Thirty Fourth Sunday – C (Christ the King)

Today’s solemnity is entitled “Jesus Christ the King of the Universe.” The universe is huge. People talk about their “personal savior” but how personal can the Savior be in a universe? The Letter to the Colossians (Col 1:12-20) assures us that, as huge as the universe may be, we are not insignificant pieces. Instead Jesus really is a personal Savior.

There have been special times in each of our lives, when something very good happened that we never expected, such as meeting a future spouse, receiving a promotion or a scholarship. And we wondered, how did this happen?

The Letter to the Colossians goes beyond what we ever expected: “Give thanks to the Father for having made us worthy to share the lot of the saints in light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13).

We have been found “worthy to share with the saints in light” and He has “rescued us from the power of darkness.” The Father helps us in many steps along the way each day but bringing us from the power of darkness into the kingdom of His Son is the greatest we could ever hope for.

When I returned to Kenya, last July, I discovered that I wasn’t misreading my ticket. I had been upgraded from the economy seat to a more expensive seat. I am not sure how it happened but I suspect my niece and her husband, who arranged my ticket, had something to do with it.

I was at a loss how to conduct myself in this new environment. How do you strike up a conversation with a successful business person? “How are your investments doing?” They would, of course, be mystified when I confided that  turkeys and chickens are my own best investment.

Yet Colossians tells us that the Father is upgrading us to be with the saints in light in the kingdom of His Son. How did this happen? Thomas Aquinas explains that people often make a mistake in thinking that “… the gifts of grace are given because of a person’s merit, and that God gives grace to those who are worthy, and does not give grace to those who are unworthy” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 24).

Instead, Thomas assures us: “Whatever worth and grace we have is given to us by God, and so also are the effects of grace” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 24).

The Latin word for “grace,” gratia, also means a “gift.” God’s graces to us and the effects of those graces are gifts as well. Thomas recalls Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).

Because Christians believe in original sin and in personal responsibility for sins, people might expect that Christians take a dim view of human nature. Actually, Thomas insists on the basic goodness of human nature: “All people are good in their very nature; consequently, they somehow partake of God” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 24).

But along with good nature, we have the capacity to choose other things than God, as Thomas acknowledges, “… it is done by choosing, as when a person selects this and another one that” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 25).

If we make God a priority of our lives, it is our choice. Even so, grace helps us to choose, as Jesus tells His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:16).

We can always choose the darkness. I might have missed the comradery of my old friends huddled in the back of the plane. People back there really don’t care what you invest in. I could have asked the stewardess to take me back to row 249, seat H.

When we chose sin, we see it as freedom. We don’t realize right away that sin entangles us. Thomas believes that without grace, we are “slaves of sin.” Jesus declared, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (Jn. 8:34). When “sin” has a power over us, we live “in the power of darkness.” We are caught in the web of our negative habits.

According to Isaiah, we blame God for disregarding us. In fact, our sins block us from seeing or hearing God: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear” (Is 59:2). Rather than God hiding His face from us: we block it.

If we think about it, we can recognize our own “darkness.” God takes us out of our personal darkness “into the lot of the saints in light” (Col 1:13). Thomas observes: “From it there follows the effect of grace, i.e., our transference from darkness to light” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 25).

This transformation is possible because Jesus is the “beloved Son”: “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand” (Jn 3:35).

If sin is selfishness, Christ, even though He is the Son, breaks the power of selfishness by giving Himself for us. Thomas explains that the Son, in His humanity, offered Himself for us to the Father and in His divinity brought us forgiveness.

Thomas says, “As man, He became a sacrifice for us and redeemed us in His blood; and so Paul says: ‘You were bought with a price’ (1 Cor. 6:20); and from Christ, as God, we have the forgiveness of sins, because He took away our debt of punishment” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 28).

We don’t see God directly but we see the Son, as Colossians declares, the Son is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).

The Son is also called the “Word of God” and the “Image of God.” The Letter to the Hebrews declares: “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature, upholding the universe by His word of power. When He had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:3).

The Letter to the Colossians states: “In Him, all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible or invisible – all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col 1:16).

Thomas recognizes the Son’s role in creation as the “Word”: “The Son is seen as a word representing every creature, and He is the principle of every creature” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 35).

Thomas explains that an artisan creates a thing according to the idea that he has in his mind, which is his/her “wisdom”: “This is the way God is said to make all things in His wisdom, because the wisdom of God is related to His created works just as the art of the builder is to the house he has made. Now this form and wisdom is the Word; and thus in Him all things were created, as in an exemplar” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 37).

Genesis announces: “He spoke and they were made” (Gen 1). Thomas reflects: “He created all things to come into existence in His eternal Word” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 37). The Letter to the Hebrews states: “By faith we understand that the world was framed by the word of God; that from invisible things visible things might be made” (Heb 11:3).

The Gospel of John affirms: “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:3). Thomas understands that the Son is the “efficient cause” by which creation came into being and the “exemplary cause,” the model of created things (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 42).

The Letter to the Colossians asserts: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:17). Thomas comments: “For God is to things as the sun is to the moon, which loses its light when the sun leaves. And so, if God took His power away from us, all things would immediately cease to exist” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 44). Thomas recalls the Letter to the Hebrews, which said that God was, “Upholding the universe by His word of power” (Heb 1:3).

Colossians declares: “He is the head of the body, the Church” (Col 1:18). Thomas explains that the Church is like a human body because it has distinct members: “And His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelist, some pastors and teachers” (Eph 4:11). The members care for each other in different ways: “The members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25); “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

The body has a soul, which is the Spirit: “The Church is one because the Spirit is one: “There is one body and one Spirit” (Eph 4:4); “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17).

Christ is the “head”: “He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead” Thomas teaches that the Church exists in the “state of grace in the present time, and the state of glory in the future.” Thomas adds: “It is the same Church, and Christ is its head in both states, because He is the first in grace and the first in glory” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 48).

Christ is not only the first in grace in His humanity but others are justified by faith in Him: “By one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). Christ is “pre-eminent in the gifts of grace, because He is the beginning; and pre-eminent in the gifts of glory, because He is the first-born” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 49).

Colossians states: “In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19). Thomas comments: “Christ had all graces; and so he says, that in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 50).  John says that Christ was “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14),

Colossians announces: “And through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His Cross” (Col 1:20). Thomas reflects that “Christ is the head of the Church because of an inflow from Him… It pleased God not only that this fullness exist in Christ, but that it also flow from Christ to us; and so he says, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself’ (2 Cor. 5:19) (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 51-52).

Thomas explains that people are reconciled when they agree after having conflicting wills: “Wills that were before in conflict are made to harmonize in Christ. This harmony was accomplished by the blood of His cross… Christ destroyed sin by His cross and fulfilled the law; and thus He took away the causes of discord” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 53).

Thomas recalls that when Christ was born the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” (Lk 2:14). After His Resurrection, Christ announced to His disciples: “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). The Letter to the Ephesians declares: “For He is our peace, who has made us both one” (Eph 2:14).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

 The quotations from St. Thomas’ Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians are taken from the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/

Thirty Third Sunday – C

Jesus predicted that He would come again. But Jesus also told us that even He, the Son, did not know when he would return.

In the beginning of his ministry, Paul thought that Jesus’ coming would be soon. Some of the early Christians were so sure that Jesus was coming soon, that they stopped working. Paul admonishes them because they didn’t keep busy but went around like busybodies.

Even though Paul expected that Jesus would return soon, he worked hard: “You ought to imitate us… We worked day and night, laboring to the point of exhaustion so as not to impose on any of you.”

Paul’s message is that we don’t know when Jesus is coming but we live in the here and now. At present, we meet Jesus in the here and now.

Why is Paul concerned that people work. What does work have to do with Christ? the Letter to the Colossians tells us: “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men, because you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.…” (Col 3:23-24)

Our attitude towards work may vary from day to day. Sometimes, we do our work with our whole being but we do it for our own satisfaction, to do it successfully. So we have to remember to do it for the Lord.

Sometimes our work can become the center of our life. There are husbands and fathers who concentrate so much on their work, that they don’t have time for their wives and children.

Sometimes, religious can neglect prayers because of work. This is especially true of personal prayers. And even the way we work, we can forget to work with the Lord.

We meet Christ in the here and now, the way that we are, needing His help to keep from making our work the centre.

Sometimes the opposite seems to happen. We lose our enthusiasm for what we are doing, so we don’t really so it with our whole being. In the third, fourth and fifth centuries, monks and the nuns lived in the Egyptian deserts. They talk about the affliction of, acedia, that is, boredom or apathy. The monks and nuns called it “the noonday devil,” because in the heat of the day, their spirits began to wilt. They felt overcome by lethargy and tired of praying or working. We can picture a plant wilting in the sun. The monks and nuns included acedia among the “capital sins,” one of those that lead to other sins.

Maybe everyone has moments or days of acedia. We can imagine a nurse getting tired of caring for sick people or a teacher doing everything required but with a certain emptiness. A married person getting bored with cooking or cleaning.

Priests also lose their fire or zeal. They may forget that God is saying something in the Scriptures and not try to seek it for their people. They can let their personal challenges or difficult  experiences get the best of them and so don’t make the effort to speak to the hearts of the believers. They can even be convinced that their efforts won’t make any difference to anyone, any way.

In his Summa Theologiae, St Thomas Aquinas devotes four articles to discussing acedia, which is translated as “sloth” or “spiritual apathy.” Thomas considers acedia to be a sin against charity, that is, “joy in God” (2a2ae. 35, 3). Thomas affirms that acedia is not turning aside from any possible spiritual good but “from the divine good to which we should hold onto” (2a2ae. 35, 3, ad 3).  

Thomas describes acedia as “a certain weariness about work” (2a2ae. 35, 1) or “sorrow over spiritual good” (2a2ae. 35, 2). Thomas affirms: “Such sorrow is always bad.” It can be bad in itself when what is actually good, such as a spiritual good, is seen as bad. It can also be bad in its effects when “it drags a person away from good work.” Thomas states: “Acedia or sorrow over spiritual things is doubly bad, both in itself and in its effects and so it is a sin” (2a2ae. 35, 1).

Thomas makes an important distinction related to how we deal with our spontaneous reactions:

The emotions in themselves are not sins. We censure them only when they follow after something bad, just as we praise them when they follow after the good. Sorrow in itself is neither praiseworthy or worthy of blame. Moderate sorrow over true evil is worthy of praise. However, sorrow over the good or immoderate sorrow over evil is blameworthy. Thus, acedia is a sin (2a2ae. 35, 1, ad 1).

There is a difference between the initial reactions and whether we stay with those reactions and cultivate them. Thomas understands that, as with other sins, the initial reaction, in this case, spiritual weariness, is not a serious sin but the deliberate choice by our own reason to stay with such apathy is serious (2a2ae. 35, 3). Thomas reflects that even holy men felt the beginnings of spiritual apathy but did not make them deliberate choices (2a2ae. 35, 3, ad 3).

Thomas explains that a negative attitude towards one’s self is not genuine humility:

Humility means that a person, knowing his or her own deficiencies, does not exalt his or herself. But it is not humility but rather ingratitude for us to disregard the gifts that God has given to us. Acedia follows from such contempt because we are saddened at what we consider to be bad or vile. Therefore it is necessary that we not extol the gifts given to others in such a way that we belittle the blessings given to us by God. This would turn them into sorrow (2a2ae. 35, 1, ad 3).

Many people don’t make efforts because they do not appreciate that they have been given gifts by God just as other people have been given gifts.

Thomas says that some sins are best avoided simply by fleeing; others are resisted by fighting. It is best to run from thoughts about sexual sins rather than to think about them. Other sins can be resisted by thought: “This is so with acedia because the more we think about spiritual goods the more pleasing they are to us. By this means acedia diminishes” (2a2ae. 35, 1, ad 4).

Sometimes we may feel stuck in our negative feelings, which is why we turn to Jesus.

If we look at the psalms, we see many affirmations that go counter to acedia, short phrases by which we affirm that God is our “rock,” our “fortress,” our shield,” our shepherd.” Many people repeat the name of Jesus when they feel discouraged. Paul declares, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Phil 4:13).

In our Christian life, we cooperate with God. God is always working with us. The Letter to the Philippians declares, “God works both the willing and the doing” but we cooperate and do our part, assisted by God’s grace.

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

 References to St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae give the part of the Summa, which, in this case, is the second part of the second part (The second part is divided in two). Then the number of the question is given, which here is question 35 Then the article is given, which here, is the 1st article. If the reference is to Thomas’ response to an objection that he raised in the beginning of the article, the number of the objection is added, with the Latin word, ad, meaning “to.”

Thirty Second Sunday – C

Many people have an instinct that life must continue after death. When someone dies, you often hear people who don’t have any connection with a particular faith say things such as, “She is with her parents” or He is with his wife” or “Now, he is at peace.”  The unspoken belief is that the person continues to exist although no one explains what they mean. Maybe, it’s a sense that the lives of good people should go on.

In Africa, those who die are buried on the family compounds. Traditionally, it was believed that the dead take on a new way of being as spirits. These spirits are watchful over their families and do good things for them. Customary before drinking something, a person pours the first sips on the ground as a libation for the ancestors.

The early Israelites thought the dead took on a shadow-like existence in Sheol. Belief in the Resurrection of the Body gradually developed among the Jews. The Sadducees considered only the oldest five books to be Scripture. They did not accept the Resurrection. The Pharisees believed in the Resurrection of the body, which is found n the later books of the Old Testament.

Today’s first reading is from the Second Book of Maccabees, a later book of the Bible. The Syrians occupied Judea and tried to suppress the Jewish religion with its customs such as not eating pork. The seven brothers and their mother are not afraid to die because they hope in the Resurrection of the Body.

In today’s Gospel, the Sadducees try to trap Jesus by posing a complicated situation which was intended to ridicule the idea of the resurrection of the body. Deuteronomy 25:5 legislated that, if a man died childless, his brother should marry the man’s widow in order to raise up descendants for him. The Sadducees presented a case where a woman who married seven brothers in succession, without any offspring. Whose wife would she be at the resurrection of the body?

Jesus cleverly referred them to a passage in the book of Exodus, one of the books that the Sadducees accepted. God tells Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Ex 3:6). God spoke in the present not the past. Jesus declares: “God is not the God of the dead but of the living. All are alive for Him” (Lk 20:38).

We may not think of the Resurrection of the body very often. The early Christians were very conscious of the resurrection of the body. Paul refers to it frequently in his letters. An important text is the fifteenth chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians. Both the Apostles’ Creed (late 2nd century) and the Nicene-Constantinople Creed (325-381), proclaimed in the Sunday liturgy, affirm, “I believe in the Resurrection of the Body.”

St. Thomas Aquinas reflects the association of the general resurrection of the body with Christ’s Resurrection:

He chose both to die and to rise. He chose to die to cleanse us from sin… But He chose to rise to free us from death: ‘Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep. For by a man came death and by a man the resurrection of the dead’ (1 Cor 15:20-21)…

“The effect of the resurrection of Christ in regard to our liberation from the dead we shall achieve at the end of the world, when we shall all rise by the power of Christ…”

“‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen again. And if Christ be not risen again then is our preaching vain and our faith vain’ (1 Cor 15:13-14). It is, then, a necessary tenet of our faith to believe there will be a resurrection of the dead” (Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 79).

For Thomas, the soul and body form a composite which is the person. The Catholic faith affirms that the soul is immortal. Thomas asserts that ultimately the soul must be reunited with the body:  “The soul is naturally united to the body… it is the form of the body. It is, then, contrary to the nature of the soul to be without the body… It must once again be united to the body; and this is to rise again (Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 79).

Thomas argues that the soul would not have perfect happiness without the body:

Ultimate happiness is the perfection of the happy one. Therefore, anyone to whom some perfection is wanting does not yet have perfect happiness because his desire is not entirely at rest, for every imperfect thing naturally desires to achieve its perfection. But the soul separated from the body is in a way imperfect, as is every part existing outside of the whole, for the soul is necessarily a part of human nature. Therefore, man cannot achieve his ultimate happiness unless the soul be once again united to the body… (Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 79).

Thomas recognizes that there is no natural argument for the resurrection of the body. The resurrection depends solely on God’s power: “Since the divine power remains the same even when things are corrupted, it can restore the corrupted to integrity” and “The principle of resurrection is not natural. It is caused by divine power alone… For the Son of God assumed human nature to restore it. Therefore, what is a defect of nature [death] will be restored in all, and so all will return from death to life” (Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 81).

In his instruction on the Creed, Thomas considers the effects of belief in the resurrection of the body:

Firstly, it takes away the sorrow which we feel for the departed. It is impossible for one not to grieve over the death of a relative or friend; but the hope that such a one will rise again greatly tempers the pain of parting, as St. Paul says: “And we will not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you be not sorrowful, as others who have no hope” [1 Thes 4:12].

Secondly, it takes away the fear of death. If one does not hope in another and better life after death, then without doubt one is greatly in fear of death and would willingly commit any crime rather than suffer death. But because we believe in another life which will be ours after death, we do not fear death, nor would we do anything wrong through fear of it: “That, through death He might destroy him who had the empire of death, that is to say, the devil, and might deliver those who through fear of death were all their life subject to bondage” [Hb 2:14].

Thirdly, it makes us watchful and careful to live uprightly. If, however, this life in which we live were all, we would not have this great incentive to live well, for whatever we do would be of little importance, since it would be regulated not by eternity, but by brief, determined time. But we believe that we shall receive eternal rewards in the resurrection for whatsoever we do here. Hence, we are anxious to do good: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” [1 Cor 15:19].

Finally, it withdraws us from evil. Just as the hope of reward urges us to do good, so also the fear of punishment, which we believe is reserved for wicked deeds, keeps us from evil: “But they who have done good things shall come forth unto the resurrection of life; but they who have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment” [Jn 5:29].

A document of the Congregation for the Faith, Letter on Certain Questions Concerning Eschatology (May 17, 1979) cautions against “arbitrary imaginative representations” but affirms:

Christians must firmly hold the two following essential points: on the one hand they must believe in the fundamental continuity, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, between our present life in Christ and the future life (charity is the law of the Kingdom of God and our charity on earth will be the measure of our sharing in God’s glory in heaven); on the other hand they must be clearly aware of the radical break between the present life and the future one, due to the fact that the economy of faith will be replaced by the economy of fullness of life: we shall be with Christ and “we shall see God” (cf. 1 Jn 3:2), and it is in these promises and marvelous mysteries that our hope essentially consists.                                               

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P

Thirty-First Sunday – C

In today’s Gospel (Luke 19:1-10), we see Jesus reach out to Zacchaeus. Because he was a tax collector, collecting taxes for the Romans, he was despised by the Jews. In fact, when Jesus says that He will go to Zacchaeus’ house, the people say, “He has gone to a sinner’s house.” Jesus announces: “The Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost” (Lk 19:10).

Jesus’ action is a demonstration of God’s love as it is described by the Book of Wisdom. Because we dismiss some people and think they are useless, we assume God thinks the same.

The Book of Wisdom assures us that God’s love for us is always there: “You love all things that are and loathe nothing that You have made; for what You hated, You would not have fashioned, and how could a thing remain, unless You willed it or be preserved had it not been called forth by You. But You spare all things, because they are Yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for Your imperishable spirit is in all things” (Ws 11:24-12:1).

If God didn’t care for us we would not exist. The great Greek philosopher, Aristotle (d. 322 B.C.), taught that God is the Uncaused Cause, the Unmoved Mover. For Aristotle, God is the one who begins the process and lets a chain of causes and movers proceed.

St Thomas Aquinas agrees that everything is caused by something else. In a similar way, everything has been caused by something else. Thomas, however, thinks that God not only initiates the first motion or causes the first thing to be caused at the beginning of creation but God is present and causes each thing to come into existence: “Since it is God’s nature to exist, He it must be who properly causes existence in creatures” (Summa Theologiae, 1a 8, 1). Thomas means not only that God started bringing things into existence at some point but that God is actually bringing this particular person or thing into existence here and now.

Not only does God bring each thing into existence but He preserves each thing in existence: “God is causing this effect in things not just when they begin to exist, but all the time they are maintained in existence” (Summa Theologiae, 1a. 8, 1).

Furthermore, God is intimately present with what He has brought into existence: “Existence is more intimately and profoundly interior to things than anything else … So God must exist and exist intimately in everything” (Summa Theologiae, 1a. 8, 1).

Why does God give existence or being to things? Thomas draws upon a principle of an early theologian Dionysius (d. c. 500): “Goodness is self-diffusive,” “Goodness wants to give itself.” Thomas affirms: “The communication of being and goodness arises from goodness. This is evident from the very nature and definition of the good… God is the cause of being for other things. God is, therefore, truly good” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 37).

Because God is the source not only of being but also of goodness, Thomas can say:  “God is not only good but He is goodness itself.” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 38).

God’s goodness is total: since “God is goodness” then God cannot have “non-goodness”: “There cannot, therefore, be any non-goodness in Him. Thus, there cannot possibly be evil in God” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 39).

God chooses the good always: “God is the highest good. But the highest good cannot bear any mingling with evil, as neither can the highest hot thing bear any mingling with the cold. The divine will, therefore, cannot be turned to evil… God naturally stands abiding in the good” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 95).

God is quite simple: God is good, He creates good things. He keeps them in being and He does good things.

God is not only good but God wants the good of each thing, which is to be as He has created it: “God wills the good of each thing according as it is the good of each thing; for He wills each thing to be according as it is in itself good” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 91).

God wants to be united with each thing: “God moves all things to union, for in so far as He gives them being and other perfections, He joins them to Himself in the manner in which this is possible. God, therefore, loves Himself and other things” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 91).

Thomas maintains that everything reflects the one who made it: “Since every agent intends to introduce its likeness into its effect, in the measure that its effect can receive it, the agent does this the more perfectly as it is the more perfect itself; obviously, the hotter a thing is, the hotter its effect, and the better the craftsman, the more perfectly does he put into matter the form of his art” (Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 45)

Just as all things have being from God so all things participate in God’s goodness: “Nothing, then, will be called good except in so far as it has a certain likeness of the divine goodness” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 40).

God wills that everything shares in His goodness: “The will of God is directed to things other than Himself, in so far as, by willing and loving His own being and His own goodness, God wills it to be diffused as much as possible through the communication of likeness. This, then, is what God wills in other things, that there be in them the likeness of His goodness. But this is the good of each thing, namely, to participate in the likeness of God; for every other goodness is nothing other than a certain likeness of the first goodness. Therefore, God wills good to each thing. Hence, He hates nothing” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 96).

It is impossible for God to stop loving what He has created: “But all agents in their own way love their effects as such: thus, parents love their children, poets their poetry, and artists their works. All the more, then, does God not hate anything, since He is the cause of all things” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 96).

The reason why there are so many different things is that no one can reflect God but each reflects God in its own way: “By the fact that the active power is actualized the effect receives the likeness of the agent. Hence, there would not be a perfect likeness of God in the universe if all things were of one grade of being. For this reason, then, is there distinction among created things: that, by being many, they may receive God’s likeness more perfectly than by being one” (Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 45). If God produced only one type of the thing, His likeness would not be completely reflected.

A thing especially resembles God when it can produce good in other things: “A thing approaches to God’s likeness the more perfectly as it resembles Him in more things. Now, goodness is in God, and the outpouring of goodness into other things. Hence, the creature approaches more perfectly to God’s likeness if it is not only good, but can also act for the good of other things, than if it were good only in itself; that which both shines and casts light is more like the sun than that which only shines” (Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 45).

 Thomas is saying that we are more like God if we are able to pour out goodness to others.

Denis Vincent Wiseman, OP

Thirtieth Sunday – C

Within two days, this October, Kenya runners set new record times for marathons. Eliud Kipchoge broke the two hour record for men, finishing the Vienna Marathon  within 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds. Brigid Kosgei set a new women’s record at 2 hours, 14 minutes and 4 seconds at the Chicago marathon.

After the marathon, Kipchoge stated: “Personally, I don’t believe in limits … I’m sending a message to every individual in this world that when you work hard, when you actually concentrate, when you set your priorities high, when you actually set your goals, and put them in your heart and in your mind and in your mind, you will accomplish, without any question.”

As St. Paul described the close of his life by the image of a runner, “I have finished the race” (2 Tim 4:7). Earlier, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul used a similar comparison: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever “(1 Cor:24-25).

What connection is there between an athlete and a Christian? St. Thomas in his Commentary of the Second Letter to Timothy, recognizes that similar to an athlete, a Christian concentrates all his or her energies at achieving a goal, but for the Christian, the goal is holiness: “It is called a course or journey to holiness, because they run swiftly in order to run better, being prodded by the goad of charity” (Commentary, 149).

As often as not, we forget that the purpose of Christian life is holiness. What is holiness? Thomas Aquinas explains: “Primarily and essentially the perfection of the Christian life consists in charity, principally as to the love of God, secondly as to the love of our neighbor…” (2a2ae. 184, 3).

Is it realistic to see love as a possible goal for every Christian? The Second Vatican Council thought so: “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love” (Lumen Gentium, “The Constitution on the Church,” 40). The Council asserts: “The true disciple of Christ is marked by love both of God and of his neighbor” (Lumen Gentium, “The Constitution on the Church,” 42). Love is not only the goal but love drives us, as St. Paul declares “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14).

Paul uses another athletic image: “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim 4:6). How can a fight be “good” and who are we fighting?

St. Thomas Aquinas observes that a “good fight” concerns something good, “if it were waged on behalf of faith and justice” (Commentary, 149). Still, even though the cause is good, it isn’t a good fight unless we fight it in a good way, “… a struggle is good if it is conducted well, i.e. carefully…” In athletic events, some players don’t play in a very good way. At times, our good intentions can be excuses for acting quite differently from Jesus’ Beatitudes.

Our “fights” may be our personal challenges. Thomas points out a ‘good fight” means that “the struggle is difficult.” We shouldn’t be surprised that there are difficulties in our lives. When we set out to do something good we necessarily find difficulties. Would anyone waste time watching a race or an athletic event that was without challenges, unless, of course, the competitors were pre-school children?

The one with whom we “fight” may be ourselves and our own resistance. Paul had previously stated: “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor 9:26-27)

As St. Paul was coming to the end of his life, greater challenges awaited him, especially his imprisonment and martyrdom, as Thomas notes: “The struggle and the journey towards death continued… he was not finished struggling or running…”

Despite what was before him, Paul asserted, “I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). He didn’t mean simply agreeing to the truths of the faith but accepting the difficulties that he would meet in living them, as St. Thomas says: “He uses God’s gifts for the glory of God and the salvation of our neighbors.”

Paul speaks of a “crown”: “There is laid up for me a merited crown which, on that day, the Lord the just judge will render to me” (2 Tim 4:8). What type of crown is this? According to Thomas, the primary “crown” is “nothing less than the joy in the truth… God is our crown.”

Thomas reflects that the just as the race involves charity, the reward will be charity: “The crown will be given for charity alone, ‘He who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will manifest Myself to him’ (Jn 14:21).” Not only will the soul be crowned but the body will also receive eternal life: “What is sown in corruption, shall rise in in corruption” (1 Cor 15:43).

St. Thomas asks why Paul talks of “merit” when eternal life is a gift? The word for “grace” in New Testament Greek and in Thomas’ Latin means “gift.” Grace is a “gift” that is given to us. Even our perseverance is a gift of grace. Paul realized this as he affirms: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect” (1 Cor 15:10).

Even Paul’s cooperation with grace was a grace, as Thomas explains: “Grace is involved inasmuch as it is the root of merit, and justice inasmuch as it is an act proceeding from the will” (Commentary, 151).

According to Thomas, our “merit” is actually God’s reward for doing what He helps us do by grace: Man obtains from God as a reward of his operation, what God gave him the power of operation for…” (Summa Theologiae, 2a, 2ae, 114, 1).

Paul knows that he will not be alone receiving the reward “but all who have looked for His coming with eager longing” (2 Tim 4:8). During Kipchoge’s race, forty different “pace-setters’ joined him for parts of the race, to keep up his speed. On November 1, we will celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. The saints also run with us, inspiring us and praying for us.

Unfortunately, Paul’s converts did not stand by him in the day of his trial, but as Thomas reflects: “Because they did this out of weakness, he prays for them.”

When Paul asserts that God was the one who gave him strength, he is showing how God gives us the grace to cooperate with Him: “The Lord stood by my side and gave me strength” (2 Tim 4:17). Thomas observes: “Where men depart, God offers Himself.” God strengthened Paul not to be intimidated by the authorities: “… giving me strength of soul not to be dazzled by Caesar.”

Following Christ brings its struggles, as it did for Paul. God gives us the grace and strength to run the race and to fight the good fight.

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References are to Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Second Letter to Timothy, Vol. 40, The Works of St. Thomas Aquinas, translated by F.R. Larcher, O.P., edited by J. Mortensen and E. Alarcón,  (Lander Wyoming: Aquinas Institute, 2012).

References to St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae give the part of the Summa, for instance, the second part of the second part. Then the question is given, such as question 112 and then the article, such as the 1st. If the reference is from Thomas response to an objection, the number of the objection is added, with the Latin word, ad, meaning “to,” in this case, it is the reply to the third objection.

Twenty Ninth Sunday – C

God wants to draw all people to Himself. He involves us in the process in our coming to Him and bringing others to Him. St. Thomas teaches:

“It is a greater perfection for a thing to be good in itself and also the cause of goodness in others, than only to be good in itself. Therefore God so governs things that He makes some of them to be causes of others in government; as a master who not only imparts knowledge to his pupils, but also gives the faculty of teaching others” (1a. 103, 7).

“Every creature participates in the Divine Goodness, so as to diffuse the good it possesses to others; for it is of the nature of good to communicate itself to others … So the more an agent is established in the share of Divine goodness, so much the more does it strive to transmit its perfections to others as far as possible” (1a. 106, 4).

God enables us to be instruments of His goodness. Although many of us have heard St. Paul’s words that “all scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), we may not have realized that, even in the composition of Scriptures, God involved human cooperation.  

In the “Constitution on Divine Revelation” (Dei Verbum), the Second Vatican Council states: “To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while He employed them in this task, made full use of their powers and faculties so that, though He acted in them and through them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever He wanted written, and no more” (Constitution on Divine Revelation, 11).

How were the sacred writers “true authors,” who “made full use of their powers and faculties? St. Thomas Aquinas didn’t explicitly comment on the revelation given to the authors of the Scriptures, but his reflection on the revelation that is given to prophets gives us a few basic ideas.

Prophecy is a charism, that is a “gift… given for the good of others…” (2a2ae. 172, 4, ad 1). Thomas explains that “The capacity of their [the prophets’] minds is raised to the point of perceiving divine truth… brought about by the motion of the Holy Spirit. After the mind has been raised to perceive heavenly things, it perceives the things of God” (2a2ae. 171, 1, ad 4).

Thomas asserts “… inspiration is requisite for prophecy as regards the raising of the mind… while revelation is necessary as regards the perception of divine things” (2a2ae. 171, 1, ad 4). The prophet’s mind is “raised,” that is “inspired” but the prophet is also given a “revelation”: “… in prophetic knowledge the human intellect is passive to the enlightening of the Divine light” (2a2ae. 171, 2, ad 1).

According to Thomas, the prophetic light is transitory and needs to be renewed: “Just as the air is ever in need of fresh enlightening, so the prophet’s mind is always in need of a fresh revelation…” (2a2ae. 171, 2).

Thomas notices that the prophets attribute their message to God’s intervention: “The Lord said to me”… “the Word of the Lord came to me, saying”… “the hand of the Lord was upon Him.” While the prophets must wait to be enlightened, “… there remains an aptitude to be enlightened anew” (2a2ae. 171, 2, ad 2).

In some similar way, God, through the Holy Spirit, intervenes in our lives, by raising our minds to listen to Him and to speak to us. Yet, the Spirit cannot speak unless we are attentive. Thomas recalls the words of Isaiah: “In the morning He wakens my ear that I may hear” (Isaiah 1:4). The Lord did not speak to Elijah in a powerful wind, an earthquake or a fire but in a gentle whispering breeze (1 Kings 19:12).

Of course, we have to be careful when we think God is giving us messages. Thomas acknowledges that even prophets needed discernment: “… he is unable to distinguish fully whether his thoughts are conceived of Divine instinct or of his own spirit. And those things we know by Divine instinct are not all manifest with prophetic certitude, for this instinct is sometimes imperfect” (2a2ae. 171, 5).

Scripture is not given for its own sake, as St. Paul declares: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching – for reproof, correction and training in holiness so that everyone who belongs to God may be competent and equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Thomas explains: “The knowledge a man receives from God cannot be turned to anyone’s profit, except by means of speech” (2a2ae. 177, 1). Paul instructs Timothy: “I charge you to preach the word, to stay with it this task, whether convenient or inconvenient – correcting, reproving, appealing – constantly teaching and never losing patience” (2 Tim 4:3-4).

Thomas reflects on this ministry of preaching and teaching: “The gratuitous graces are given for the profit of others… The Holy Spirit does not fail in anything that pertains to the welfare of the Church. He provides also the members of the Church with speech; to the effect that a man … speaks with effect, and this pertains to the grace of the word” (2a2ae. 177, 1).

Thomas affirms that the Spirit “instructs the intellect when a person speaks so as to teach.” The Spirit also “moves the affections, so that a person willingly hearkens to the word of God.” Thomas notes: “This is the case when a person speaks so as to please his hearers, but not with a view to his own favor, but in order to draw them to listen to God’s word” (2a2ae. 177, 1).

The Spirit also acts “in order that people may love what is signified by the word and desire to fulfill it, and this is the case when a person speaks as to sway his hearers. In order to effect this, the Holy Spirit makes use of the human tongue as of an instrument; but He it is who perfects the work within” (2a2ae. 177, 1).

Thomas recalls a homily for Pentecost of St. Gregory: “Unless the Holy Spirit fill the hearts of the hearers, in vain does the voice of the teacher resound in the ears of the body” (Homily XXX).

Thomas believes that “The Holy Spirit effects more excellently by the grace of His words that which art can effect in a less efficient manner” (2a2ae. 177, 1, ad 1).

At times, God withholds this “grace of the word,” either because of the fault of the hearers of the faults of the speaker: “… the good works of either of them do not merit this grace directly but only remove the obstacles” (2a2ae. 177, 1, ad 3). In other words, this gift is truly a grace that God gives freely.

Thomas’ words regarding prophecy may also apply to the “grace of words”: “God’s gifts are not always bestowed on those who are simply the best, but sometimes are given to those who are the best at receiving this or that gift. God grants His gifts to those who He judges best to give it to” (2a2ae. 172, 4, ad 4).

In some ways, God gives each one of us a “grace of words” to speak His message to others in various ways, and thus draw others to Him.

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae give the part of the Summa, for instance, in this article the second part of the second part. Then the particular question is given, as in this article, questions 171, 172, and 177. Then the article is given, such as the 4th. If the reference is from Thomas response to an objection, the number of the objection is added, with the Latin word, “ad,” meaning “to,” in this case, it is the reply to the first objection.