, because if it were it would be natural. Nor is it a passion, because it is not in a sensitive potency in which are all passions. Nor is it a habit, because a habit is removed with difficulty; charity, however, is easily lost through one act of mortal sin. Therefore charity is not something created in the soul.
Thomas also spoke about a very crucial topic: choices. We can choose because we are rational. A man has free choice to the extent that he is rational. Our choice is free. Man has free choice, or otherwise counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, rewards and punishments would be in vain.
Aquinas’ Christology is really profound. Christ is our life rule. If, then, you are looking for the way by which you should go, take Christ, because He Himself is the way. The Eucharist is the perfect Sacrament since it encompasses the person of Christ and his Passion. He said: The Blessed Eucharist is the perfect Sacrament of the Lord’s Passion, since It contains Christ Himself and his Passion. Christ’s cross is the university of patience. If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid. Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth.
In his beautiful prayer to Christ Thomas prays to him to give him a faithful heart so that it can withstand the winters of affection and an understanding mind to know him in order to serve him. Give us, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards; give us an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out; give us an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. Bestow upon us also, O Lord our God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Christ is present to us through his delegate, the priest. He says: The minister to whom confession is made is the delegate of Christ, Who is the Judge of the living and the dead. With Christ there is nothing blurred. Either he is the Lord or He is not. Christ was either liar, lunatic, or Lord!
The Eucharist is the Sacrament real Body and Blood of Christ. [It is appropriate that the Body and Blood of Christ be truly present in this Sacrament] because of the perfection of the New Covenant. The sacrifices of the Old Covenant contained the true sacrifice of Christ’s Passion only in symbol….Therefore it was necessary that the sacrifice of the New Covenant, instituted by Christ, have something more, namely, that it contain Christ Himself who has suffered and contain Him not only in symbol but in reality. Baptism demands faith in Jesus Christ. Without faith how far can baptism go? Right faith is of necessity required for Baptism, since it is said: “the justice of God is by faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22) … Therefore, Baptism without faith avails nothing and thus we must recall that without faith no one is acceptable to God. When our senses cannot see Christ it is faith that renders him present to us. He said: Faith will tell us Christ is present, When our human senses fail.
Our will can be moved by God. Whatever was in the human nature of Christ was moved at the bidding of the divine will; yet it does not follow that in Christ there was no movement of the will proper to human nature, for the good wills of other saints are moved by God’s will… For although the will cannot be inwardly moved by any creature, yet it can be moved inwardly by God.
Regarding the Church, the Body of Christ, St Thomas has some interesting observations to make. First all, clearly the person who accepts the Church as an infallible guide will believe whatever the Church teaches. Second, the faith which the Church teaches us, is the fruit of its unbreakable tradition. Hold firmly that our faith is identical with that of the ancients. Deny this, and you dissolve the unity of the Church… We must hold this for certain, namely: that the faith of the people at the present day is one with the faith of the people in past centuries. Were this not true, then we would be in a different church than they were in and, literally, the Church would not be One. Third, it is in the Church that we find salvation. There is but one Church in which men find salvation, just as outside the ark of Noah it was not possible for anyone to be saved. Fourth, the Church have withstood persecutors, errors and demons. Due to Christ’s continual assistance she always prevails. The Church has ever proved indestructible. Her persecutors have failed to destroy her; in fact, it was during times of persecution that the Church grew more and more; while the persecutors themselves, and those whom the Church would destroy, are the very ones who came to nothing. . . .Again, errors have assailed her; but in fact, the greater the number of errors that have arisen, the more has the truth been made manifest. . . . Nor has the Church failed before the assaults of demons: for she is like a tower of refuge to all who fight against the Devil.
Fifth, the Church sustains the Baptism we have received. If anyone without the right faith receives Baptism outside the Church, he does not receive it unto salvation … From the comparison of the Church to Paradise, we learn that men can receive her Baptism even outside her fold, but that out there no one can receive or keep the salvation of the blessed. Sixth, the apostles and their successors can only pass that faith and those sacraments and nothing else. He wrote: The apostles and their successors are God’s vicars in governing the Church which is built on faith and the sacraments of faith. Wherefore, just as they may not institute another Church, so neither may they deliver another faith, nor institute other sacraments. Seventh, the Catholic Church is one body which is made up of many members. It is the Holy Spirit which revives this body. In the Creed we profess this belief. Just as in one man there is one soul and one body, yet many members; even so the Catholic Church is one body, having many members. The soul that quickens this body is the Holy Spirit; and therefore in the Creed after confessing our belief in the Holy Spirit, we are bid to believe in the Holy Catholic Church.
Eighth, the Church is the Communion of Saints. Just as in a physical body the operation of one member contributes to the good of the whole body, so it is in a spiritual body such as the Church. And since all the faithful are one body, the good of one member is communicated to another; everyone members, as the Apostle says, of one another [Eph 4:25]. For that reason, among the points of faith handed down by the Apostles, is that there is a community of goods in the Church, and this is expressed in the words Communion of Saints. Ninth, faith is nourished by the Church’s teaching. He said: He who does not embrace the teaching of the Church does not have the habit of faith. Tenth, a worship to God is valid if it is in conformity with the Church’s authority. Even as he would be guilty of falsehood who would, in the name of another person, proffer things that are not committed to him, so too does a man incur the guilt of falsehood who, on the part of the Church, gives worship to God contrary to the manner established by the Church or divine authority, and according to ecclesiastical custom. Eleventh, the Church’s custom bears with it great authority. The custom of the Church has very great authority and ought to be jealously observed in all things.
Concerning the sacrament of confession the latter restores health to the soul through the bestowal of this sacrament. In the life of the body a man is sometimes sick, and unless he takes medicine, he will die. Even so in the spiritual life a man is sick on account of sin. For that reason he needs medicine so that he may be restored to health; and this grace is bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance. Moreover, the priest, to whom confession is made, is Christ’s delegate. The minister to whom confession is made is the delegate of Christ, Who is the Judge of the living and the dead. Finally, contrition, confession and doing the penance are essential for reconciliation to occur. Three conditions are necessary for Penance: contrition, which is sorrow for sin, together with a purpose of amendment; confession of sins without any omission; and satisfaction by means of good works.
Let us, with St Thomas, thanks to this prayer traditionally attributed to him, turn to Mary, the Mother of God and Our Mother, and we pray to her with the Angelic Doctor, the Common Doctor and the Doctor of Humanity: O most Blessed and sweet Virgin Mary, Mother of God… I entrust to your merciful heart… my entire life…. Obtain for me as well, O most sweet Lady, true charity with which from the depths of my heart I may love your most Holy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and, after him, love you above all other things… and my neighbour, in God and for God. Amen.
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap