Corpus Christi – C

Paul declares that he heard from the “Lord” Himself what Jesus did at His last supper (1 Cor 11:23). Scholars place Jesus’ death in the year 30 and Paul’s conversion three years later, in 33. Paul speak of Jesus last supper as the “supper of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:20)
If the “Lord” told Paul about His actions at the last supper, they must be of utmost importance because the Risen Jesus didn’t transmit to Paul trivial information. Paul says that he himself “handed on” this message, which he considers to be part of the core of the “good news.”
St. Leo the Great (461) has said, “What was visible in Christ has passed into the sacraments of the Church.” Paul says that Jesus did this “on the night in which He was betrayed.” His actions at the supper are related to His coming Passion and death.
St. Thomas Aquinas observes “It was especially suitable that He institute in His own person this sacrament, in which His body and blood are communicated. Hence He Himself says in John (6:52): ‘The bread that I shall give is My flesh for the life of the world’” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 647).
Thomas affirms: “It should be noted that the sacraments were instituted on account of a need in the spiritual life” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 650). The sacraments address the spiritual needs of a person similar to the way that a person’s physical needs are met: “The spiritual life requires food, by which man’s body is sustained, and likewise the spiritual life is fed by the sacrament of the Eucharist, as it says in Ps 23:2: ‘He make me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters’” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 650).
Christ Himself is present in the Sacrament: “In the sacrament of this Eucharist, which is spiritual food, Christ is there according to His substance” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 651).
We know Christ’s presence by faith: “in order that the merit of faith grow, which consists in believing something not seen” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 652).
“Even bodily refreshment is not complete without food and drink, as John says: ‘All ate of the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink’ (Jn 10:3) (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 653).
Thomas offers reasons why the sacrament is given under the appearance of bread and wine: “People generally use bread and wine for their refreshment…Therefore, these are used in this sacrament. Secondly, on account of the power of this sacrament: for bread strengthens the heart of man, but wine gladdens it. Thirdly, because bread, which is made from many grains and wine from many grapes, signifies the unity of the Church which is made up of many believers. Furthermore, this Eucharist is especially the sacrament of unity and charity” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 654).
Thomas notes that Jesus commanded us to receive this sacrament: “He enjoined the use of the sacrament, saying: ‘Take’ (Mk 14:22). As if not from any human power or merit is it proper for you to use this sacrament, but from an eminent gift of God: And he determines the kind of use when he says, and ‘eat’: ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man’ (Jn. 6:54)” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 659).
Christ Himself is in this sacrament: “This sacrament is completed in the very consecration of the matter, in which Christ Himself is contained, Who is the end of all sanctifying grace” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 660).
The bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of Jesus: “The body of Christ is truly in this sacrament by the conversion of bread into it” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 662).
The bread becomes the Body of Jesus: “For the body of Christ is in this sacrament from the conversion of the substance of bread into it” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 654).
Christ is truly present in each part of the bread: “After the consecration the whole body of Christ is under each part of the divided bread” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 654).
The priest speaks the words as Christ said them: “But the priest says them from the same efficacy now, as when Christ spoke them. For the power conferred on these words does not vanish either by the difference of time or by the variety of ministers” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 667).
The bread becomes the Body of Christ through the consecration: “It is made the body of Christ through consecration” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 669).
The bread does not just receive power but it is changed into Christ’s Body: “The consecration does not occur by the consecrated matter merely receiving some spiritual power, but by the fact that it is transubstantiated according to its being into the body of Christ. Therefore, no other word was to be used except a substantive, so as to say, this is my body” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 670).
Jesus that His body will be given for us: “When He says, which will be given up for you, He touches on the mystery of this sacrament. For this sacrament represents the Lord’s passion, through which His body was delivered over to death for us, as it says: ‘He gave Himself for us’ (Eph 5:2)” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 672).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from St. Thomas’ Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians are taken from the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/

Fourth Sunday of Easter – C

We sometimes say, “I’m putting this in God’s hands.” We recognize that, while we have done what we can, a situation is not in our control. We surrender it to God. Jesus told us, “Do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself. (Mt 6:34).

At night before he went to sleep, Pope St. John XXIII used to pray, “It’s Your church, I’m going to bed.”

Surrendering situations in our lives, especially those parts that are problematic, is an act of faith in Jesus. Today’s Gospel, John 10:27-30 describes Jesus’ followers as His “sheep,” who are in His “hands.”

Jesus announces: “My sheep hear My voice” (Jn 10:27). St. Thomas Aquinas comments that “hearing Jesus’ voice” implies “believing and obeying His precepts” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1446). Psalm 95:7 declares: “O that today you would harken to his voice! Harden not your hearts.”

Jesus proclaims: “I know My sheep” (Jn 10:27). Thomas explains that Jesus knows and loves His sheep: “He says ‘I know them, that is, I love and approve of them.’ The Second Letter to Timothy attests: ‘The Lord knows those who are His’ (2 Tim 2:19). This is like saying: the very fact that they hear Me is due to the fact that I know them by an eternal election” (Commentary on John, 1447).

Thomas addresses the question whether a person should be blamed for lack of faith, if faith is a gift. Thomas responds: “I answer that it is imputed to them because they are the cause why it is not given to them. Thus, I cannot see the light unless I am enlightened by the sun. Yet if I were to close my eyes, I would not see the light; but this is not due to the sun but to me, because by closing my eyes I am the cause of my not being enlightened. Now sin, for example, original sin, and in some persons actual sin, is the cause why we are not enlightened by God through faith. This cause is in everyone. … those who are chosen are lifted up by God’s mercy” (Commentary on John, 1447).

Jesus announces: “My sheep follow Me” (Jn 10:27). Thomas notes that “what we do, concerns our imitation of Christ…” (Commentary on John, 1448). The Second Letter of Peter asserts: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21).

Jesus promises “I give them eternal life” (Jn 10:28). Thomas reflects: “They follow Me by walking the path of gentleness and innocence in this life, and I will see that afterwards they will follow Me by entering into the joys of eternal life” (Commentary on John, 1449).

Jesus assures us that this eternal life will not end and is incorruptible. Jesus declares: “This is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (Jn 17:3). Jesus announces “No one shall snatch them out of My hand” (Jn 10:28). The Book of Wisdom asserts: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God” (Wis 3:1).

Jesus confirms that no one can snatch from His hand because the Father’s hand and His are the same. Thomas explains that Jesus shows that, “The Father had communicated divinity to Him, saying, what my Father has given to Me, through an eternal generation, is greater than all: ‘For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself (Jn 5:26)” (Commentary on John, 1450).

Paul stated in his Letter to the Philippians: “God had bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Phil 2:9). Thomas reflects: “Therefore, what My Father has given to Me, that is, that I am His Word, His only begotten, and the splendor of His light, is greater than all” (Commentary on John, 1450).

Jesus affirms his unity with the Father: “I and the Father are one” Thomas comments: “This is to say: no one shall snatch them out of My hand, because I and the Father are one, by a unity of essence, for the Father and the Son are the same in nature” (Commentary on John, 1450).

Thomas affirms: “We can see this from his previous statement, what my Father has given Me is greater than all. He draws the conclusion from this: I and the Father are one. This is like saying: We are one to the extent that the Father has given Me that which is greater than all … For our Lord proves that no one will snatch the sheep from His hand precisely because no one can snatch from the hand of His Father. But this would not follow if His power were less than the power of the Father. Therefore, the Father and Son are one in nature, honor and power” (Commentary on John, 1451).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

The translation of St. Thomas’ Commentary on John by Fabian R. Larcher, O.P. may be found on the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/

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Third Sunday of Easter – C

This Sunday’s Gospel recounts the Risen Jesus’ appearance to His disciples by the Sea of Tiberias (Jn 21:1-19). The Gospel begins, “Jesus revealed Himself.” St. Thomas Aquinas explains that Jesus had a glorified body, which, by its nature or power, could be seen or not seen, as he wished. He “revealed” Himself by making Himself visible. The word “to appear” has a similar meaning, “appearing to them during forty days” (Acts 1:3) (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 2576).

Peter announces, “I am going fishing” (Jn 21:3). Thomas thinks this can be understood with a “mystical interpretation” to mean “the work of preaching” since Jesus had told His disciples: “I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). Peter invites the others “to share in his concerns and preaching” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 2577).

Thomas thinks that the Gospel might not only be telling us about a manifestation of the Risen Jesus but also may be speaking about Jesus’ presence in the disciples’ ministry.

Jesus told His disciples: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well,” that is, what is necessary for life (Mt 6:33). The abundance of fish that the disciples draw in may represent the results of ministry graced with Jesus’ presence.

Thomas affirms: “It is true that these things will be added, with our cooperation. So our Lord did keep his promise here, with the cooperation of Peter. For who else but our Lord caused the fish that were caught to be within the range of their net?” (Commentary on John, 2579).

Thomas notices that other disciples join Peter: “The others agree to this, we will go with you. This sets an example for preachers and prelates to encourage each other in their work of turning people to God: ‘A brother helped is like a strong city’ (Prv 18:19) (Commentary on John, 2579).

The disciples “went off to get into their boat” (Jn 21:3). Thomas comments that the disciples, as preachers must leave not only sin but also like Abraham, “They should go out from their carnal affections: ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house’ (Gen 12:1)” (Commentary on John, 2582). They must also “leave the quiet of contemplation”

Preachers need to get into a boat: “That is, go forward in charity within the unity of the Church, which is called a ship: They should also board the ship of the cross by depriving the flesh: ‘But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (Gal 6:14)” (Commentary on John, 2582).

In addition, Thomas instructs: “Preachers should have total confidence in the help of Christ. All that night they caught nothing, because as long as God’s help and the interior Preacher are not there, the words of the preacher have no effect. But when the light comes, enlightening hearts, the preacher makes a catch: ‘Send out your light and your truth’ (Ps 42:3). Here, night indicates the lack of divine help: ‘Night comes, when no one can work’ (Jn 9:4) (Commentary on John, 2583).

The Gospel tells us: “Just after daybreak, Jesus was standing on the shore” (Jn 21:4). Thomas thinks that “daybreak” represents the glory of the Resurrection (Commentary on John, 2584).

The disciples do not recognize Jesus because of their ignorance. Thomas observes: “We can see from this that on this turbulent sea of the present, we cannot know the hidden things of Christ: ‘No eye has seen a God besides you, who works for those who wait for Him’ [Is 64:4]” (Commentary on John, 2586).

Jesus asks the disciples if they have any fish (Jn 21:5). Thomas reflects: “In the mystical interpretation, Christ asks us for food to refresh himself. And we do this for Him by obeying the commandments ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work’ (4:34). They answered him, No, that is, not of themselves: ‘I can will what is right, but I cannot do it’ (Rom 7: 18) (Commentary on John, 2588).

Thomas thinks the disciples’ following Jesus’ instructions is an indication of His obedience: “The obedience of the disciples is shown when the Evangelist says, So they cast it, the net; and the effect of this obedience, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish, that is, for the great number of those who would be saved” (Commentary on John, 2590).

In a similar passage in Luke, the nets begin to break. Thomas observes: “This fishing differs from that mentioned by Luke because there (Lk 5:6) the nets broke; and in a like way the Church is rent by disagreements and heresies” (Commentary on John, 2590).

John recognizes Jesus because he was “quick in understanding” and he tells Peter. Thomas reflects upon Peter: “Peter is seen as passionately devoted to Christ. His devotion is clear, first of all, by his quickness to act … As soon as he heard it was the Lord, Peter went without delay” (Commentary on John, 2593).

Peter puts clothes on: “We can learn from this that those coming to Christ ought to put off the old man and put on the new, which has been created for God in faith… His devotion is shown by his lack of fear: for because of his great love he was unwilling to stay in the boat, which was moving too slowly, and so he sprang into the sea, to reach Christ more quickly (Commentary on John, 2593).

Thomas considers the sea as a sign of the difficulties of life: “In the mystical interpretation, the sea signifies the troubles of this present world. Those who desire to come to Christ cast themselves into the sea, and do not refuse the tribulations of this world: ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22); ‘My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials’ (Sir 2:1)” (Commentary on John, 2594).

Thomas recalls the observation of John Chrysostom that John is seen to be greater in understanding, while Peter is more ardent in his affections” (Commentary on John, 2594).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

The translation of St. Thomas’ Commentary on John by Fabian R. Larcher, O.P. may be found on the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/
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Second Sunday of Easter – C

“He Himself- to see whom is to see the Father (cf. Jn 14:4) completed and perfected Revelation and confirmed it with divine guarantees. He did this by the total fact of His presence and self-manifestation- by words and works, signs and miracles, but above all by His death and glorious Resurrection from the dead, and finally by sending the Spirit of truth” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum, “Divine Revelation,” 4). Each year, the Gospel on the Second Sunday of Easter recounts the appearance of the Risen Jesus to His disciples on the evening of Easter. The Gospel tells us that “Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came” (Jn 20:24). While not the most important lesson of the account, St. Thomas Aquinas points out that the apostle’s absence illustrates the importance of community for Christians, “He had missed the comfort of seeing the Lord, the conferring of peace and the breath giving the Holy Spirit. This teaches us not to become separated from one’s companions, [as the Letter to the Hebrews asserts] ‘not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some’ (Heb 10:25)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2547). When the disciples announce to Thomas that they have seen Jesus, Thomas insists that he will only believe that Jesus is alive if he can touch Jesus’ wounded hands and side (Jn 20:23). Thomas Aquinas asserts that Thomas’ absence provides an opportunity for the Risen Jesus to further manifest Himself. Aquinas recalls St. Gregory opinion that Thomas’ absence was not by accident but by God’s will (Commentary on John, 2547). Thomas explains: “It was in the plans of the divine pity that by feeling the wounds in the flesh of his Teacher, the doubting disciple should heal in us the wounds of disbelief” (Commentary on John, 2547). Thomas believes that Thomas’ absence and his doubts provided Jesus with an ultimate teachable moment: “Here we have the strongest signs of God’s profound pity. First, in this: that He loves the human race so much that He sometimes allows tribulations to afflict His elect, so that from these some good can accrue to the human race. This was the reason he allowed the apostles, the prophets and the holy martyrs to be afflicted” (Commentary on John, 2547). Paul affirmed: “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted it is for your comfort which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer” (2 Cor 1:6). Aquinas recalls Gregory’s assertion that the disbelief of Thomas was of more benefit to our faith than the faith of the disciples who did believe (Commentary on John, 2547). Aquinas finds Thomas’s demands “unreasonable.” He insisted not only on seeing Jesus’ wounds but on touching them before he would believe, “although he would be seeing something greater, that is, the entire person risen and restored” (Commentary on John, 2550). Aquinas maintains that Thomas’ unreasonableness was “arranged by God for our benefit and progress.” Why? Because Thomas’ obstinacy made the reality of Jesus’ risen body more evident: “It is certain that Christ, who arose as a complete person, could have healed the marks of His wounds; but He kept them for our benefit” (Commentary on John, 2550). Jesus’ consideration for Thomas gives us, according to Aquinas, a “second sign of God’s pity, which is that He quickly comes to help His elect even though they fall. Indeed, the elect fall at times, just like the reprobate. But there is a difference: the reprobate are crushed, but the Lord quickly puts His hand under the elect so they can rise up” (Commentary on John, 2555). Psalm 37:23-24 states: “Those, whose way the Lord approves, may stumble, but they never fall, for the Lord holds their hand.” Psalm 94:18 declares: “When I say, ‘My foot is slipping,’ Your love, Lord, holds me up.’” Aquinas comments: “And so our Lord quickly puts His hand under the fallen Thomas so that when Thomas said, Unless I see … I will not believe, our Lord rescues him, saying, Put your finger here” (Commentary on John, 2555). Aquinas notes that Thomas had laid down his own conditions for believing: he must see and touch Jesus’ wounds. Jesus responded exactly: “So our Lord, helping him by the presence of His divinity, rescued him by meeting these conditions” (Commentary on John, 2556). Aquinas raises the question: “How then can there be wounds in the body of Christ?” Augustine affirms that the wounded side convicts unbelievers: “Look at the side you have pierced. It was opened for your sake, and you refused to enter” (On the Creed, 2, 8). Even the martyrs’ wounds will remain on their heavenly bodies, according to Augustine, not as disfigurements but as beauty: “These wounds in their body will not be a deformity, but a dignity. And although on their bodies, they will radiate not a bodily but a spiritual beauty” (City of God, 22:19). Could Jesus’ body be touched if it was incorruptible? Jesus declared: “Handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Lk 24:39). Thomas comments: “Our Lord showed that He was incorruptible and touchable to demonstrate that His body after His resurrection was of the same nature as before, and what had been corruptible had now put on incorruption (1 Cor 15:53). It was the same in nature, but with a different glory: for what had been heavy and lowly arose in glory and subtlety, as the effect of spiritual power” (Commentary on John, 2559). Thomas considers Jesus’ wounds were an affirmation that His risen body was the same body that hung on the Cross: “Our Lord continued, saying, see My hands, which hung on the cross, and put out your hand, and place it in My side, which was pierced by the spear, and realize that I am the same person who had hung upon the cross” (Commentary on John, 2560). Thomas proposes a “mystical interpretation”: “A finger signifies knowledge, and a hand signifies our works. Thus when Thomas is told to put his finger and hand into the wounds of Christ, we are being told to use our knowledge and works for the service of Christ” (Commentary on John, 2560). Aquinas affirms: “Thomas quickly became a good theologian by professing a true faith. He professed the humanity of Christ when he said, ‘My Lord,’ for he had called Christ this before the passion: ‘You call me Teacher and Lord’ (Jn 13:13). And he professed the divinity of Christ when he said, and ‘my God.’ Before this, the only one who had called Christ God was Peter: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Mt 16:16) (Commentary on John, 2562). The First Letter of John announces: “This is the true God and eternal life” (1 Jn 5:20). Jesus reproaches Thomas for being slow to believe until he has seen Jesus, while he praises those who believe without seeing (Jn 20:29). Aquinas proclaims that Thomas actually believed even more than he saw: “Thomas saw one thing and believed another. He saw the man and the wounds, and from these he believed in the divinity of the one who had arisen” (Commentary on John, 2564). Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P. The translation of St. Thomas’ Commentary on John by Fabian R. Larcher, O.P. may be found on the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ .

Baptism of the Lord – C

Many of us don’t think about our baptisms. We only know that we were baptized because others have told us or we have seen photos or perhaps, a certificate. But what happened, besides the ceremony being an occasion for the family to celebrate a new birth?

 The three Synoptic Gospels consider Jesus’ baptism as a significant moment in His life. What is significant about Jesus joining those who wanted to reform their lives by being baptized by John the Baptist?

 Jesus’ Baptism tells us something about our own baptisms. In today’s Gospel, Lk 3:15-16, 21-22, Luke informs us, “when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens opened” (Lk 3:21). The clouds between heaven and earth begin to break, indicating that heaven is opening to earth.

 In choosing a passage from the Letter to Titus (2:11-14; 3:4-7) as the second reading for today, the Church is indicating that this text holds a key to understanding the feast. The passage begins: “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all” (Ti 2:11).  In choosing this passage for today, the Church is affirming that the grace of our salvation is manifest in the Baptism of Jesus. How?

 St. Thomas Aquinas reflects: “Mercy has always been present in God; yet for some time it was hidden to men … but in Christ the Son of God assuming flesh, ‘the grace of God our Savior has appeared’” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Titus, 68). Thomas recalls the first letter to Timothy: “Evidently great is the mystery of godliness that was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim 3:16).

 The Church celebrates the feast of the Baptism of the Lord at the close of the Christmas season. What connection is there between two events that happened thirty years apart?

Traditionally, the Baptism of the Lord has been associated with the Epiphany, as “manifestations” of the Incarnate Jesus, first to the wise men, representing the nations, and today in the Father’s declaration, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (Lk 3:22).

 The “appearances” of grace show that grace is neither expected nor earned, as Thomas affirms: “It should be noted that grace implies mercy, because mercy is of that which is freely granted; and what is freely granted is conferred out of mercy” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of Saint Paul to Titus, 68).

 Among the gifts that God has given us, Thomas describes the birth of Jesus as the greatest gift: “In Christ’s birth this grace appeared in two ways: in the first way, because Christ has been given as God’s greatest gift” (Commentary on Titus, 68).

 Thomas asserts that the conception of Christ was given by the whole Trinity but is especially attributed to the Spirit, the “giver and source of all graces”: “Hence His conception, although it was the work of the entire Trinity, is attributed particularly to the Holy Spirit, who is the giver and source of all graces. ‘And this grace appeared to all men but especially to the man Christ: ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14)” (Commentary on Titus, 68). According to Thomas, Christ, in His humanity, received grace, but much more than others.

 The Letter to Titus asserts that “God appeared … training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright and godly lives in the world” (Ti 2:12).

 Christ’s “appearance” in His birth and eventually in His baptism act as instructions to humanity: “It appeared as an instruction to the human race, because before the coming of Christ, the world languished in ignorance and heresy: ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isa 9:2). Hence he says, ‘instructing us, as a father instructs his son’ (Commentary on Titus, 68).

 The grace that God grants though these appearances is the grace of salvation for all people: “This grace is given for our salvation; hence he says, ‘our Savior’ … But this grace is not offered only to the Jewish people alone, as formerly, but to all people’: ’God our Savior who desires all people to be saved’ (1 Tim 2:4)” (Commentary on Titus, 68).

 Thomas explains the “impiety” is sin against piety, which is showing “proper respect towards parents or fatherland.” Piety especially relates to God: “Because God is our principle Father, godliness consists in paying worship to God: ‘Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom’ (Job 28:28)” (Commentary on Titus, 70).

 Thomas affirms that our sins involve the misuse of temporal things, which are “worldly passions,”: “By worldly is meant secular things and all sins committed against our neighbor, or against things by misusing them” (Commentary on Titus, 70).

 Christians are called to live “soberly,” “justly,” and “godly,” as Thomas comments: “He says, ‘live soberly,’ in relation to ourselves; and ‘justly,’ in relation to our neighbor; and ‘godly’ in relation to God. He says, ‘soberly’ with due measure … this limit is observed if a man uses external goods and controls his passions with the limits of reason. Hence, soberness means any moderate use of external things or of one’s passions” (Commentary on Titus, 71).

 Titus is urged to “look for the blessed hope”: “When he says, ‘looking for the blessed hope,’ he instructs him about his end, which consists in two things, namely, in the soul’s glory, after death, and the body’s glory at Christ’s coming” (Commentary on Titus, 72).

 However, Thomas cautions that, in themselves, living soberly, justly and godly lives do bring about our “hope,” as Thomas notes: “He says, ‘looking for the blessed hope,‘ against those who place man’s end in virtuous acts performed in this life. But this is not true because even if we live soberly and justly and godly, we are still awaiting something else … ‘blessed are all those who wait for Him’ (Isa 30:18) (Commentary on Titus, 72).

 Waiting for Christ is the beginning of receiving Him: “The very waiting makes us happy … ‘and coming of the glory of God and our Savior Jesus Christ,’ through whom our bodies will rise. For one who loves a friend looks for him with desire” (Commentary on Titus, 72). Thomas recalls other passages of Scripture: “… not only to me, but to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim 4:8); “Be like men are waiting for their master” (Luke 12:36).

 Jesus’ future coming will be “with glory”: “He says, ‘the coming of the glory,’ because His first coming was in humility: ‘He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death’ (Phil 2:8); ‘Learn from Me, for I am gentle an humble of heart’ (Mt 11:29). But this time He will come in glory because His divinity will be recognized by all: ‘And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory’ (Lk 21:27)” (Commentary on Titus, 72).

 The Letter to Titus speaks of: “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Ti 2:13).  The Jerusalem Bible asserts that this is “A clear statement of the divinity of Christ” (p. 1971, note c).

 Thomas comments: “’great’ because Christ is God over all, blessed forever’ (Rom 9:5).; ‘and we are in Him who is the true Son, Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life’ (1 John 5:20)… He came as Savior, as His name suggests: He will save His people from their sins’ (Mt 1:21)” (Commentary on Titus, 72).

 Thomas calls attention to Jesus’ being called “Christ” (the Greek word for the “anointed one”: “He adds, ‘Christ,’ namely, who was anointed; for in this anointing the union of divinity to human nature is understood … For the godhead was united to Christ” (Commentary on Titus, 72).

 Thomas reflects on why Jesus can be called our “Savior”: “He is our Savior. But how? Because He ‘gave Himself for us’ and ‘walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’ (Eph 5:2)” (Commentary on Titus, 74).

 The Letter to Titus declares that Jesus “gave Himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for Himself a people of His own who are zealous for good deeds” (Ti 2:14).

 Thomas explains: “Its fruit is deliverance and sanctification. Deliverance, when he says, ‘redeem us from all iniquity; ‘everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin’ (John 8:34) … “fear not, I have redeemed you’ (Isa 43:1). And not only from original sin, but from all the sins which a person adds by his own will” (Commentary on Titus, 75).

 Thomas reflects on the purification that Christ accomplishes: “Sanctification unto good is mentioned … ‘and He might cleanse for Himself a people, i.e. that He might sanctify the people in such a way that they become His people, i.e. consecrated to Him: ‘Once you were no people but now you are God’s people’ (1 Pt 2:10). ‘Acceptable’ to God by reason of their right faith and intention …’the Lord, our God, has chosen us to be His own special people’ (Deut 7:6)” (Commentary on Titus, 76).

 Thomas points out the appropriateness of our doing good works: “But it is proper that they perform good works outwardly; hence he says, ‘in pursuit of good works’: ‘do what is good, and you will receive His approval’ (Rom 13:3); ‘Let us not grow weary in doing good’ (Gal 6:9)” (Commentary on Titus, 76).

 The Letter to Titus announces: “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us” (Ti 3:4).

 Thomas reflects: “The cause of our salvation is God’s love: ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ’ (Eph 2:4)” (Commentary on Titus, 88).

 The Latin text of this passage spoke of God’s “benignity” benignitas and “humanity” humanitas. Thomas reflects: “The inward intensity of charity is designated by ‘benignity’ which is from bonus, which means ‘good’ and ignis, which means ‘fire.” Fire signifies love: ‘love is strong as death, its flashes are flashes of fire’ (Song 8:6). Therefore benignity is an internal love, which expresses itself outwardly in good works. Now this love was present in God from all eternity, because His love is the cause of all things: ‘He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love’ (Joel 2:13)” (Commentary on Titus, 88).

 Thomas recognizes that, at times, God’s love may not seem to be present, as Isaiah asked: “But this love is not always visible: ‘Where are Your zeal and Your might? The yearning of Your heart and your compassion are withheld from me’ (Isa. 63:15).

 Thomas clarifies: “But its effect appears; and this is designated when he says, ‘humanity,’ which can be understood in two ways: in one as signifying the human nature. As if to say: ‘the benignity and humanity of God our Savior appeared’ when God was made man out of benignity: ‘being born in the likeness of men’ (Phil 2:7). (Commentary on Titus, 88).

 Another interpretation of God’s “humanity” may be His compassion: “Or, to signify the strength which consists in publicly coming to the aid of others in their weakness. Hence it is a human thing to condescend …God condescended to our weakness … and this of ‘God our Savior’ is because ‘the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord’ (Ps 37:39)” (Commentary on Titus, 88).

 Thomas insists that we are not saved because of our merits: “The supposed reason is that we are saved because of our own merits … But the true reason is God’s mercy alone; hence he says ‘according to His mercy’; ‘the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases’ (Lam 3:22); ‘His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation’ (Lk 1:50)” (Commentary on Titus, 89).

 Titus is told: “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Ti 3:5).

 Thomas recalls the words of the Letter to the Ephesians, regarding the washing in baptism: “He says, ‘by the washing,’ that is, we are saved by a spiritual washing: ‘having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word of life’ (Eph 5:26)” (Commentary on Titus, 91).

 Thomas explains how we are regenerated and renewed: “As to its effects, he adds, ‘of regeneration and renovation.’ To understand this it should be noted that man lacked two things in the state of perdition, and both were restored by Christ, namely, participation in the divine nature, and the laying aside of his oldness. For he had been separated from God: ‘your iniquities made a separation between you and your God,  and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear’ (Is 59:2). And he had grown old: ‘you are growing old in a foreign country’ (Bar 3:11)” (Commentary on Titus, 92).

 In Baptism, we become sharers in God’s nature: “But the first, namely, participation in the divine nature, we attain through Christ: ‘that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet 1:4). This new nature, however, is acquired only by a rebirth, regeneration. Yet this nature is given in such a way as to become ours, and thus it is superadded for we participate in the divine nature without ceasing to be men: ‘you must be born anew’ (Jn 3:7); ‘of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth (Jas 1:18). Through Christ he has also put off the oldness of sin and received in return an integral nature; and this is called renovation; ‘be renewed in the spirit of your minds’ (Eph 4:23)” (Commentary on Titus, 92).

 Thomas explains how God cleanses the heart: “But what power can cause the heart to be cleansed? The power that comes from the holy and undivided Trinity: ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 28:19). Hence at Christ’s baptism were present the Father in the voice, the Son in the flesh, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Hence, he says, of the Holy Spirit, that is, which the Holy Spirit accomplishes: ‘You send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created: and You shall renew the face of the earth (Ps 104:30)” (Commentary on Titus, 93).

 The Spirit regenerates us: “And there is a regeneration through the Spirit. ‘And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father (Gal 4:6); ‘for you have not received the spirit of slavery again in fear: But you have received the Spirit of adoption of sons, in whom we cry:  Abba, Father (Rom 8:15)” (Commentary on Titus, 93).

 The Letter to Titus states that the Spirit is “poured out”: “… in the Holy Spirit, which He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savor” (Ti 3:5-6).

 Thomas comments on the giving out of the Spirit: “But God the Father gives this Spirit, whom He has poured forth upon us abundantly,’ that he may describe an abundance of grace in baptism; hence there comes about the full remission of sins. ‘I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh’ (Joel 3:1) … And on account of different gifts of grace. ‘Who gives to all men abundantly and does not upbraid’ (Jas 1:3)” (Commentary on Titus, 93).

 Thomas understands that the Son in His divinity is involved in the giving of the Spirit: “This, too, is given ‘through Jesus Christ: ‘The Paraclete … I will send Him to you’ (Jn 16:7). For in Christ we find two natures, and it pertains to both that Christ gives the Holy Spirit” (Commentary on Titus, 93).

 The giving of the Spirit relates to Jesus’ divinity: “It pertains to the divine nature, which is the Word from which, as also from the Father, the Spirit proceeds as love. Now love in us proceeds from a conception of the heart, which conception is the word” (Commentary on Titus, 93).

 The Spirit also comes through the humanity of Jesus: “It pertains to human nature, because Christ receives the Spirit’s highest fullness in such a way that from Him it streams forth unto others: ‘full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14). And a little after that: ‘And of His fullness we have all received, grace unto grace’ (Jn 1:16; ‘for it is not by measure that God gives the Spirit: the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand’ (Jn 3:34). And therefore baptism and the other sacraments have no efficacy except by virtue of the humanity and passion of Christ” (Commentary on Titus, 93).

 The Letter to Titus proclaims: “… that we might be justified by His grace and becomes heirs in hope of eternal life” (Ti 3:7).

 Thomas reflects: “Then when he says, ‘that, being justified by His grace,’ he puts own the goal of our salvation, which is the participation of eternal life … ’justified’ is the same as that which he previously called ‘regeneration’ (Commentary on Titus, 94).

 Thomas explains on the process of regeneration: “In the regeneration of the unbelieveing there are two endpoints, namely, that from which, which is remission of guilt, and this is renewal; and that towards which, which is the infusion of grace, and this pertains to regeneration. Therefore, he said, thus ‘the Word was made flesh,’ that being justified, that is, ‘renewed by grace, because justification does not come about without grace” (Commentary on Titus, 94).

 Thomas relates our being loved by God results in our love for God: “Could God remit sin without infusing grace? … If he is loved by God, he should love in return, and if he loves, it is because he has received grace, because he cannot love without grace” (Commentary on Titus, 95).

 The hope for eternal life is already alive in us: “He is an heir of life everlasting … And how heirs? ‘According to hope,’ because the hope for this life is already in us: ‘let us rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God’ (Rom 5:2)” (Commentary on Titus, 95).

 “It should be noted that grace implies mercy, because mercy is of that which is freely granted; and what is freely granted is conferred out of mercy” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of Saint Paul to Titus, 68).

“Mercy has always been present in God; yet for some time it was hidden to men … but in Christ the Son of God assuming flesh, ‘the grace of God our Savior has appeared’; ‘Evidently great is the mystery of godliness that was manifested in the flesh’ (1 Tim 3:16)” (Commentary on Titus, 68).

 “This grace is given for our salvation; hence he says, ‘our Savior’ … But this grace is not offered only to the Jewish people alone, as formerly, but to all people’: ’God our Savior who desires all people to be saved’ (1 Tim 2:4)” (Commentary on Titus, 68).

 “In Christ’s birth this grace appeared in two ways: in the first way, because Christ has been given as God’s greatest gift. Hence His conception, although it was the work of the entire Trinity, is attributed particularly to the Holy Spirit, who is the giver and source of all graces. And this grace appeared to all men but especially to the man Christ: ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14)” (Commentary on Titus, 68).

 “Second, it appeared as an instruction to the human race, because before the coming of Christ, the world languished in ignorance and heresy: ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isa 9:2). Hence he says, ‘instructing us, as a father instructs his son’ (Commentary on Titus, 68).

 “Notice that he says, ungodliness and worldly desires, because all sins are involved either with matters directly against God, and are therefore sins of ungodliness: for godliness or piety is a virtue that inclines us to show proper respect towards parents or fatherland. But because God is our principle Father, godliness consists in paying worship to God: ‘Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom’ (Job 28:28)” (Commentary on Titus, 70).

 “Or sins consist in misusing temporal things, and these sins are worldly desires… By worldly is meant secular things and all sins committed against our neighbor, or against things by misusing them” (Commentary on Titus, 70).

 “He says, ‘live soberly,’ in relation to ourselves; and ‘justly,’ in relation to our neighbor; and ‘godly’ in relation to God. He says, ‘soberly’ with due measure … this limit is observed if a man uses external goods and controls his passions with the limits of reason. Hence, soberness means any moderate use of external things or of one’s passions” ” (Commentary on Titus, 71).

 “When he says, ‘looking for the blessed hope,’ he instructs him about his end, which consists in two things, namely, in the soul’s glory, after death, and the body’s glory at Christ’s coming” ” (Commentary on Titus, 72).

 “He says, ‘looking for the blessed hope, against those who place man’s end in virtuous acts performed in this life. But this is not true because even if we live soberly and justly and godly, we are still awaiting something else  … ‘blessed are all those who wait for Him’ (Isa 30:18) (Commentary on Titus, 72).

 “The very waiting makes us happy … ‘and coming of the glory of God and our Savior Jesus Christ,’ through whom our bodies will rise. For one who loves a friend looks for him with desire: ‘not only to me, but to all who have loved His appearing’ (2 Tim 4:8).; ‘be like men are waiting for their master’ (Luke 12:36) (Commentary on Titus, 72).

 “He says, ‘the coming of the glory,’ because His first coming was in humility: ‘He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death’ (Phil 2:8); ‘Learn from Me, for I am gentle an humble of heart’ (Mt 11:29). But tis time He will come in glory because His divinity will be recognized by all: ‘And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory’ (Lk 21:27)” (Commentary on Titus, 72).

 “’great’ because Christ is God over all, blessed forever’ (Rom 9:5).; ‘and we are in Him who is the true Son, Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life’ (1 John 5:20)… He came as Savior, as His name suggests: He will save His people from their sins’ (Mt 1:21).

He adds, ‘Christ, namely, who was anointed; for in this anointing the union of divinity to human nature is understood … For the godhead was united to Christ” (Commentary on Titus, 72).

 “He is our Savior. But how? Because He ‘gave Himself for us’ and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’ (Eph 5:2)” (Commentary on Titus, 74).

 “Its fruit is deliverance and sanctification. Deliverance, when he says, ‘redeem us from all iniquity; ‘everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin’ (John 8:34) … “fear not, I have redeemed you’ (Isa 43:1). And not only from original sin, but from all the sins which a person adds by his own will” (Commentary on Titus, 75).

 “Sanctifiction unto good is mentioned … ‘and He might cleanse for Himself a people, i.e. that He might sanctify the people in such a way that they become His people, i.e. consecrated to Him: ‘Once you were no people but now you are God’s people’ (1 Pt 2:10). ‘Acceptable’ to God by reason of their right faith and intenion …’the Lord, our God, has chosen us to be His own special people’ (Deut 7:6). But it is proper that they perform good works outwardly; hence he says, ‘in pursuit of good works’: ‘do what is good, and you will receive His approval’ (Rom 13:3); ‘Let us not grow weary in doing good’ (Gal 6:9)” (Commentary on Titus, 76).

 “The cause of our salvation is God’s love: ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ’ (Eph 2:4)” (Commentary on Titus, 88).

 “The inward intensity of charity is designated by ‘benignity’ which is from bonus, which means ‘good’ and ignis, which means ‘fire.” Fire signifies love: ‘love is strong as death, its flashes are flashes of fire’ (Song 8:6). Therefore benignity is an internal love, which expresses itself outwardly in good works. Now this love was present in God from all eternity, because His love is the cause of all things: ‘He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love’ (Joel 2:13)” (Commentary on Titus, 88).

 “But this love is not always visible: ‘where are Your zeal and Your might? The yearning of Your heart and your compassion are withheld from me’ (Isa. 63:15). But its effect appears; and this is designated when he says, ‘humanity,’ which can be understood in two ways: in one as signifying the human nature. As if to say: ‘the benignity and humanity of god our Savior appeared’ when God was made man out of benignity: ‘eing born in the likeness of men’ (Phil 2:7). Or, to signify the strength which consists in publicly coming to the aid of others in their weakness. Hence it is a human thing to condescend …God condescended to our weakness … and this of ‘God our Savior’ is because ‘the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord’ (Ps 37:39)” (Commentary on Titus, 88).

 “The supposed reason is that we are saved because of our own merits … But the true reason is God’s mercy alone; hence he says ‘according to His mercy’; ‘the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases (Lam 3:22); His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation (Lk 1:50)” (Commentary on Titus, 89).

 “He says, ‘by the washing,’ that is, we are saved by a spiritual washing: ‘having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word of life’ (Eph 5:26)” (Commentary on Titus, 91).

 “As to its effects, he adds, ‘of regeneration and renovation.’ To understand this it should be noted that man lacked two things in the state of perdition, and both were restored by Christ, namely, participation in the divine nature, and the laying aside of his oldness. For he had been separated from God: ‘your iniquities made a separation between you and Your God,  and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear’ (Is 59:2). And he had grown old: ‘you are growing old in a foreign country (Bar 3:11)” (Commentary on Titus, 92).

 “But the first, namely, participation in the divine nature, we attain through Christ: ‘that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet 1:4). This new nature, however, is acquired only by a rebirth, regeneration. Yet this nature is given in such a way as to become ours, and thus it is superadded for we participate in the divine nature without ceasing to be men: ‘you must be born anew’ (Jn 3:7); ‘of His own will He brought us fort by the word of truth (Jas 1:18). Through Christ he has also put off the oldness of sin and received in return an integral nature; and this is called renovation; ‘be renewed in the spirit of your minds’ (Eph 4:23)” (Commentary on Titus, 92).

 “But what power can cause the heart to be cleansed? The power that comes from the holy and undivided Trinity: ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 28:19). Hence at Christ’s baptism were present the Father in the voice, the Son in the flesh, and th Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Hence, he says, of the Holy Spirit, that is, which the Holy Spirit accomplishes: ‘You send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created: and You shall renew the face of the earth (Ps 104:30)” (Commentary on Titus, 93).

 “And there is a regeneration through the Spirit. ‘And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father (Gal 4:6); ‘for you have not received the spirit of slavery again in fear: But you have received the Spirit of adoption of sons, in whom we cry:  Abba, Father (Rom 8:15)” (Commentary on Titus, 93).

 “But God the Father gives this Spirit, whom He has poured forth upon us abundantly,’ that he may describe an abundance of grace in baptism; hence there comes about the full remission of sins. ‘I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh’ (Joel 3:1) … And on account of different gifts of grace. ‘Who gives to all men abundantly and does not upbraid’ (Jas 1:3)” (Commentary on Titus, 93).

 “This, too, is given ‘through Jesus Christ: ‘The Paraclete … I will send Him to you’ (Jn 16:7). For in Christ we find two natures, and it pertains to both that Christ gives the Holy Spirit. It pertains to the divine nature, which is the Word from which as also from the Father, the Spirit proceeds as love. Now love in us proceeds from a conception of the heart, which conception is the word. It pertains to human nature, because Christ receives the Spirit’s highest fullness in such a way that from Him it streams forth unto others: ‘full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14). And a little after that: ‘And of His fullness we have all received, grace unto grace’ (Jn 1:16; ‘for it is not by measure that God gives the Spirit: the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand’ (Jn 3:34). And therefore baptism and the other sacraments have no efficacy except by virtue of the humanity and passion of Christ” (Commentary on Titus, 93).

 “Then when he says, ‘that, being justified by His grace, he puts own the goal of our salvation, which is the participation of eternal life … ’justified’ is the same as that which he previously called ‘regeneration.’ In the regeneration of the unbelieveing there are two endpoints, namely, that from which, which is remission of guilt, and this is renewal; and that towards which, which is the infusion of grace, and this pertains to regeneration. Therefore, he said, thus ‘the Word was made flesh,’ ‘that being justified, that is, ‘renewed by grace, because justification does not come about without grace”  (Commentary on Titus, 94).

 “Could God remit sin without infusing grace? … If he is loved by God, he should love in return, and if he loves, it is because he has received grace, because he cannot love without grace” (Commentary on Titus, 95).

 “He is an heir of life everlasting … And how heirs? ‘According to hope,’ because the hope for this life is already in us: ‘let us rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God’ (Rom 5:2)” (Commentary on Titus, 95).

 Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

 References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Letter of Saint Paul to Titus are taken from the translation begun by Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P. and edited by J. Mortensen and E. Alarcón. The translation was published in volume 40 of the Latin/English edition of the Works of St. Thomas Aquinas, by the Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, Lander, Wyoming, in 2012, pp. 442 – 453.

Epiphany – C

St. Ignatius of Loyola encourages a form of prayer with which we visualize the events of a Gospel scene. Actually, Christian imagination has been doing this with today’s Gospel, Matthew 2:1-12, for a long time. By the fourteenth century, in Northern European art, the wise men were often depicted as coming from the three known continents. The youngest, Balthasar was African, who brought the gift of myrrh. Melchior, who brought the gift of frankincense, was middle-aged and European, while Caspar was an elder and an Asian, who brought the gift of gold. All ages and peoples are represented.

Why were these “wise men” making this journey? Their explanation to King Herod was that they were seeking the “newborn king of the Jews.” They had seen “His star in its rising and have come to do Him homage” (Mt 2:2).

They understood this remarkable star as announcing the birth of a new king of the Jews. So they set out! They think they have everything they need but one thing they don’t have is a map or a GPS nor do they know exactly the destination, except that it will be a child. All they have to guide them is a star.

The Collect of the Mass today compares to experience of the star with the wise men and our experience of faith: “O God, who on this day revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations by the guidance of a star, grant in Your mercy, that we who already know You by faith, may be brought to behold the beauty of Your sublime glory…”

Their journey is a model for our journeys, as St. Thomas Aquinas points out:

Those Magi are the first-fruits of the nations and prefigure in themselves our condition. For they presuppose something, namely, the birth of Christ, and they look for something, namely, the place. We, indeed, have Christ by faith, but we look for something by hope: for we shall see Him face to face: ‘We walk by faith, not by sight’ (2 Cor 5:7)” (Commentary on Matthew).

According to Thomas, the importance of faith in following Jesus explains why the wise men did not have “evident signs”:

“This would have lessened the merit of faith, which He came to offer us as a way to righteousness: ‘The justice of God by faith in Jesus Christ’ (Rom 3:22). For if, when Christ was born, His birth had been made to all by evident signs, the very nature of faith would have been destroyed, since it is the ‘evidence of things that appear not’ (Heb 11:1)” (3a. 36, 1).

Thomas adds: “His first coming was unto the salvation of all, which is by faith that is of things not seen. Therefore it was fitting that His first coming should be hidden” (3a. 36, 1, ad 3).

The journey of the wise men reminds us that faith is the way we go in the Christian life. We may not see where we are going, but, as Thomas has reminded us of Paul’s words: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).

Traveling in a foreign country is stressful and inconvenient, particularly finding suitable lodging and food. We might assume that the wise men became discouraged and were tempted to turn back.

Thomas Aquinas notices that, although the star was visible in the day, at an important moment in the trip, it disappeared: “For it appeared not only at night, but also at midday: and no star can do this, not even the moon… it was visible at one time and hidden at another” (3a. 36, 7).

At times, in our lives, everything seems to fall into place but there are times when some very important parts of our lives are not clear. With the wise men, we are not sure if we are going in the right direction.

The wise men expected to find the newly-born King in Jerusalem. At their arrival in the holy city, the star disappeared. They, naively, assumed that the ruling king, Herod, would be able to help them.

Herod has his own reasons for being interested in their story. He discerns that this “new born king” will actually be the longed for Messiah (Christ). He consults the priests and the scribes, “where the Christ was to be born.”

The chief priests and scribes conclude that the child will be born in Bethlehem, using a combination of Micah 5:1 and 2 Samuel 5:2. They speak of Him as a “ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” (Mt 2:6). John’s Gospel (which does not say that Jesus was born in Bethlehem) gives us an indication of the expectation that the Messiah would be of David’s line and born in Bethlehem, when people in the crowd argue, “Does not scripture say that the Messiah will be of David’s family and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” (Jn 7:42).

Thomas Aquinas reflects that the wise men could only go so far by natural signs: “We are instructed that we, who are believers, should not seek signs, as those did who, seeing the star, rejoiced exceedingly; but we ought to be content with the doctrines of the prophets, because signs are given for unbelievers” (Commentary on Matthew).

Yet, challenges to their faith were not over. There were many reasons why they could have doubted that this Child was the one whom they were seeking:

As to externals, he did not speak, he seems helpless, and so on. If one asks about the mother, the answer is that she looked like the wife of a worker. I say this, because, if they had been looking for an earthly king, they would have been shocked at what they saw. But seeing lowly things and considering the loftiest, they were moved to admiration and adored him (Commentary on Matthew).

The Wise Men rejoiced, “because they now knew great things about God, namely, that God was in the flesh and was most merciful… They were moved with admiration” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew).

Thomas affirms: “They showed the child reverence by adoring and offering and obeying… therefore, they fell down and worshipped him, as God concealed in man” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew).

In His birth, Christ manifested His humanity. It was for others to recognize His divinity, as Thomas notes:

Christ’s birth was made known in such a way that proof of His Godhead should not prejudice faith in His human nature. Christ presented a likeness to human weakness and yet by means of God’s creatures, He showed the power of the Godhead in Himself (3a. 36, 4).

Thomas maintains that the Holy Spirit moved the wise men to adore the Child: “The wise men, inspired by the Holy Spirit, did wisely in paying homage to Christ” (3a. 36, 8 ad 1). We also can ask the Spirit to turn our journeys into worship of Christ, which is the end of our journeys as well.

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, translated by Fabian Larcher, O.P., 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.
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