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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

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