Mary, Mother of God – C

The second reading for the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Gal 4:4-7). The passage begins: “When the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). This is the first mention of Mary in the New Testament.
Luke speaks similarly: “Her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered” (Luke 2:6). Thomas reflects that this time was “fixed by God … This time is called “full” because of the fullness of the graces that are given in it” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
This time is also “full” because of “the fulfillment of the figures of the Old Law: ‘I am not come to destroy but to fulfill’” (Mt 5:17).
Thomas comments: “Since He that was to come was great, it was fitting that men be made ready for His coming by many indications and many preparations. ‘God, who, at varied times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all in these days hath spoken to us by His Son’ (Heb 1: 1) (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Thomas explains that, since Jesus was coming as the “physician,” people should know their infirmity of knowledge through the law of nature and their lack of virtue through the written Law (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Thomas comments on the paradox: “The time in which Christ was humiliated and in which the faithful were exalted turns out to be the same” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
God sent His Son: “God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). What was unusual about this “sending” is that the Son remained with the Father: “… without His being separated from Him, for He was sent by assuming human nature, and yet He was in the bosom of the Father: ‘The only begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father’ eternally (Jn 1:18)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
The Son came to where He already was: “He sent Him, not to be where before He Was not; because, although He came unto His own by His presence in the flesh, yet by the presence of His Godhead, He was in the world, as is said in John (1:14)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
The Son’s mission was taking our flesh: “His mission was the assuming of flesh” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians). He sent the Son to heal our concupiscence and to enlighten our ignorance. He came to deliver us from death: “I will deliver them out of the hand of death. I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy death”’ (Hos. 13:14).
Jesus came to save us from our sins: “For God sent not His Son into the world to judge the world but that the world may be saved by Him” (Jn 3:17).
Paul tells us that the Son was “born of a woman.” Isaiah had foretold: “For a child is born to us” (Is 9:6) and Paul affirmed: “He emptied Himself taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). Thomas reflects: “He made Himself small not by putting off greatness, but by taking on smallness” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Thomas understands Paul’s words as a refutation of the fourth-century heretic Photinus, who denied the Incarnation and Christs divinity: “This contradicts what is said in Romans (1:3): ‘Who was made to Him of the seed of David, according to the flesh; he does not say ‘according to His person,’ which exists from eternity, namely, the hypostasis of the Son of God” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Thomas insists: “From the fact that the Son of God newly assumed flesh, it is not proper to say that the person of Christ newly came to be, but that a human nature newly accrued to that person … The person of the Word is in no way changed by it” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Thomas believes that this passage in Galatians contradicts the early Jewish Ebionites who believed that Jesus was the son of Joseph. Nestorius, a fifth-century patriarch of Constantinople, emphasized the distinction between the divinity and the humanity of Christ so much that he failed to recognize, as the Council of Ephesus affirmed (431), that the Son was one person, the eternal Son of God, who was took a human nature in the womb of Mary.
Thomas insists: “God sent his Son born of a woman. Now one who is made of a woman is her son. Therefore, if the Son of God was made of a woman, namely, of the Blessed Virgin, it is obvious that the Blessed Virgin is the Mother of the Son of God” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Paul writes that the Son was “born under the Law” but Paul also asserts: “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal 5:18).
Thomas explains that “Christ is not only spiritual but the giver of the Spirit … I answer that ‘to be under the Law’ can be taken … so that ‘under’ denotes the mere observance of the Law, and in this sense Christ was made under the Law, because He was circumcised and presented in the temple: ‘I am not come to destroy but to fulfill’ (Mt 5:17)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Christ frees us and makes us great: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (Gal 3:13). Secondly, the fruit of being made great, inasmuch as we are adopted as sons of God by receiving the Spirit of God and being conformed to Him: ‘Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His’ (Rom 8:9). This adoption belongs in a special way to Christ, because we cannot become adopted sons unless we are conformed to the natural son: ‘For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son’ (Rom 8:29). With this in mind, he says, that we might receive the adoption of sons, i.e., that through the natural Son of God we might be made adopted sons according to grace through Christ” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Paul continues: “And, because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying: ‘Abba, Father.’ Therefore, now he is not a servant, but a son. And, if a son, an heir also through God” (Gal 4:6-7)
Thomas understands that Paul includes not just the Jews but also the Gentiles as “Sons of God”: “He says therefore that the gift of adoption of sons pertains not only to those who were under the Law but to the Gentiles as well. Hence he says: because you are sons of God, i.e., you are the sons of God, because not only the Jews but all others who believe in the Son of God are adopted as sons: ‘He gave them power to be made sons of God, to them that believe in His name’ (Jn 1:12) (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
The sending of the Spirit into our hearts makes us children of God: “The manner in which that gift is obtained is by the sending of the Spirit of the Son of God into our hearts” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Thomas believes that Paul emphasized the role of the Spirit in making the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, children of God: “They were united to Him through the Spirit and thereby adopted and made sons of God. Hence the conversion of the Gentiles is in ‘a special way’ attributed to the Holy Spirit. Consequently, Peter, when he was blamed by the Jews for going to preach to the Gentiles, excused himself through the Holy Spirit, saying (Acts 11) that he could not resist the Holy Spirit by Whose inspiration he had done this. And so, because God the Father sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, i.e., the hearts of the Jews and Gentiles, we are united to Christ and by that fact are adopted as sons of God” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Thomas notes that the Son is often associated with the sending of the Spirit by the Father:
• “The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name” (Jn 14:26).
• “But when the Paraclete comes, whom I will send you from the Father” (Jn 15:26).
Thomas reflects: “The Holy Spirit is none the less common to Father and Son and proceeds from Both and is sent by Both. Accordingly, wherever it is said that the Father sends the Holy Spirit, mention is made of the Son … and where He is said to be sent by the Son, mention is made of the Father” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Thomas continues: “Nor does it matter that at times the Holy Spirit is only said to proceed from the Father, for the fact that the Son sends Him shows that He proceeds from Him. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of the Son as of the One sending and as of the One from Whom He proceeds, as well as of the One from Whom the Holy Spirit has whatever He has, just as of the Father: ‘He shall glorify Me, because He shall receive of mine’ (Jn 16:14)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Thomas observes with regard to the Spirit being “sent into our hearts” that, in physical generation, a small seed “contains in effect the whole.” By comparison: “The other is spiritual, which comes about by spiritual seed transmitted to the place of spiritual generation, i.e., man’s mind or heart, because they are born sons of God through a renewal of the mind. Furthermore, the spiritual seed is the grace of the Holy Spirit” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Thomas explains: “This seed contains, in effect, the whole perfection of beatitude; “I will put a new spirit within you” (Ez 36:26).
Thomas observes:
“Crying, i.e., making us cry, Abba, Father, not with a loudness of voice but with a great fervor of love. For we cry, Abba, Father, when our affections are kindled by the warmth of the Holy Spirit to desire God: ‘You have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry, Abba (Father)’ (Rom 8:15). Abba in Hebrew and Pater in Greek have the same meaning of “father.” And he makes mention of both to show that the grace of the Holy Spirit, as such, is related in a common way to both” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Paul declares: “Therefore, now you are not a servant, but a son” (Gal 4:7). This is the “fruit of this gift,” first by removing all evil, freeing us, “from which we are freed through adoption by the Holy Spirit. This is freedom from bondage” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Thomas identifies the effects of the Spirit within us: “The Spirit cries ‘Father’ in us, now, from the time of grace, he, i.e., each one of us who believes in Christ, is not a servant, i.e., serving in fear—‘I will not now call you servants but friends’ (Jn 15:15); ‘You have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear: but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons’ (Rom 8:15)—but a son: ‘For the Spirit himself gives testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God’ (Rom 8:16).
In a certain sense we are “servants”: “… but we are good and faithful servants, serving out of love. For that reason we obtain freedom through the Son: ‘If, therefore, the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed’ (Jn 8:36)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
If we are children, we are “heirs,” which is “its effect of attaining every good”: “And if sons, heirs also: heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17). “Now this inheritance is the fullness of all good, for it is nothing other than God Himself, according to Psalm (15:5): ‘The Lord is the portion of my inheritance.’”
What the Jews receive through the promises made to their fathers, “… the Gentiles too received it through God, i.e., through the mercy of God: ‘But the Gentiles are to glorify God for his mercy’ (Rom 15:9). Or, through God, i.e., through the working of God: ‘Thou hast wrought all our works for us, O Lord’ (Is 26:12)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians).
Today is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. At the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit was sent to Mary and she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary waited with the apostles and other disciples in the upper room for the gift of the Spirit (Acts 1:14). Mary was the “woman” of whom the Son of God was born. Mary teaches us how to receive the Son and the Spirit who are given to us.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Letter of Paul to the Galatians may be found on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/

Holy Family – C

How do animals know how to care for their young? Distinct varieties of birds make distinct nests. Birds sit on their eggs, find food for their young and teach them to fly.

A chicken egg needs to be turned, or the chicken will stick to one side of the egg. Hens usually sit quietly on their eggs, but at certain points in the day, the hen will fuss over the eggs, turning them with her beak. How does the hen know that this is important?

When a rabbit is about to give birth she pulls out her fur and makes a blanket. When the rabbits are born she covers them under the blanket. How does the mother rabbit know to do this?

Some male birds protect their young, in the early stages. Male swans remain with the females and the young.

When St. Thomas Aquinas considers natural indications of God, he calls attention to what can be observed in nature, “Things act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. It is plain that not by chance, by design, do they achieve their end” (1a. 2, 3).

St. Thomas comments: “God takes care of all things … He provides for all things according to their natures” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, 29)

With humans, the instincts to care for the young are perfected by intelligence. Human parents continue to nurture their children since human maturity involves many aspects, as Thomas notes, “The child requires the father’s direction for a long time” (Summa Contra Gentiles, 123, 4).

Husbands and wives provide the young with a home and an emotional base, which is built on the parents’ love for each other. Thomas Aquinas speaks of the “greatest friendship” of the parents for each other: “The greater that friendship is, the more solid and long-lasting will it be. There seems to be the greatest friendship between husband and wife, for they are united not only in bodily union … but also in the partnership of the whole range of domestic activity” (Summa Contra Gentiles, 123, 6)

In today’s Gospel, Luke 2:41-52, we see the “holy family,” Jesus with His mother Mary and foster father, Joseph. We are told that Jesus was “obedient to them” (Lk 2:51).

We might think that family life is not a priority for the New Testament. It is true that Jesus told His disciples” “He who loves father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me” (Mt 10:37).
Love for God must be the priority. Thomas reflects: “You ought to obey him whenever he does not withdraw you from the love of God; but whenever he withdraws you, you are not held to obey him” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, 10:37).

The twelve-year old Jesus surprised His own parents by responding to Mary’s concern: “Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” (Lk 2:50). Jesus had a unique relationship with His Father, which had to be primary in His life.

Generally, in God’s providence, love for the family is important, as St. Thomas states, “The affection of charity, which is the inclination of grace, is no less orderly than the natural appetite, which is the inclination of nature, flow from the divine wisdom” (2a.2ae. 26, 6).

Thomas affirms: “By the inclination of charity, a person loves more those who are more closely united to him, for he is under a greater obligation to bestow on them the effect of charity” (2a.2ae. 26, 13).

Thomas explains: “We ought out of charity to love those who are more closely united to us … because our love for them is more intense and there are more reasons for loving them (2a.2ae. 26, 8).

Thomas reflects on parents’ love for their children: “Parents love their children as being part of themselves… parents have loved their children longer… the longer love lasts the stronger it is” (2a.2ae. 26, 9).

Thomas reflects on this parental love: “… inasmuch as someone adheres longer to someone, so much the more is he rooted in love for him … It is natural that everything loves what has been made by itself” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, 10:37)

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew may be found on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/

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

.

Christmas – C

Many people who celebrate Christmas aren’t sure why. The Christmas season is a time for being with family, sharing good meals, sending greetings, exchanging gifts, and for decorations even on the most secular establishments, such as banks. Why? Probably, even those of us who are “religious” rarely think about the real significance of this feast.

In the Gospel for Christmas midnight Mass, the angels call the shepherds to rejoice: “Behold, I bring you news of great joy which will come to all the people, for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

What difference would the birth, even of a Savior, make for the shepherds, who the next night and every night that afterwards will be doing the same thing, “out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Lk 2:8)?

Yet, their lives would be different. The angels declared “for to you is born a savior.”

St. Thomas Aquinas states that Jesus was born to manifest God’s goodness to us: “It belongs to the essence of the highest good to communicate itself in the highest manner to the creature…” (3a. 1, 1).

Thomas continues: “It was fitting that God, by reason of His infinite goodness, should unite human flesh to Himself for man’s salvation” (3a. 1, 1, ad 1).

Even if the shepherds would spend their whole lives watching sheep, they would know that God loved humanity and that God had singled them out to manifest this love.

Thomas considers other reasons for the Incarnation and birth of Jesus, derived from St. Augustine:

• ‘What greater cause is there of the Lord’s coming than to show God’s love for us?’ And he afterwards adds: ‘If we have been slow to love, at least let us hasten to love in return.’
• ‘And therefore God was made human, that He might be seen by humans, and we might follow.”
• ‘With regard to the full participation of the Divinity, which is the true bliss of man and end of human life; and this is bestowed upon us by Christ’s humanity; for Augustine says in a sermon: ‘God was made man, that man might be made God’ (3a. 1, 2).

Thomas Aquinas states: “He was made known to men of all conditions… the shepherds were simple and lowly” (3a. 36. 3). We might equate “simple and lowly” as unimportant. Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth that their ideas about people are not God’s ideas:

“For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and He chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important. This means that no one can boast in God’s presence.” (1 Cor 1:26-29).

Thomas thinks that Paul’s words should encourage preachers: “For inasmuch as God did not subject the world to His faith by employing the great ones of the world but the lowly ones, man cannot boast that the world was saved by employing worldly greatness… Furthermore, it pertains to God’s glory to draw the great of the world by means of the lowly” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 68).

From the beginning of His ministry, Jesus worked with ordinary people, such as His apostles: “You have been called not by the great of this world but by the lowly; consequently, your conversion should not be attributed to men but to God. In other words, He is the source of your life, i.e., by God’s power are you called in Christ Jesus, i.e., joined to Him by grace: ‘We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works’ (Eph 2:10)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 68).

Christ is the wisdom of His ministers, despite their human limitations: “God supplies for the deficiencies of His preachers by means of Christ: first, as to their lack of wisdom: God made for us, who preach the faith, and by us unto all the faithful, Christ, our wisdom, because by adhering to Him Who is the wisdom of God and by partaking of Him through grace, we have been made wise; and this is our God, Who gave Christ to us, as it says in Jn (6:44): ‘No man can come to Me, except the Father who has sent Me draw him’ (Jn 6:44) (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 71).
Our coming to God is not due to human power or wisdom but the grace of God: “Let him that glories, glory in this that he understands and knows e” (Jer 9:24), For he is saying: If man’s salvation does not spring from any human greatness but solely from God’s power, the glory belongs not to man but to God, as it says in Ps 115 (v. 1); “Not to us, O Lord, not to us; but to Your name give glory” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 72).
The shepherds represent all of us, as we go about our ordinary lives. The birth of the Son of God into our world tells us that our ordinary lives are important to God and even as ordinary as we might seem to be, we are loved. God acts through us, even though we have our limitations and deficiencies.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians may be found on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/

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

Fourth Sunday of Advent – C

When did Jesus first come into the world? This Sunday’s second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, 10:5-10, identifies a certain point in time, “When Jesus came into the world …” Most believers would probably assume that Jesus began to be in the world at the time of the Incarnation, that is, when He took our flesh.

 However, we would be inadvertently forgetting that Jesus, as the eternal Son, has been in relationship with the world from its beginning. The Letter to the Colossians states: “For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Col 1:16). The Letter to the Romans similarly declares: For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things(Rom 11:36). The First Letter to the Corinthians also asserts: “… the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:6).

The Gospel of John maintains that Jesus was always “in” the world: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him” (Jn 1:10). St. Thomas Aquinas observes: “He was in the world ruling the world, inasmuch as He is said to be in all things by His essence, presence and power” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, 485).

Could the Son have been “in the world” but also “come into the world”? Thomas explains: “He is outside the world, because He is not comprehended by the world, but He has a goodness separated from the entire world, by which the goodness of the universe is caused. Yet, because He assumed a human nature for us, He is said to enter into the world” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, 485). There are times when we also do not “comprehend” His presence or recognize that the Son is the “cause” of the goodness in the world.

This Sunday’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews uses the words of Psalm 40:7-9 to describe the Son’s purpose in taking our nature: “Behold I have come to do Your will, O God” (Heb 10:7, 9).

The letter to the Hebrews compares Jesus’ doing the will of the Father to the Old Testament sacrifices as reflected in Psalm 40: “Sacrifice and offering You do not desire” (Ps 40:6). God rebukes the sacrifices as well: “What to Me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats” (Is 1:11).

Hebrews, and surely the Psalmist as well, recognize that the “offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings are offered according to the law” (Heb 10:8).

Thomas raises the question: “If God did not want them, why did He command them to be offered?” (Commentary on Hebrews, 486)? According to Thomas, God no longer wanted such sacrifices once the Son entered the world: “The truth coming, the shadow should cease” (Commentary on Hebrews, 488). During the time of the Old Testament, religious people offered sacrifices that served as representations of themselves. Jesus offered His own self.

Thomas explains that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were a preparation for Christ’s offering of Himself: “They are said to be accepted … because they were a figure of Christ whose Passion was accepted by God, for He was not pleased with the killing of animals but in faith in His Passion” (Commentary on Hebrews, 488).

The Old Testament sacrifices are often understood as the immolation of animals, as substitution for the punishment that the humans deserve. The Dominican biblical scholar, Roland DeVaux, explains that this is not actually the meaning of such sacrifices: “On the contrary, it was a victim pleasing to God, and He, in consideration of this offering, took away the sin” (Ancient Israel, vol. 2, 419). The animals were not victims on whom punishment was inflicted but gifts offered to God.

The Old Testament contains prescriptions which detailed what was required for such a gift that could restore friendship with God. According to Exodus, the paschal lamb had to be “without blemish” (Ex 12:5). 

Thomas Aquinas proposes the situation where a person has offended another and seeks to offer a gift to please the offended person: “He properly atones for an offense who offers something which the offended one loves equally, or even more than he detested the offense” (3a. 48, 2). 

Thomas emphasizes that Jesus’ “love and obedience” are the basis of Jesus’ self-gift:

“But by suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race. First of all, because of the exceeding charity, from which he suffered; secondly, on account of the dignity of His life which He laid down in atonement for man; thirdly, on account of the extent of the Passion, and the greatness of the grief endured. And therefore Christ’s Passion was not only a sufficient but a superabundant atonement for the sins of the human race; according to 1 John 2:2, ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world’” (3a. 48, 2).  

We may wonder why the Church has selected this passage from the Letter to the Hebrews on the Sunday before Christmas. It might seem more appropriately placed in Holy Week. However, it is not only Jesus’ suffering and death but also Jesus’ Incarnation itself that reflect Jesus’ desire to do “will of God.” 

The Letter to the Hebrews makes clear that Jesus’ very entrance into the world was God’s will: “Behold I have come to do Your will, O God” (Heb 10:7). 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption comes to us above all, through the blood of His cross, but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life: already in His Incarnation through which by becoming poor He enriches us with His poverty” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 517). 

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P. 

References to Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews may be found on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ 

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

Third Sunday of Advent – C

“Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say, rejoice! The Lord is near” These words are from today’s second reading (Phil 4:4-7) are also the “Entrance Antiphon,” that opens today’s Liturgy. Traditionally, the Third Sunday of Advent was known as Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word to “rejoice.” The reason for rejoicing is that “the Lord is near.” The Lord’s nearness certainly applies to the upcoming celebration of Christmas.

As we know, Christmas is more than a celebration of an event in the past but the increase of the presence of Christ in our lives. St. Thomas Aquinas considers joy a sign of spiritual progress: “When Paul says, Rejoice in the Lord, he urges them to make more progress… Anyone who desires to make progress must have spiritual joy” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians)

Thomas recalls the words of the Book of Proverbs: “A cheerful heart is a good medicine” (Prov. 17:22). Thomas reflects that the first “characteristic of true joy: is that “It must be right, this happens when it concerns the proper good of man, which is not something created, but God: ‘But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge’ (Ps. 73:28). Therefore, it is right, when there is joy in the Lord; hence he says, in the Lord: ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Neh.8:10)” (Commentary on Philippians).

Thomas notes that Paul declares: “Rejoice always!” as he also does in First Thessalonians 5:16. Thomas explains that a second characteristic of joy is that “It is continuous.” Sin interrupts continuous joy and, at times, sadness affects one’s joy. Thomas believes that such interruptions are signs that joy is imperfect: “… sadness … signifies the imperfection of joy. For when a person rejoices perfectly, his joy is not interrupted, because he cares little about things that do not last; that is why he says always” (Commentary on Philippians).

For Thomas, the reasons for joy are multiple. Thomas immediately thinks of the upcoming celebration: “If you rejoice in God, you will rejoice in His incarnation: [the angel announced to the shepherds] ‘I bring you good news of a great joy, which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior’ (Lk. 2: 10)” (Commentary on Philippians).  

Thomas thinks we may rejoice “in your own activity and in your contemplation… Again, if you rejoice in your good, you will be prepared to rejoice in the good of others” (Commentary on Philippians).  

We rejoice in the present and in the future: “If you rejoice in the present, you are prepared to rejoice in the future; hence he says, again I will say, rejoice” (Commentary on Philippians).   

Paul instructs: “Everyone should see how unselfish you are” (Phil 4:5).

Thomas affirms: “The fourth characteristic of joy is that it be ‘moderate’: He says, let all men know, as if to say: Your life should be so moderate in externals, that it offends the gaze of no one; for that would hinder your manner of life” (Commentary on Philippians).   

Paul proclaims: “The Lord is near” (Phil 4:5). Thomas comments:

“Then when he says, the Lord is at hand, he touches on the cause of joy. For a man rejoices when his friend is near. But the Lord is near with the presence of His majesty: ‘He is not far from each one of us’ (Acts 17:27); He is also near in His flesh: ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ’ (Eph. 2:13). Again He is near through indwelling grace: ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you’ (Jas. 4:8); and by His clemency in hearing: ‘The Lord is near to all who call upon him’ (Ps. 145:18); and by His reward: ‘Its time is close at hand and its days will not be prolonged’ (Is. 13:22)” (Commentary on Philippians).   

Paul announces: “Have no anxiety” (Phil 4:6).

Thomas reflects: “Then when he says, have no anxiety, he shows that our minds should be at rest: first, that anxiety is uncalled for … It was fitting to add have no anxiety [solicitude] after saying that the Lord is at hand. As if to say: He will grant everything; hence there is no need to be anxious: ‘Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on’ (Mt. 6:25)” (Commentary on Philippians).   

Thomas realizes that people become anxious about their responsibilities: “This seems to be contrary to what is stated in Romans (12:8): ‘He that rules, [do so] with solicitude.’ I answer that anxiety or solicitude sometimes suggests diligence in seeking what is lacking; and this is commendable and opposed to negligence” (Commentary on Philippians).   

However, there is an anxiety which is not good: “Sometimes it suggests anxiety of spirit with a lack of hope and with the fear of not obtaining that about which one is anxious. Such anxiety the Lord forbids in Matthew (6:25), because no one should despair, as though the Lord will not grant what is necessary” (Commentary on Philippians).    

Paul tells us to present our concerns to the Lord: “Present you needs to God in every form of prayer and in petitions full of gratitude” (Phil 4:6).

Thomas remarks: “In place of anxiety we should have recourse to God: ‘Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you’ (1 Pet. 5:7). And this is done by praying; hence he says, but in everything let your requests be made known to God” (Commentary on Philippians).    

Thomas considers the appropriateness of making prayer to the Lord who is near: (Commentary on Philippians). “It is fitting, after he says the Lord is at hand, to speak of petition, for it is customary to make petitions of a new lord on his arrival” (Commentary on Philippians).    

Thomas describes the necessary requirements for prayer:

“First, that prayer implies the ascent of the mind to God; therefore he says, by prayer: ‘The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds, and he will not be consoled until it reaches the Lord; he will not desist until the Most High visits him’ (Si. 35:17).”

“Secondly, it should be accompanied by confidence of obtaining, and this from God’s mercy: ‘We do not present our supplications before thee on the ground of our righteousness, but on the grounds of thy great mercy’ (Dan. 9:18); therefore, he says, and supplication, which is an appeal to God’s grace and holiness; hence it is the prayer of a person humbling himself: ‘The poor use entreaties’ (Prov. 18:23). We do this when we say: ‘Through your passion and cross…’”

Thirdly, because a person who is ungrateful for past benefits does not deserve to receive new ones, he adds, with thanksgiving: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances’ (1 Thess. 5:18).”

“Fourthly, prayer is a petition; so he says, let your requests be made known to God: “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matt. 7:7)” (Commentary on Philippians).     

Thomas affirms that these four aspects are found in the prayers of the Church: “If we reflect, we will notice that all the prayers of the Church contain these four marks: first of all, God is invoked; secondly, the divine benefits are thankfully acknowledged; thirdly, a benefit is requested; and finally, the supplication is made: ‘Through our Lord….’” (Commentary on Philippians).    

Paul declares: “Then God’s own peace, which is beyond understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).

Thomas recalls that Augustine spoke of peace as the “tranquility of order.” Peace can be found in holy people: “It flows into saintly men: the holier he is, the less his mind is disturbed: ‘Great peace have those who love thy law’ (Ps. 119:165)…” (Commentary on Philippians).    

God gives peace: “Now because God alone can deliver the heart from all disturbance, it is necessary that it come from Him; hence he says, of God: and this, inasmuch as peace considered in that source passes all created understandingAnd the peace, therefore, will keep your hearts, i.e., your affections, so that you will never depart from the good in anything: ‘Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life’ (Prov. 4:23); and your minds, so that they not deviate from the truth in anything. And this, in Christ Jesus, by whose love your affections are kept from evil and by whose faith your mind continues in the truth” (Commentary on Philippians).    

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

 

References to Thomas’ Commentary on the Letter of Paul to the Philippians may be found on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/

Second Sunday of Advent – C

Paul expresses his affection for the Christians at Philippi, as we see in today’s second reading (Phil 1:4-6, 8-11). He confides to them that he is: “… constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you” (Phil 1:4).

Why is Paul especially moved by these Christians? Paul speaks of their kononia, that is, their “participation” or “sharing” in the Gospel from the very first day.

St. Thomas Aquinas describes this as their “communication” of the Gospel: “You share in the doctrine of the Gospel by believing and fulfilling it in work; for this is true partnership” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians). In other words, the Christians were evangelizing, sharing their faith with others.    

Paul asserts: “I am sure of this much: that He who has begun the good work in you will carry it through to completion …” (Phil 1:6).

Thomas points out that “God has begun this good work”: “This is by God’s power … ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing’ (Jn. 15:5)… the principle in us of every good work is to think of it, and this itself is from God: ‘Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God’ (2 Cor. 3:5)” (Commentary on Philippians).

Paul reminds them that God will support them “right up to the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). Paul assured the Corinthians: “He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8).

Paul describes his prayer for them: “My prayer is that your love may more and more abound” (Phil 1:9).

Thomas reflects: “The interior affections are perfected by charity; therefore, if one lacks charity, he should desire to obtain it; if he has it, he should desire that it be made perfect. Hence he says, that your love may abound more and more. God is the one from whom an increase of charity should be sought, because God is the only one who works this in us … Hence it is necessary that we pray for it” (Commentary on Philippians).

Thomas recalls Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).

Paul prays that their love may abound in understanding and perception (Phil 1:9).

 Thomas questions: “But does knowledge arise from charity? It seems so, because it is stated, ‘But the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as His anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie’ (1 John 2:27):

 Furthermore, Thomas reflects: “Charity is the Spirit, of whom it is said, ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth’ (Jn 16:13):  The reason for this is that when a person has a habit, if that habit is right, then right judgment of things pertaining to that habit follows from it; but if it is corrupted, then false judgment follows. Thus, the temperate person has good judgment in regard to sex, but an intemperate person does not, having a false judgment” (Commentary on Philippians).  

 Thomas emphasizes the importance of charity: “Now all things that are done by us must be informed with charity. Therefore, a person with charity has a correct judgment both in regard to things knowable; hence he says, with knowledge, by which one recognizes the truth and adheres to the truths of faith” (Commentary on Philippians). 

 Thomas says that a person is called “sensible” because he or she is able “to judge correctly and quickly about the proper object of sense… the internal judgment of reason” (Commentary on Philippians). 

 This discernment goes beyond identifying good and evil: “… This discernment should be able not only to recognize, but also to distinguish between, good and evil, and between good and better; hence he says, so that you may approve what is excellent”(Commentary on Philippians).   

 Paul encouraged the Christians at Corinth: “Earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31) and in “Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Cor 15:1).

 Paul prays that the Christians may have “a clear conscience and blameless conduct so that you may learn to value the things that really matter” (Phil 1:10). Paul urged the Corinthians that they also have a good conscience and have: “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:8).

 The Christians should be blameless: “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do” (1 Cor. 10:32); “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry” (2 Cor. 6:3).

 Paul expresses his hope: “It is my wish that you may be rich in the harvest of justice, which Jesus Christ has ripened in you, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:11).

 Thomas comments: “As to the effects of grace Paul says, filled with the fruits of righteousness. Good works are the fruit: ‘The return (fruit) you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life’ (Rom. 6:22). Or, the fruits of righteousness, i.e., the reward of justice, namely, the crown: ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness’ (2 Tim. 4:8) …This is obtained through Jesus Christ, because all that we do is good through Him. ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing’ (Jn. 15:5). Furthermore, these things must be done for this end, to the glory and praise of God, because God is glorified by the works of the saints, since they cause other people to break out in praise of God” (Commentary on Philippians). 

 Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

 References to Thomas’ Commentary on the Letter of Paul to the Philippians may be found on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/