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.

Twenty Eighth Sunday – C

In today’s Gospel (Luke 17:11-19), ten lepers call out to Jesus from their distance: “Master, have pity on us.” Of course, Jesus pitied them. When their disease, which could actually be what we now call “Hansen’s Disease” or another serious skin infection, was recognized, the victims were forced to leave their families and their homes and live on the margins of society. People who loved them might leave off small bundles of food or clothes. Otherwise their only companions were others afflicted with disease.

Jesus healed them in an unusual way. Even though they had not yet been healed, Jesus sent them to show themselves to the priests, which the Book of Leviticus prescribed for those who recovered from leprosy (Lev 14:3-4). As they went, they were healed.

One came back and thanked Jesus. Of course, they were all relieved that their sufferings were over. Probably, they were so excited by their recovery that they wanted to go back to their families immediately and get started on their lives afresh. In a way, their behavior was understandable. Still, they were oblivious to the fact that the wonderful change in their lives had been given to them by a person.

Jesus was disappointed. Healing the external scars of their illness was only the beginning of what Jesus wanted to give them. St. Thomas Aquinas has said, “The purpose of the outward healings worked by Christ is the healing of the soul” (3a. 44, 3, ad 3). The deeper healing was the ability to appreciate God’s goodness.

Almost everyone would agree with St. Thomas Aquinas that gratitude is a virtue, which, for St. Thomas, is an almost- permanent inclination to act in a good way.

Thomas considers the virtue of gratitude as a sub-category of the virtue of justice. Justice inclines one to give each person what is rightfully hers or his. Gratitude, which Thomas describes as “excelling thankfulness,” is a repayment for benefits that have been received (2a2ae. 106, 1).

St. Thomas attests that the first one to whom we should be grateful is God, “the primary source of all that we have” (2a2ae. 106, 1). If we stop for a moment and think, we can realize that life itself is the most wonderful gift. Our parents, our families, our minds, our souls, our bodies with all their parts, are wonderful gifts, as is even the faith with which we enables us to see the meaning of all that is. Nothing in this marvelous world had to be, not even ourselves.

Thomas asserts that the second ones to whom we owe gratitude are our parents, upon whom we depend for our “birth and upbringing” (2a2ae. 106, 1). For Thomas, gratitude reflects the relationship with our benefactors. Parents have a right to receive “honor and reverence and, when in need, help and support” (2a2ae. 106, 3).

We owe gratitude to those leaders of society who enable our way of life. We owe gratitude to those from whom “we have received some special, personal kindness” (2a2ae. 106, 1).

Thomas offers a general principle: “The thanks of the one who receives responds to the graciousness of the one who gives, and should therefore be greater where greater favor has been shown. A favor is a thing that is done freely” (2a2ae. 106, 2).

The value of the gift isn’t just the gift itself but the value to the person. Thomas notes, “A small gift given to a poor person is more precious than an expensive gift to a wealthy person” (2a2ae. 106, 2).

Every person can be grateful “A poor person is not without gratitude as long as he does what he can. Since kindness depends on the heart rather than on the deed, gratitude depends chiefly on the heart” (2a2ae. 106, 3, ad 5). Thomas explains: “No one is excused from gratitude through inability to repay, for the very reason that the mere will suffices for repayment of the debt of gratitude” (2a2ae. 107, 1, ad 2).

Even when what we have been given may have come from mixed motives, Thomas believes that we should also be grateful: “To be more conscious of good than of evil is a mark of goodness of heart” (2a2ae. 106, 3, ad 2).

We can be grateful to those who don’t seem to need our thanks: “However well off a man may be, it is possible to thank him for his kindness by showing him reverence and honor” (2a2ae. 106, 3, ad 5). Whatever type of person a benefactor may be, “the kindness he has shown should be held in memory” (2a2ae. 106, 3, ad 5).

Thomas affirms that the significance of the gift depends on “the affection of the heart and the gift itself” (2a2ae. 106, 4).

The gift is not so much what has been received as much as the intention, “Gratitude regards the disposition of the giver more than what was given” (2a2ae. 106, 5). Thomas teaches that we should recognize the kindness in the will of the giver: “Every moral act depends on the will. Hence, a kindly action, in so far as it is praiseworthy and is deserving of gratitude consists in the thing done but formally and chiefly in the will” (2a2ae. 106, 5, ad 1).

Thomas reflects that only God knows a person’s disposition but there are signs that help us know: “A benefactor’s disposition is known by the way in which he does the kindly action, for instance through his doing it joyfully and readily” (2a2ae. 106, 5, ad 3).

Thomas proposes that since the benefactor gave freely, our response should go further than the benefactor in order to also give freely (2a2ae. 106, 6). In other words, if our response is equal to what we have received, it isn’t freely-given. In returning thanks, “the affection of the heart should be made at once” although we might respond with a gift at a suitable occasion (2a2ae. 106, 4).

In some instances, it seems that our gratitude can never be enough: “If we consider the benefits that a child receives from parents, namely, to be and to live, the child cannot make an equal repayment but if we consider the will of the giver and of the one wanting to repay… If the child is unable to repay, the will to pay back would be sufficient for gratitude” (2a2ae. 106, 6, ad 1).

According to Thomas, ingratitude is always a sin because the debt of gratitude is a moral debt and the sin is contrary to the virtue of gratitude, even if it happens through forgetfulness which is negligence (2a2ae. 107, 1). Thomas affirms: “A debt in gratitude has is origins in the indebtedness of love, from which no one should want to be freed. When someone is unwilling to owe this debt, there is a lack of love for the benefactor” (2a2ae. 107, 1, ad 3).

Thomas proposes three steps in gratitude: “The first is that the person admit that he/she has received a favor; the second, that he/she praises it and expresses thanks; the third that he/she repay it in the proper circumstances and according to his/her means” (2a2ae. 107, 2). The sins of ingratitude correspond to the three steps in that failure to admit the favor is the most serious, failure to express thanks is somewhat less serious and failure to repay is the least serious.

Thomas thinks that we should not be quick to assume that a person is ungrateful. Rather, we should try to encourage gratitude: “The one who gives should be inclined to turn the person’s ingratitude into gratitude. If he does not achieve this by being kind once, he may try again. If the more he/she repeats the favors and the person becomes more ungrateful then the giver should cease giving favors” (2a2ae. 107, 4).

In general, Thomas’ attitude is to be patient with the ungrateful: “Whoever bestows a favor must not quickly become an avenger of ingratitude, but, as a kindly physician, seek by repeated kindness to remedy it” (2a2ae. 107, 4, ad 3). Surely, that is the approach that God has taken with many of us.

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. Then the question is given, such as question 106 and then the article, such as the 3rd. 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 Seventh Sunday – C

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by new responsibilities? That may be the way St. Timothy felt when St. Paul designated him to be the leader of a community of Christians, almost all of whom had been recently converted.

St. Paul had the great gift of converting people to faith in Christ and then organizing them into a local church. Paul believed that he was called to keep moving out to new areas: “It has always been my aim is to preach the Gospel where Christ is not yet known” (Rom 15:20). As Paul moved on, he commissioned others to lead the newly formed communities.

This is the situation of Timothy in today’s second reading (2 Tim 1:6-8, 13-14). We know from Paul’s letters, such as the First Letter to the Corinthians, that even these first Christians had their conflicts. Timothy may have felt that the burden was more than he could carry.

Paul urges Timothy not to be intimidated by his task. Paul has not left him without any resources. He had left him with the Holy Spirit:  “Stir into flame the gift of God bestowed when my hands were laid upon you. The Spirit God has given us is no cowardly spirit but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:6-7).

The practice of stretching hands over those who are being ordained continues today as deacons and priests are ordained by the laying on of hands. If the giving of the Spirit by the laying on of hands was reserved for those ordained, we might assume that Paul’s words do not apply to us. In fact, however, most Christians have received the Spirit by the laying on of hands.

When we are baptized, water is poured over our heads and the crown of our heads are anointed with sacred chrism, signifying that we are receiving the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is intensified in the sacrament of Confirmation, when the bishop stretches his hands over our heads and anoints our foreheads with sacred chrism, saying “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The Second Vatican Council relates the responsibility of witnessing to Christ to all those who have been baptized and confirmed:

The apostolate of the laity is a sharing in the salvific mission of the Church. Through Baptism and Confirmation all are appointed to this apostolate by Christ Himself… The laity are given this special vocation: to make the church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth. Every lay person, through the gifts given to him/her is at once the witness and living instrument of the mission of the Church itself…” (Lumen Gentium, “The Constitution on the Church,” 35).

Confirmation completes Baptism, especially with regard to witnessing to one’s faith.

St. Thomas Aquinas compares Baptism and Confirmation with birth and maturity:  “Just as he who is baptized receives the power of testifying to his faith by receiving the other sacrament; so he who is confirmed receives the power of publicly confessing his faith by words” (3a. 72, 5 ad 2).

Thomas’ suggestions why the forehead is anointed may not be customary in our times, yet they illustrate the effect of the sacrament:

In this sacrament man receives the Holy Spirit for strength in spiritual combat that he may bravely confess the Faith of Christ even in face of enemies of that Faith… The forehead, which is hardly ever covered is the most conspicuous part of the human body. Wherefore the confirmed is anointed with chrism on the forehead that he may show publicly that he is a Christian: thus too the apostles after receiving the Holy Ghost showed themselves in public, whereas before they remained hidden. Secondly, man is hindered from freely confessing Christ’s name, by two things – by fear and by shame. Now both these things betray themselves principally on the forehead… Therefore man is signed with chrism, that neither fear nor shame may hinder him from confessing the name of Christ (3a. 72, 9).

Each one of us has received gifts from the Spirit, as St. Paul states: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7).  Each one of us has gifts from the Spirit but these are meant to be shared with others.

Paul advises Timothy “Stir up the grace of God which is in you by the imposition of my hands” (2 Tim 1:6).  Stirring up the grace is compared by Thomas Aquinas to the stirring up of a fire: “For the grace of God is as a fire which, when it is covered over with ashes, gives no light; so is God’s grace covered over with sloth or human fear. Hence the effect of timidity in Timothy’s case was that he ceased preaching” (Commentary on the Second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, 13).

According to Thomas, Paul is urging Timothy “to stir up the grace now dormant.” Paul cautions us: “Extinguish not the Spirit” ( 1 Thess 5:19).

Pope Saint Paul VI wrote a powerful letter on evangelization. He spoke of the silent witness of Christians, whose lives stir up questions: “Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 21).

Eventually, the Pope explains: “The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 22).

Nevertheless, Pope Paul reminds us, even the most eloquent words are still not convincing in themselves: “The first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one’s neighbor with limitless zeal… Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”… (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).

Fear holds us back from doing what God calls us to do. Thomas reflects “One who accepts a post should act in accordance with its demands. Therefore we should serve God according to His gifts” (Commentary on Second Timothy, 14). We can serve God if we rely on His help. Timothy is told to “labor with the Gospel.” Timothy’s confidence will not be in himself, but, as Isaiah declared: “It is He who gives strength to the weary, and increases force and might in them that are not” (Is 40:29).

Paul insists, “God has not given us the spirit of fear” (2 Tim 1:7). Elsewhere Paul says, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is of God” (1 Cor 2:12). Thomas explains that either spirit gives rise to love because “the name ‘spirit’ suggests an impulse; and love impels.” Love is what drives us.

The spirit of the world makes us love the good things of the world. Because of this love, we fear the evils that come with the loss of those things. We fear to lose what we love.

Opposed to this fear is the fear of the Lord, which Thomas describes as “holy” and “from God.” Whereas the other love gives us fear, this love and its fear gives us power (2 Tim 1:7). Thomas attests: “Because by the Holy Spirit we are protected against evils; and this by the virtue of courage against the adversities of the world” (Commentary on Second Timothy, 14). Jesus promised them that they would be “… clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

Paul told Timothy that the spirit he received was a spirit of “love.” Thomas reflects: “We are directed in the good because our loves are put in order by charity, when one refers to God all that he loves… ‘whoever does not love, abides in death’ (1 John 3:14)” When our loves are given order by the holy Spirit, we are not afraid to lose them.

Paul instructs Timothy “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim 1:8). According to Thomas, Timothy has “the spirit of courage,” even if the preaching of Christ might seem like foolishness compared with the wisdom of the world: “We preach Christ crucified, for the Jews a stumbling-block, and for the Gentiles, foolishness” (1 Cor 1:25). Paul himself asserts, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel (Rom 1:16).

Paul informs Timothy: “Hold the form of sound words which you heard of me: in faith and in the love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 1:13). Thomas declares: “The true faith is concerned with the things Christ taught, and true love is found in Christ, who gave the Holy Spirit through whom we love God” (Commentary on Second Timothy, 30).

Timothy is told, “Keep the good things committed to your trust by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us” (2 Tim 1:14). Thomas comments: “…never depart from the truth or give up the office of preaching because of fear” (Commentary on Second Timothy, 31). Our preaching may not be formal preaching but, as Saint Paul VI has said, it is the preaching we do by our lives. The presence of the Spirit is our source of strength: “Know you not that you are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16).

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, which, in this homily, is the third part. Then the question is given. For instance, question 72 and then the article, for instance the 5th. 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 second objection.

Twenty Sixth Sunday – C

Today we see two men; one is very rich and the other is Lazarus, a very poor beggar (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man lives magnificently and the poor man lies at his gate, covered with sores, which the dogs lick. One feasts on good food and drink every day and the other wishes that he had the scraps from the rich man’s table. The Gospel states that the wealthy man was “well off in his life time and Lazarus was in misery.” As the story concludes, we see God’s sympathy for Lazarus, who is taken to heaven while the rich man is sent to hell for his insensitivity and selfishness. As simple as the story is, it manifests the deep truth of God’s attitude towards a society divided between the privileged and the poor.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains that having what is needed for the necessities of life is a human good (1a2ae. 2, 1). However, even though Thomas is not usually given to demeaning language, he describes those who consider that everything obeys money, as “a multitude of fools” (ad multitudinem stultorum), since they know nothing more than life on a material level (1a2ae. 2, 1, ad 1).

As a general principle, according to Thomas, “The common good takes precedence over the private good, in the same category” (2a2ae. 152, 4, ad 3). St. Thomas states: “The temporal goods which God grants us, are ours as to the ownership, but as to the use of them, they belong not to us alone but also to such others as we are able to help out of what we have over and above our needs” (2a2ae. 32, 6, ad 2).

Thomas asserts that not providing necessary help for the poor can be a serious sin: “There is a time when we sin mortally if we omit to give alms; on the part of the recipient when we see that his need is evident and urgent, and that he is not likely to be helped otherwise – on the part of the giver, when he has superfluous goods, which he does not need for the time being, as far as he can judge with probability” (2a2ae. 32, 6, ad 2).

Thomas identifies “going too far in getting or keeping material things” as the sin of “avarice.” Hording in this way is a sin against our neighbors: “With material possessions it is impossible for one man to enjoy extreme wealth without someone else suffering extreme want, since the resources of this world cannot be possessed by many at one time” (2a2ae. 118, 1, ad 2).

  1. C. O’Brien comments: “One cannot but be impressed by the unqualified principle of social and economic justice, so flatly stated in the 13th century, that still remains an unfulfilled, even revolutionary ideal” (Summa Theologiae New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1972, 243, n. b.)

Avarice is a sin against oneself because one’s desires are immoderate. It is a sin against God because “for the sake of an earthly good a person rejects the eternal” (2a2ae. 118, 1, ad 3).

Even many Catholics are unaware of the Church’s critique of social structures that perpetuate systems of injustice and poverty. For over a hundred years, the popes have been calling attention to endemic social injustices. For instance, in 1975, Pope Paul VI spoke of peoples who are condemned  to “remain on the margin of life” because of “famine, chronic disease, illiteracy, poverty, injustices in international relations and especially in commercial exchanges, situations of economic and cultural neo-colonialism sometimes as cruel as the old political colonialism” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 30).

The Pope asked, “How in fact can one proclaim the new commandment without promoting in justice and in peace the true, authentic advancement of man?” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 31). In his letter, Populorum Progressio, in 1967, Paul VI stated clearly that the Church maintains each person’s right to self-fulfillment.

“In God’s plan, every man is born to seek self-fulfillment, for every human life is called to some task by God. At birth a human being possesses certain aptitudes and abilities in germinal form, and these qualities are to be cultivated so that they may bear fruit. By developing these traits through formal education of personal effort, the individual works his way toward the goal set for him by the Creator. Endowed with intellect and free will, each man is responsible for his self-fulfillment even as he is for his salvation” (Populorum Progressio, 15).

In his letter, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI writes:

“Awareness of God’s undying love sustains us in our laborious and stimulating work for justice and the development of peoples, amid successes and failures, in the ceaseless pursuit of a just ordering of human affairs. God’s love calls us to move beyond the limited and the ephemeral, it gives us the courage to continue seeking and working for the benefit of all, even if this cannot be achieved immediately and if what we are able to achieve, alongside political authorities and those working in the field of economics, is always less than we might wish. God gives us the strength to fight and to suffer for love of the common good, because he is our All, our greatest hope” (Caritas in Veritate, 78).

Pope Francis appeals to the teachings of Thomas Aquinas: “One also sees the need for policies which can lighten an excessive imbalance between incomes. We must not

forget the Church’s teaching on the so-called social mortgage, which holds that although it is lawful, as Saint Thomas Aquinas says, and indeed necessary ‘that people have ownership of goods’, insofar as their use is concerned, ‘they possess them as not just their own, but common to others as well, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as themselves’”(December 8, 2013).

Mother Teresa (Saint Teresa of Calcutta) wrote:

“God has identified Himself with the hungry, the sick, the naked, the homeless; hunger not only for bread, but for love, for care, to be somebody to someone … Let each of us … become a true child, a carrier of God’s love, let us love others as God has loved each one of us, for Jesus has said love one another as I have loved you … Therefore, I appeal to every one of your – poor and rich, young and old – to give your hands to serve Christ in His poor and your hearts to love Him in them. … and since love begins at home maybe Christ is hungry, naked, sick or homeless in your own heart, in your family, in your neighbors, in the country you live in, in the world” (Life in the Spirit, pp13-15)

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae give the part of the Summa, such as the first part of the second part. Then the question is given, such as question 2, 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,” such as the reply to the third objection.

Twenty Fifth Sunday – C

Why does God want us to ask for things? Does God change His mind when we keep asking, similar to the way that children change their parents’ minds? Today’s second reading (1 Tim 2:1-8) calls for prayer: “I desire supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people” (1 Tim 2:1).

The Gospels tell us that Jesus prayed: “He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone” (Mt 14:23); “It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12); “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying (Mark 1:35).

Jesus prayed for people: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32); “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message …” (Jn 17:20).

Is prayer necessary? Doesn’t God know what we need? Surely, God can simply give us what we or others need without our asking?

St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that God is already generous to us: “God bestows many things on us out of His liberality, even without our asking for them: but He wishes to bestow certain things on us at our asking for the sake of our good …” (2a2ae. 83, 2, ad 3).

What benefit do we get from asking for things? Thomas answers: “… we may acquire confidence in having recourse to God and we may recognize in Him the Author of our goods” (2a2ae. 83, 2, ad 3).

Developing the habit of bringing our needs to God and recognizing that God is the source of good things is to our benefit.

Thomas explains that God, in His providence, may act directly in our lives but usually God works through “secondary causes,” which can be people or things whose intervention is moved by God: “Divine providence disposes not only that effects shall take place but also from what causes and in what order the effects shall proceed. Now among other causes human acts are the causes of certain effects” (2a2ae. 83, 2).

Our actions bring about certain effects, according to His Providence: “Men do certain actions, not that they may change the divine disposition but that by these actions they may achieve certain effects according to the order of the Divine disposition …” (2a2ae. 83, 2).

Prayer is a good example of secondary causes bringing about effects: “And so it is regard to prayer. For we pray, not that we may change the Divine disposition, but that we may implement what God has disposed to be fulfilled by our prayer” (2a2ae. 83, 2). In God’s Providence, our prayer cooperates with God’s desires.

Through prayer, we bring our concerns to God: “We need to pray to God, not in order to make known to Him our needs or desires, but that we ourselves may be reminded of the necessity of having recourse to God’s help in these matters” (2a2ae. 83, 2, ad 1).

In his Commentary on the First Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, Thomas emphasizes the importance of prayer in overcoming our temptations and in persevering in good: “Paul shows that among all the things necessary for a Christian life the most important is prayer, which is powerful against the dangers of temptation and helpful toward making progress in the good: ‘The continual prayer of a just man avails much’ (Jas 5:16)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, 56).

Thomas points out that the first three types of prayer described in First Timothy, “supplications, prayer, intercessions,” (1 Tim 2:1) are ways of asking God’s help. Thomas notes that when people ask for a favor, they offer a reason why it should be granted. The best way of asking God for something is to ask His mercy: “in the case of prayer, this is not our merits but God’s mercy.”

We don’t ask that our prayers should be answered because we are good but because God is good. Thomas recalls words from the Book of Daniel: “It is not for our justifications that we present our prayers before Your face, but for the multitude of Your tender mercies” (Dan 9:18). Thomas offers an example, the frequently used prayer: ‘By Your Passion and Cross, deliver us, O Lord” (Commentary, 57).

Thomas reminds us that prayer is sacred: “This sacred thing is a cause of salvation… This is why prayer is required because it is the ascent of the mind to God … We do not intend to bend God’s will, which is always prepared to do good, rather, it is in order that our heart may be elevated to God in prayer” (Commentary, 57).

Thomas insists that God’s will “is always prepared to do good.” Prayer is our “ascent,” our lifting of our minds to God that “elevates” our hearts to God as well.

Thomas notes that the fourth type of prayer mentioned by First Timothy is “thanksgiving,” recalling another passage of Scripture: “In all things, give thanks” (2 Thess 5:18).

First Timothy teaches that we should pray for “all people” (1 Tim 2:1). According to Thomas, “By praying we give voice to our desires. But charity requires that we desire good for all to whom our charity extends’ (Commentary, 58).

First Timothy affirms that praying for all is “a good and acceptable thing” (1 Tim 2:3). Thomas comments that prayer for others is good “because it is an act of charity” and as offered to God, “it could be offered only under charity” (Commentary, 61, 62).

First Timothy instructs that “God wills that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). Thomas says that God “offers to all the precepts, counsels and remedies required for salvation” (Commentary, 62).

Thomas counsels that God wants us to desire the salvation of all: “God is said to make something because He makes others do it: ‘the Spirit asks for the saints’ (Rom 8:27), that is, He causes them to ask. In this way God wills this because He makes His saints will that all people be saved” (Commentary, 62).

God wills that all people “come to the knowledge of truth.” For Thomas, “Salvation depends on knowing the truth, ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free’ (Jn 8:32)” (Commentary, 62).

First Timothy declares there is “one mediator of God and people, the man Jesus Christ” (1 Tim 2:5). Thomas remarks, “… not of some people but of all; and this would not be true, unless He willed all to be saved” (Commentary, 64).

According to Thomas, a “mediator” is between two extremes, as Christ is between God and people, “inasmuch as He is God and inasmuch as He is a man; because a mediator should have something common to both extremes, and these are man and God” (Commentary, 64).

Since a mediator is between the two, a mediator is different from each but the Son is different from the Father only in His humanity. God is just and immortal. We are unjust and mortal. The devil seeks to keep the extremes apart, “but Christ is a medium who joins, because He is just and mortal, and by His death joins us to the God of justice: ‘He is the propitiation for our sins’ (1 Jn 2:2)” (Commentary, 64).

First Timothy asserts that Christ “gave Himself as a redemption for all” (1 Tim 2:6).

Thomas adds that for all Christ’s action is “sufficient,” in that it has the power to save all but it is not “efficacious” because not all accept it: “The price of His blood is sufficient for the salvation of all but because of obstacles it does not take effect…” (Commentary, 64).

Paul was appointed “a preacher and an apostle… a doctor of the gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Tim 2:7). Thomas comments “The work of this office is to preach the truth; for this is the duty of preachers, namely to preach the truth” (Commentary, 69). Thomas recalls the words of Scripture: “My mouth shall meditate the truth” (Prov 8:7) and “speak the truth” (Eph 4:25).

Thomas grants that every teaching has partial truth, “There is no doctrine that does not have some truth; and the reason why some doctrines are condemned is that they mix falsity with truth” (Commentary, 69). The preacher preaches the full truth.

First Timothy charges: “I will that people pray in every place, lifting up pure hands, without anger and contention” (1 Tim 2:8). Thomas notes: “A person can pray spiritually and mentally everywhere.”

Still, Christ rebuked the Pharisees for praying on street corners. Thomas explains: “Mental prayer can be performed anywhere but the external signs of prayer should not be performed everywhere because a person should not appear singular in his outward actions because of the danger of doing them out of vain glory” (Commentary, 71).

To the objection that people might not need churches if we can pray anywhere, Thomas replies: “It is not because the place is necessary for prayer but for the convenience of the one who prays, that is, to have solitude and quiet” (Commentary, 71).

First Timothy spoke of “lifting up pure hands.” Thomas comments that external signs are meant to stir up the affections: “Genuflections and the like are not of themselves pleasing to God, but only because of them, as by signs of humility, a person is internally humble; just as lifting up the hands indicates that the heart has been lifted up” (Commentary, 72).

First Timothy affirms that prayer should be “without anger and contention” (1 Tim 2:8). Thomas comments: “The mind should be without anger, which disquiets the soul to inflict harm upon one’s neighbor, whereas the mind of the one praying should be free of this…we should not contend against our neighbor or break the peace with him through contention; for peace is necessary for the man who prays” (Commentary, 73).

Thomas reminds us of the words of Jesus on union with others: “If two of you consent upon earth concerning anything whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by My Father” (Mt 18:19).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References are to Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First 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), pp. 261-270.

References to St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae give the part of the Summa, which, in this case, is the second part of the second part (2a2ae or II,II). Then the question is given, which here is question 83 and then the article. If the reference is from Thomas response to an objection, the number of the objection is added, with the Latin word, ad, meaning “to.” An example would be 2a2ae. 83, 2, ad 3).