Passion (Palm) Sunday – C

A most important theological discussion extending through the centuries  centers on the reasons for Jesus’ death. Not surprisingly, Thomas Aquinas plays a major role in this discussion, summarizing the tradition that preceded him and setting forth additional principles that influenced those who followed him.

In 1995, the Church’s International Theological Commission published a document, “Select Questions on the Theology of God the Redeemer,” in which they reviewed the tradition and identified key principles regarding  Jesus’ role as Redeemer.

The document calls attention to Thomas’ important contributions. Some interpretations have emphasized the actual sufferings of Jesus. The Theological Commission affirms that Thomas’s teaching that the “satisfaction” for the sins of another is based on “the habit of the soul, whereby one is inclined to wish to satisfy for another, and from which the satisfaction has its efficacy, for satisfaction would not be efficacious unless it proceeded from charity” (3a. 14, 1, ad 1).

What is Thomas saying? Thomas, in no way, diminishes the intensity of Jesus’ sufferings. Thomas attests that  “Jesus did endure every human suffering,” not only physically in each of His bodily parts but also human rejection and shame, including, Thomas notes, “by beholding the tears of His mother and of the disciple whom He loved” (3a. 46, 5).

Nevertheless, Thomas emphasizes that the value of Jesus’ pain was the love with which Jesus suffered. Elsewhere, Thomas affirmed “works done without charity are not satisfactory” (Supplement, 14, 2).

Thomas notes that humans reconcile with each other by offering a gift of value. Thomas declares:

“He properly atones for an offense who offers something which the offended one loves equally or even more than he detested the offense. But by suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race. First of all, because of the exceeding charity from which He suffered; secondly, on account of the dignity of His life which He laid down in atonement, for it was the life of One who was God and man; thirdly, on account of the grief endured. Therefore Christ’s Passion was not only a sufficient but a superabundant atonement for the sins of the human race; ‘He is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world’ (1 Jn 2:2) (3a. 48, 2).

Thomas teaches: “Christ made satisfaction … by bestowing what was of greatest price – Himself – for us” (3a. 48, 4). Thomas explains: “Christ is said to be ‘offered’ because it was His own will,’ that is, Divine will and deliberate human will,’ although death was contrary to the natural movement of His human will” (3a. 14, 2, ad 1).

The underlying sin of humanity was our lack of love. Nevertheless, Thomas affirms, we continue to belong to God in that our lives are in His power: “… in so far as we come under God’s power, we never ceased to belong to God.” However, in a second way of belonging to God is “being united to Him by charity … in the second way we did cease because of sin” (3a. 48, 4, ad 1).

Thomas clarifies that there are two ways that something may be “necessary.” Jesus’ death was not necessary in the sense that God could not have chosen another way: “If He had willed to free us from sin without any satisfaction, He would not have acted against justice” (3a. 46, 2, ad 3).

Thomas believes that Jesus’ death was in keeping not only with God’s justice but also with His mercy:

“With His justice, because by His Passion Christ made satisfaction for the sin of the human race; and so humanity was set free by Christ’s justice: and with His mercy, for since humanity of itself could not satisfy for the sin of all human nature, God gave us His Son to satisfy for us, ‘Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God has proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood’ (Rom 3:24-25). And this came of more copious mercy than if He had forgiven sins without satisfaction. Hence, it is said, ‘God, who is rich in mercy, for His exceeding charity whereby He loved us, even when we were dead in sin, has brought us to life together in Christ’ (Eph 2:4).

The document of the Theological Commission stresses that Christ “heals and sanctifies us” not only by the Cross but also by His Incarnation and all His actions. Thomas follows the early Fathers, in recognizing the redemptive power of Jesus’ entire life, beginning with the Incarnation:

“From the beginning of His conception Christ merited our eternal salvation; but on our side there were obstacles, whereby we were hindered from securing the effect of His preceding merits: consequently, in order to remove such hindrances, it was necessary for Christ to suffer”  (3a. 48, 1, ad 2). 

Thomas teaches: “The principle efficient cause of our salvation is God. But Christ’s humanity is the instrument of the Godhead, therefore all Christ’s actions and sufferings operate instrumentally in virtue of His Godhead for our salvation…” (3a. 48, 6).

Thomas explains that Jesus’ Passion, although human, has infinite power because Jesus is also divine: “Christ’s Passion in relation to His flesh is consistent with the infirmity which He took upon Himself, but in relation to the Godhead it draws infinite might from It, ‘The weakness of God is stronger than men’ (1 Cor 1:25); because Christ’s weakness, inasmuch as He is God, has a might exceeding all human power” (3a. 48, 6, ad 1).

Christ’s physical sufferings have a spiritual effect upon us: “Christ’s Passion, although corporeal, has yet a spiritual effect from the Godhead united: and therefore it secures its efficacy by spiritual contact – namely, by faith and the sacraments of faith, as the Apostle says: ‘… whom God put forward as an expiation by His blood, to be received by faith’ (Rom 3:25)” (3a. 48, 6, ad 2).

Our being united with Christ as members of His Body explains how we receive the graces of salvation through Jesus’ Passion and death. Thomas asserts: “Grace was bestowed upon Christ, not only as an individual, but inasmuch as He is the Head of the Church, so that it might overflow to His members” (3a 48, 1).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. If the passage is found in a response to an objection that Thomas has introduced in the first part of the article, the Latin word “ad,” meaning “to,” is added with the number of the objection.

Fifth Sunday of Lent – C

“At daybreak, He reappeared in the temple area” (Jn 8:2). These words open today’s Gospel, John 8:1-11). St. Thomas Aquinas comments: “The fact that He returned early in the morning signifies the rising light of new grace” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1120).

Jesus sits down to teach the people: “When the people started coming to Him, He sat down and began to each them” (Jn 8:2). Thomas reflects: “Their teacher is presented as seated, and sitting down, that is, going down to their level, so that His teaching would be more easily understood. His sitting down signifies the humility of His incarnation … Because it was through the human nature that our Lord assumed that He became visible, we began to be instructed in the divine matters more easily… sitting down, He taught them, that is, the simple, and those who respected His teaching (Commentary on John, 1122).

The scribes and Pharisees bring a woman who has been caught in adultery. They ask Jesus what should be done because Moses said that adulterers should be stoned (Lv 20:10; Dt 22:21). Actually, they are trying to catch Him, as John informs us “They were posing this question to trap Him, so that they could have something to accuse Him of” (Jn 8:6).

Thomas comments on the dilemma set before Jesus: “He showed His gentleness as a liberator or savior; and they saw this when He could not be provoked against His enemies and persecutors … they wanted to test Him, to see if He would abandon justice for the sake of mercy”  (Commentary on John, 1125).  

Other New Testament passages recall Jesus’ patience: “When He was reviled, He did not revile” (1 Pet 2:23); “Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29).

Pretending to be in good faith, they ask Jesus, “What do you say about her? (Jn 8:6). If Jesus answered with mercy, he would be going against the Law.  As Thomas notes, “Their question is a trap.”

Thomas marvels how Jesus balanced His answer: “Jesus kept to what was just; and He did not abandon mercy” (Commentary on John, 1130). 

John tells us: “Jesus bending down wrote on the ground with his finger” (Jn 8:6). Thomas relates Jesus’ physical bending down with Jesus’ humbling Himself in the Incarnation: “Jesus was bending down, by the mystery of the Incarnation, by means of which He performed miracles in the flesh He had assumed… He wrote on the earth because the Old Law was written on tablets of stone (Ex 31; 2 Cor 3), which signify its harshness … But the earth is soft. And so Jesus wrote on the earth to show the sweetness and the softness of the New Law that He gave to us” (Commentary on John, 1130). 

Thomas finds Jesus’ approach to be an example of fair judgment: “There should be kindness in condescending to those to be punished; Jesus was bending down: ‘There is judgment without mercy to him who does not have mercy’ (Jas 2:13); ‘If a man is overtaken in any fault, you who are spiritual instruct him in a spirit of mildness’ (Gal 6:1).  Secondly, there should be discretion in determining the judgment and so Jesus wrote with His finger, which because of its flexibility signifies discretion” (Commentary on John, 1131).         

 Jesus simply announced: “Whoever among you is without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). Thomas reflects: “He is saying in effect: Let the sinner be punished, but not by sinners; let the Law be accomplished, but not by those who break it, because ‘When you judge another you condemn yourself’ (Rom 2:1) (Commentary on John, 1133).        

Jesus bent down again (Jn 8:8). Thomas thinks that He did this, “… out of consideration for their embarrassment, to give them complete freedom to leave” (Commentary on John, 1134).        

John tells us, “Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before Him” (Jn 8:9). Thomas comments: “There remained only Jesus and the woman standing there, that is, mercy and misery (This expression is from Jerome, misericordia et miseria)”  (Commentary on John, 1135).        

Thomas observes: “Jesus alone remained because He alone was without sin; So perhaps this woman was afraid, and thought she would be punished by Him … Jesus did not abandon mercy, but gave a merciful sentence”  (Commentary on John, 1136).         

“Jesus looked up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? … Neither do I condemn you” (Jn 8:10-11).

Thomas reflects that Jesus did no condemn her because He was without sin: “God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him’ (Jn 3:17).” God told the prophet Ezekiel: “I do not desire the death of the sinner” (Ez 18:23).

Thomas notices that Jesus forgave without imposing a penance, “… since He made her inwardly just by outwardly forgiving her, He was well able to change her so much within by sufficient sorrow for her sins that she would be made free from any penance”  (Commentary on John, 1138).        

Jesus cautioned her “Go and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). Thomas points out that Jesus distinguishes between the woman’s nature and her sin: “Our Lord could have condemned both. For example, He could have condemned her nature if He had ordered them to stone her, and He could have condemned her sin if He had not forgiven her. He was also able to absolve each. For example, if He had given her license to sin, saying: ‘Go, live as you wish, and put your hope in My freeing you. No matter how much you sin, I will free you even from Gehenna and from the tortures of hell.’ But our Lord does not love sin, and does not favor wrongdoing, and so He condemned her sin but not her nature, saying, Go, and do not sin again. We see here how kind our Lord is” (Commentary on John, 1139).        

The story doesn’t end there. the woman had to go on with her life. If she was married, she had to come to terms with her husband. People would whisper about her as she went to the market, “There is the woman.” The Pharisees would resent her because Jesus spared her by His kindness. In each one of these situations, she would have to look back to the face of Jesus and remember His words, “I do not condemn you.”

The people who wanted to stone the women justified themselves by their religious actions but, at the same time, hid their own misdeeds, perhaps even from themselves.

No one appreciated our need to continuously experience Jesus’ mercy than did Paul, as we see in today’s second reading, Philippians 3:8-14. Paul had been a very observant religious person but he came to realize that even religious actions can cover our deeper need for forgiveness, as he writes: “I count everything else as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as refuse in order that I may gain Christ and found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own based on the law, but that which is through faith in Christ…” (Phil 3:8-9).

Paul had elsewhere declared: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The Letter to the Colossians declares that in Christ, “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).

Paul seeks only, “that I may gain Christ,” which Thomas reflects means to “ obtain Him and be united to Him by charity.”

Thomas questions why Paul could have once thought that he had “his own righteousness.” Thomas thinks that this is the difference between the old and new law: “But if your righteousness is your own, how is it from the Law? I answer that it is indeed mine, because I accomplish such works with human power without the inward vesture of sanctifying grace … ” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of Paul to the Philippians).

Paul may have sought to observe the Law by his own efforts. Yet, as Thomas explains, the gift of being right before God “ … is not obtained except by faith in Christ: ‘Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ’ (Rom. 5:1); ‘The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe’” (Rom. 3:22) (Commentary on Philippians).

Thomas insists that it is God who justifies: “For the author is God and not man: ‘It is God who justifies’ (Rom. 8:33); ‘And to one who does not work but trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness’ (Rom. 4:5). Therefore he says, the righteousness from God that depends on faith: ‘The Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him’ (Acts 5:32). The fruit is knowledge of Him and the power of His resurrection and to be in the company of His saints” (Commentary on Philippians).

Thomas explains that there are two ways of knowing God. The first is to know “about Him …  His person, namely, that He is true God and true man … Secondly, the glory of His resurrection; and the power of His resurrection … Thirdly, how to imitate Him, when he says, and may share His sufferings, namely, be associated with Him in His passion: ‘Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps’ (1 Pet. 2:21) (Commentary on Philippians).

The other way of knowing is “ by practical knowledge,”  which, Thomas asserts begins with knowing about God but moves on to “know God” and to know the power of the Resurrection not only in our souls but also in our bodies and to appreciate the value of being associated with Jesus’ sufferings

Paul acknowledges that he has not obtained this complete union with Jesus yet: “Not that I have already obtained this nor am already perfect but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me His own” (Phil 3:12).

Thomas comments on how our perfection is found in striving: “For man’s perfection consists in adhering to God through charity, because a thing is perfect to the degree it adheres to its perfection. But the soul can adhere to God in two ways: in one way, perfectly, so that a person actually refers his actions to God and knows Him as He can be known; and this is in heaven” (Commentary on Philippians).

We also may find our perfection by adhering to God: “But adherence in this life is of two kinds: one is necessary for salvation, and all are bound to it, namely, that a person in no case place his heart in anything against God, and that he habitually refer his whole life to Him. The Lord says of this way: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’ (Matt. 22:37) (Commentary on Philippians).

Even in this life, a deeper adherence is possible: “The other is of supererogation, when a person adheres to God above the common way. This is done when he removes his heart from temporal things, the better to approach heaven, because the smaller covetousness becomes, the more charity grows…” (Commentary on Philippians).

Thomas comments: “Then when he says, but I press on, he shows his efforts toward it, saying, I press on, namely, after Christ”  (Commentary on Philippians).

Jesus declared: “He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12) and in (10:27): “My sheep hear my voice… and they follow Me.” And this, to make it My own [to comprehend Him]: “So run that you may obtain the prize” (1 Cor. 9:24).

Thomas explains that Paul means to “comprehend” God, he means “to attain and hold.” We do not know God “to the degree that He is knowable and loveable” “God, however, is infinite light and truth, whereas our light is finite. Hence he says, but I press on to make it my own, that is, to comprehend Him in the second way, i.e., by attaining: ‘I held him, and would not let him go’ (Cant. 3:4), because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Commentary on Philippians).

Thomas reflects: “He says: I do not consider that I have made it my own. As if to say: I am not so vain as to attribute to myself something I do not yet have; but I press on toward the goal … one thing I do, namely, forgetting what lies behind… I press on toward the goal. I do not consider that I have made it my own, but I press on toward one thing, namely, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Commentary on Philippians).

Thomas comments on Paul’s desire to strain forward: “He shows what his destination is, namely, straining forward to what lies ahead, i.e., which pertains to faith in Christ or greater merits or heavenly things: ‘They go from strength to strength’ (Ps. 84:5). He says straining forward, because a person who wishes to take anything must exert himself as much as he can. But the heart should stretch itself by desire: ‘The desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom’ (Wis. 6:20). For the prize, which is the reward only of those who run: ‘In a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize’ (1 Cor. 9:24); to this prize destined for me by God, namely, of the upward call of God: ‘Those whom he predestined he also called’ (Rom. 8:30), and this in Christ Jesus, i.e., by faith in Christ because of His gentleness, and how just He is because of His truth”  (Commentary on Philippians).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

The quotations from St. Thomas’ Commentary on John and his Commentary of the Letter to the Philippians may be found on the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/

 

 

Fourth Sunday of Lent – C

Today’s Gospel (Lk 15:1-3. 11-32) is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus told the story of the son who goes away from the Father almost 2000 years ago yet the message is aimed at each of us today.

One way of looking at this Gospel is to ask whether we have a resemblance to any of the individuals in the Gospel. Surely, each one of us is like the son. At times, we have left our Father and gone away to live without Him. Similar to the son, our initial happiness turned empty and our friends disappeared when it served their purposes. Hopefully, we imitate the son in going back to the Father.

Today’s Gospel demonstrates God’s attitude when we turn back to Him. The father in the story sees the son a far way off and rushes out to him and embraces him. We might think that God takes us back half-heartedly, on trial before we disappoint Him again. But, the Father of Jesus, rushes out to us.

True, our conversion is like some internet connections, on and off – but God continues to welcome us. St, Thomas Aquinas, when speaking of the Sacrament of Penance, observes that we should continue to go to the sacrament even when we repeat our sins: “What sort of a physician is he who knows not how to heal a recurring disease? For if a man is sick a hundred times it is for the physician to heal him a hundred times” (3a. 84, 10, ad 3).

Thomas asserts: “Penance derives its power from Christ’s Passion, as a spiritual medicine, which can be repeated frequently” (3a. 84, 10, ad 5). As we turn to God, over and over, God comes to us just as the father ran out to welcome the son.

This gospel shows us God’s attitude towards us which is mercy. St. Thomas says: “Mercy is proper to God for in mercy His omnipotence is chiefly manifested” (2a2ae. 30, 4).

If we were asked to identify which of God’s works was the greatest work of God, we might assume that it was creation. Thomas affirms: “The justification of the ungodly, which terminates at the eternal good of a share in the Godhead is greater than the creation of heaven and earth, which terminates at the good of mutable nature” (1a2ae. 113, 9).

Among the individuals in this Gospel passage, at times, we might be like the elder brother who resents the father’s generosity. The elder son is angry because he thinks that the son deserves to be rejected and sent away. The elder brother’s attitude may be installed in our minds as the collection of the negativity of those people who dismissed us for our mistakes and weaknesses. The voice of the elder brother may also be in us as a scolding voice insisting that we have exhausted God’s mercy and God can only give us what we deserve.                                   

Can we exhaust God’s mercy? Thomas asks whether God’s mercy conflicts with His justice: “God acts mercifully, not by going against His justice but in doing something more than justice … when one pardons an offense committed against him, he is said to bestow a gift… mercy does not destroy justice but in a certain sense is its fullness” (1a. 21, 3, ad 2).

There is another elder brother whose actions in our world moves us to believe in God’s mercy. Paul tells us in today’s reading from the Second Letter to the Corinthians: “If anyone is in Christ He is a new creation. All this has been done by God who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2 Cor 5:17).

United with Christ, in Baptism and the Eucharist or by prayer, we become “new creations.” St. Thomas explains that a creation is a change from nothing. Our first creation is our creation by nature but our “new creation” is a “renewal by grace.” St. Augustine taught, “For sin is nothing, and men become nothing, when they sin.” Thomas reflects, “It is clear that the infusion of grace is a creation…” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 192)

Our reconciliation is initiated by the Father and brought about through Christ: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them …” (2 Cor 5:18-19). Other passages echo Christ’s work of reconciliation: “Whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20); “We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:10).

Thomas reflects: “… the whole world was reconciled to God… God the Father, who reconciled us to God, i.e., made peace between us and God. And this is by Christ, i.e., by the Incarnate Word” …” (Commentary on Second Corinthians, 197).

We can also be like the father in the parable: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). We can be ministers of reconciliation. Thomas Aquinas comments: “As if to say: he has given us the mystery of reconciliation in this way, namely, that he has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation, i.e., he has given the power and has inspired in our hearts to announce to the world that this reconciliation was made by Christ. By doing this we induce men to conform themselves to Christ by baptism” (Commentary on Second Corinthians, 198).

Thomas wonders why we need to be reconciled if God has reconciled us: “Therefore, if he reconciled us, what need is there to be reconciled? For we are already reconciled. I answer that God reconciled us to himself as efficient cause, namely, on His part, but in order that it be meritorious for us, it is necessary that reconciliation be made on our part, namely, in baptism and in penance. And then we cease from sins” (Commentary on Second Corinthians, 199).

We are reconciled to God, freed from our sins by the sacrifice of the one who knew no sin: “He gave us the power to live justly and abstain from sins. By doing this we are reconciled to God. Hence he says, for our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin. As if to say: you can be reconciled to God, because he, namely, Christ, who knew no sin: “He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips” (1 Pet. 2:22); “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (Jn. 8:46) (Commentary on Second Corinthians, 199).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. If the passage is found in a response to an objection that Thomas has introduced in the first part of the article, the Latin word “ad,” meaning “to,” is added with the number of the objection.

Third Sunday of Lent – C

When Jesus hears of the Galileans who had been killed by Pilate, He asks whether they or the eighteen people upon whom a tower fell at Siloam, were the greatest sinners. He warns His listeners, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:5).

Jesus isn’t threatening His listeners with tragic deaths but with tragic lives, lives that miss the relationship that God is offering them.

Jesus proposes a parable of a fig tree that does not bear fruit. When the owner wants to cut the tree down, the vinedresser pleads for another year to hoe around it and put fertilizer around it. If the tree fails to bear figs, he promises to cut it down.

In the reading from First Corinthians, Paul asserts “I want you to remember this,” (1 Cor 10:1), as he recalls how the Israelites, leaving Egypt, passed though the sea, led by the cloud, ate the “spiritual food” manna, and drank from the water that flowed miraculously from the rock. Yet, as Paul reminds the Corinthians, “God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert” (1 Cor 10:6). Paul affirms that this is a “warning to us,” that is to Baptized Christians who eat the “spiritual food,” the Eucharist, but do not change their hearts.

The readings are calls to conversion, surely appropriate for the season of Lent. How does a person begin to take God seriously? Can the tree that has been sterile give figs? Did the Corinthians learn from the experiences of the Israelites who never left the desert?

Can our hearts really turn to God?  Thomas Aquinas begins with the teaching of Aristotle that the contemplation of God can bring genuine happiness: “Man’s ultimate happiness consists in his most perfect contemplation, whereby in this life he can behold the best intelligible object; and that is God” (3a. 62, 1).

For Christians, there is still another contemplation that goes beyond our intellects, as Thomas continues, “Above this happiness there is still another, which we look forward to in the future, whereby ‘we shall see God as He is.’” Thomas points out:  “This is beyond the nature of every created intellect” (3a. 62, 1).

How do we go beyond our nature?: “The natural movement of the will is the principle of all things that we will. But the will’s natural inclination is directed towards what is in keeping with its nature. Therefore, if there is anything which is above nature, the will cannot be inclined towards it, unless helped by some other supernatural principle” (3a. 62, 2).

How can we will or want what is beyond our natural condition? Thomas explains: “Consequently no rational creature can have the movement of the will directed towards such beatitude, except it be moved by a supernatural agent. This is what we call the help of grace” (3a. 62, 2).

Thomas explains: “Every movement of the will towards God can be termed a conversion to God” (3a. 62, 2, ad 3).

Thomas understands three types of conversions. The highest form is when the person is united with God in heaven. For this, Thomas affirms, “consummate grace is required.” During one’s earthly life, “turning to God” needs habitual grace. A third form is for a person, who has not been living in grace to turn to God, the person needs “the operation of God, Who draws the soul towards Himself, according to Lam 5:21: ‘Convert us, O Lord, to Thee, and we shall be converted’” (3a. 62, 2, ad 3).

Thomas does not think that a person can turn to God by his or her own powers: “We must presuppose a gratuitous gift of God, Who moves the soul inwardly or inspires the good wish… we need the Divine assistance” (1a2ae. 109, 6).

Thomas recalls that “Dionysius says that ‘God turns all to Himself.’ But He directs righteous men to Himself as to a special end, which they seek, and to which they wish to cling, according to Ps. 72:28, ‘it is good for Me to adhere to my God.’ And that they are ‘turned’ to God can only spring from God’s having ‘turned’ them. Now to prepare oneself for grace is, as it were, to be turned to God; just as, whoever has his eyes turned away from the light of the sun, prepares himself to receive the sun’s light, by turning his eyes towards the sun. Hence it is clear that man cannot prepare himself to receive the light of grace except by the gratuitous help of God moving him inwardly” (1a2ae. 109, 6)

“Man’s turning to God is by free-will; and thus man is bidden to turn himself to God. But free-will can only be turned to God, when God turns it, according to Jer. 31:18: ‘Convert me and I shall be converted, for Thou art the Lord, my God’; and Lam. 5:21: ‘Convert us, O Lord, to Thee, and we shall be converted’ (1a. 2ae. 109, 6, ad 1)

The first step in our conversion is to ask for grace to move us, although God is already moving us if we are asking for His grace.

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. If the passage is found in a response to an objection that Thomas has introduced in the first part of the article, the Latin word “ad,” meaning “to,” is added with the number of the objection.

When Jesus hears of the Galileans who had been killed by Pilate, He asks whether they or the eighteen people upon whom a tower fell at Siloam, were the greatest sinners. He warns His listeners, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:5).

 Jesus isn’t threatening His listeners with tragic deaths but with tragic lives, lives that miss the relationship that God is offering them.

 

Jesus proposes a parable of a fig tree that does not bear fruit. When the owner wants to cut the tree down, the vinedresser pleads for another year to hoe around it and put fertilizer around it. If the tree fails to bear figs, he promises to cut it down.

In the reading from First Corinthians, Paul asserts “I want you to remember this,” (1 Cor 10:1), as he recalls how the Israelites, leaving Egypt, passed though the sea, led by the cloud, ate the “spiritual food” manna, and drank from the water that flowed miraculously from the rock. Yet, as Paul reminds the Corinthians, “God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert” (1 Cor 10:6). Paul affirms that this is a “warning to us,” that is to Baptized Christians who eat the “spiritual food,” the Eucharist, but do not change their hearts.

 

The readings are calls to conversion, surely appropriate for the season of Lent. How does a person begin to take God seriously? Can the tree that has been sterile give figs? Did the Corinthians learn from the experiences of the Israelites who never left the desert?

Can our hearts really turn to God?  Thomas Aquinas begins with the teaching of Aristotle that the contemplation of God can bring genuine happiness: “Man’s ultimate happiness consists in his most perfect contemplation, whereby in this life he can behold the best intelligible object; and that is God” (3a. 62, 1).

 

For Christians, there is still another contemplation that goes beyond our intellects, as Thomas continues, “Above this happiness there is still another, which we look forward to in the future, whereby ‘we shall see God as He is.’” Thomas points out:  “This is beyond the nature of every created intellect” (3a. 62, 1).

 How do we go beyond our nature?: “The natural movement of the will is the principle of all things that we will. But the will’s natural inclination is directed towards what is in keeping with its nature. Therefore, if there is anything which is above nature, the will cannot be inclined towards it, unless helped by some other supernatural principle” (3a. 62, 2).

 How can we will or want what is beyond our natural condition? Thomas explains: “Consequently no rational creature can have the movement of the will directed towards such beatitude, except it be moved by a supernatural agent. This is what we call the help of grace” (3a. 62, 2).

Thomas explains: “Every movement of the will towards God can be termed a conversion to God” (3a. 62, 2, ad 3).

Thomas understands three types of conversions. The highest form is when the person is united with God in heaven. For this, Thomas affirms, “consummate grace is required.” During one’s earthly life, “turning to God” needs habitual grace. A third form is for a person, who has not been living in grace to turn to God, the person needs “the operation of God, Who draws the soul towards Himself, according to Lam 5:21: ‘Convert us, O Lord, to Thee, and we shall be converted’” (3a. 62, 2, ad 3).

Thomas does not think that a person can turn to God by his or her own powers: “We must presuppose a gratuitous gift of God, Who moves the soul inwardly or inspires the good wish… we need the Divine assistance” (1a2ae. 109, 6).

Thomas recalls that “Dionysius says that ‘God turns all to Himself.’ But He directs righteous men to Himself as to a special end, which they seek, and to which they wish to cling, according to Ps. 72:28, ‘it is good for Me to adhere to my God.’ And that they are ‘turned’ to God can only spring from God’s having ‘turned’ them. Now to prepare oneself for grace is, as it were, to be turned to God; just as, whoever has his eyes turned away from the light of the sun, prepares himself to receive the sun’s light, by turning his eyes towards the sun. Hence it is clear that man cannot prepare himself to receive the light of grace except by the gratuitous help of God moving him inwardly” (1a2ae. 109, 6)

“Man’s turning to God is by free-will; and thus man is bidden to turn himself to God. But free-will can only be turned to God, when God turns it, according to Jer. 31:18: ‘Convert me and I shall be converted, for Thou art the Lord, my God’; and Lam. 5:21: ‘Convert us, O Lord, to Thee, and we shall be converted’ (1a. 2ae. 109, 6, ad 1)

The first step in our conversion is to ask for grace to move us, although God is already moving us if we are asking for His grace.

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. If the passage is found in a response to an objection that Thomas has introduced in the first part of the article, the Latin word “ad,” meaning “to,” is added with the number of the objection.

Second Sunday of Lent – C

St. Thomas says that to go straight along a road, you must know the end, where you are going: “In order that anyone go straight along a road, he must have some knowledge of the end: thus an archer will not shoot the arrow straight unless he first see the target” (3a. 45, 1). Thomas tells us that it’s especially important to know the end, “when hard and rough is the road, and heavy the going” (3a. 45, 1).

 

 Thomas tells us that after Jesus had foretold his own Passion, He told them that they too must suffer: “Our Lord, after foretelling His Passion to His disciples, exhorted them to follow the path of His sufferings (Mt. 16:21,24)” (3a. 45, 1).

 

 Just as the disciples will share His sufferings, they will share His glory: “Therefore it was fitting that He should show His disciples the glory of His clarity (which is to be transfigured), to which He will configure those who are His: ‘He will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body’ (Phil. 3:21).

 

 St. Thomas asserts that Jesus’ glory could have always shown during His life but it did not because it was necessary for Jesus to live our human life and to suffer: “That the glory of His soul did not overflow into His body from the first moment of Christ’s conception was due to a certain Divine dispensation, that He might fulfil the mysteries of our redemption in a passible body. This did not, however, deprive Christ of His power of outpouring the glory of His soul into His body. And this He did, as to clarity, in His transfiguration” (3a. 45, 2).

 

 Jesus’ glory shown through His humanity, which is a body like ours: “By His transfiguration Christ manifested to His disciples the glory of His body, which belongs to men only and not angels” (3a. 45, 3).

 

 Just as Jesus shares His sufferings with us, He shares His glory, as Thomas tells us: “To this glory He brings those who follow the footsteps of His Passion, according to Acts 14:21: ‘Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God’” (3a. 45, 1).

 

 The disciples hear the Father’s voice. St. Thomas says that they are hearing the eternal declaration of the Father who utters the only-begotten and co-eternal Word: “The words are to be understood of God’s eternal speaking, by which God the Father uttered the only-begotten and co-eternal Word” (3a. 45, 4). The Father continually declared “You are My Beloved Son” during Jesus’ time on earth.

 

 According to Thomas, we are being transformed into the image of the Son both imperfectly during our lives and perfectly in heaven: “The adoption of the sons of God is through a certain conformity of image to the natural Son of God. Now this takes place in two ways: first, by the grace of the wayfarer, which is imperfect conformity; secondly, by glory, which is perfect conformity” (3a. 45, 4).

The First Letter of John announces: “We are now the sons of God, and it has not yet appeared what we shall be: we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like to Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2).

 

 We begin to take the image of the Son in Baptism and then more perfectly in our eventually union with Christ. Thus the Father bodily declared that Jesus was His Son at His Baptism and at the Transfiguration, “to show the different ways in which men can be partakers of the likeness of the eternal Sonship” (3a. 45, 4, ad 1). makes the comparison to us that we are adopted as God’s sons through conformity of image to the natural Son. First by the grace that is given to us in baptism. That the process of our being conformed to the image of Jesus has begun and it will reach its culmination, as the Letter of John says, “We are now sons of God, and what we shall be has not appeared. When He shall appear we will be like Him because we shall see Him as He is.

The Transfiguration is not just a moment of the disciples seeing Jesus clearly but also our own seeing ourselves as we really are.

 

First Sunday of Lent – C

Why do the Gospels tell us that Jesus was tempted when we also know that He was without sin? The Letter to the Hebrews asserts that Jesus was “… one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).

 St. Thomas Aquinas offers one reason that Jesus was tempted, which is in order to strengthen us in our temptations (3a. 41, 1). Our temptations discourage us because we suspect they are indications of what we really want, our real self. While the temptation may be coming from part of ourselves, Jesus is showing us that we can say “no” to our impulses and desires, no matter how strongly we feel them.

 One reason, we make little sacrifices during Lent, is to build up the habit of saying “no” to our impulses.

 Every good thing we do, brings with it a temptation to give up when it seems to challenge us. I used to run in 10k races. It often happened that, about half way through the race, I began to ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” I couldn’t remember why but I was too proud to give up. After the race, I usually filled in an application for another race.

 Luke tells us that the temptation comes after Jesus has been filled with the Holy Spirit: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, where He was tempted by the devil” (Lk 4:1-2).

 St. Thomas explains that this was “to warn us so that no one, however holy might think himself safe or free from temptation” (3a. 41, 1).

 In fact, the book of Sirach says, “When you come into the Lord’s service, prepare to be tempted” (Sir 2:1). Athletes get strong as they compete. Thomas says “the devil assails with temptations even those who fast, and also those who are given to other good works” (3a. 41, 3).

 Thomas Aquinas instructs us that those who seek to imitate Christ can expect to be temped: “Not only Christ was led into the desert by the Spirit, but all God’s children that have the Holy Ghost. For it is not enough for them to sit idle; the Holy Ghost urges them to endeavor to do something great: which is for them to be in the desert from the devil’s standpoint, for no unrighteousness, in which the devil delights, is there. Again, every good work, compared to the flesh and the world, is the desert; because it is not according to the will of the flesh and of the world” (3a. 41, 2, ad 2).

 St Ambrose says that the devil envies those who strive for better things. Yet St. Thomas assures us that “the help of the Holy Spirit, who is the author of good deeds is more powerful than the assault of the envious devil (3a. 41, 2, ad. 2).

 St. Augustine said that while Christ went through temptation to help us as our mediator in overcoming temptation but also to give us an example of overcoming temptation. The fact that the temptations may arise from ourselves should not undermine our resistance.

 St. Thomas reminds us that Christ underwent temptation to give us confidence in His mercy (3a. 41, 1). He recalls that the Letter to the Hebrews said: “We do not have a high priest who cannot have compassion on our weakness but one who was like us in all things, except sin” (Heb 4:15).

 Luke tells us: “When the devil had finished all this tempting he left Him, to await another opportunity,” which is usually seen as Jesus’ Passion. Thomas observes that, as Jesus was enduring His crucifixion, He may have been tempted against love for us: “He seemed in the later assault to tempt Christ to dejection and hatred of His neighbor” (3a. 41, 3, ad 3).

 In the desert, Jesus’ temptations were to use His power to bring about nourishment for Himself and freedom from sin for us. Although these were very good things, they were temptations, as Thomas explains: “Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, not by powerful deeds, but rather by suffering from Him and His members, so as to conquer the devil by righteousness, not by power ((3a. 41, 1, ad 2).

 St. Thomas acknowledges that a temptation comes in the form of a suggestion and suggestions are not made to everybody in the same way but towards things to which each person has a personal inclination.

The devil cleverly doesn’t immediately tempt spiritual persons to grave sins: “He begins with lighter sins, so as gradually to lead him to greater sins” (3a. 41, 4).

We bring on some of our temptations by ourselves, “…when a man causes himself to be near to sin by not avoiding the occasion of sinning. And such occasions of temptation should be avoided” (3a. 41, 2, ad 2)

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. References to Thomas have been taken from various questions and articles of the “second part of the second part” of the Summa. If the passage is found in a response to an objection that Thomas has introduced in the first part of the article, the Latin word “ad,” meaning “to,” is added with the number of the objection.