Friday, January 27, 2012

Our Brother and Teacher, St. Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas is to all the world the eminent teacher of philosophy and theology. His writings have trained and inspired generations of young scholars to look deep into the truths they are seeking to understand. Although he originally wrote for beginners, his works have been studied by the most advanced thinkers of our time.
And yet he is our brother in so many ways. As a young student Thomas spent six years studying under St. Albert the Great who perceived his superior abilities and honed his skills at thinking through difficult topics. In the classroom, Thomas rarely offered answers or argued questions. He was quiet and reserved and even somewhat shy, giving his classmates the impression that he was not very bright. One even offered to tutor him each day after class, an offer which Thomas humbly and gratefully accepted. Because of this reticence to speak out and because of his rather large physical build, some of his classmates dubbed him "the dumb ox". Albert, his teacher and friend, knew better, and he prophesied that some day the bellowing of this ‘ox’ would be heard around the world.

When he became sufficiently prepared, St. Albert and the Dominican superiors, sent Thomas to teach. In the classroom leading the discussions, he excelled. His way of explaining abstract concepts made them understandable to the students in his day and to others down through the centuries.

His study of the Scriptures made Thomas aware that God passionately loves each one of us and has offered to become our ‘best friend’. Jesus said to his disciples, "I no longer call you servants but friends" (John 15:15). Friendship is something we can all relate to. It flows from frequent encounters to get to know each other in a deeply personal way, and sharing all of our thoughts, fears, hopes, pains and joys. It brings about complete trust in our friend, knowing that we can count on him for support, empathy, and help in whatever we are going through at the moment.

In spite of his busy schedule of teaching, study and writing, Thomas set aside designated times each day for prayer. By being faithful to this commitment he gradually came to know God in a deeply personal way, appreciating the magnificent beauty that God is, in himself and in his relations with his creatures. This knowledge brought about love, and the friendship developed into a life of contemplative prayer. Slowly Thomas learned to bring God into his whole day, sharing with his Best Friend, problems over his work, irritations with other people, struggles of all kinds. He rejoiced with God in seeing others come to know eternal truths and follow in the paths of holiness. And God, in his goodness, revealed more and more to Thomas about Divine Beauty, Compassion, Truth, and Love. Shortly before his death, Thomas had an experience in prayer which he shared with his friend, Brother Reginald. He said that after this encounter with Divine Love, all he had thus far written seemed like so much straw.

If we too, faithfully spend time with God each day, we will become more and more, ‘best friends’ with him. As we turn over in our minds our plans, uncertainties, fears, hopes, and joys, we can simply direct that internal conversation to God, and thus we are praying. In this way we can, as St. Paul suggests, "Pray always".

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