CONSIDERATION FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY.
St. Thomas’s Early Yearnings after God.
“Solus Deus voluntatem hominis implere potest . . . In solo igitur Deo beatitudo hominis consistit,”—(St. Thom. Summa Theol. I. 2 qu. II. a. 8.)
FIRST POINT.—Consider first, that St. Thomas even from the dawn of reason tended with his whole soul to God. As a boy of five years, he was entrusted to the Benedictines of Monte Cassino. Scarcely arrived at self-consciousness, Thomas already sought by his questions some knowledge of God; or, as his first biographer expresses it, “impelled by divine instinct, he longed to hear of God.” The great theologian who was to throw such light on the mysteries of God as none before or after him has ever done, early began his search after what was to be the aim of his whole life, the radiant centre of his knowledge. How touching for those sons of St. Benedict, men grown old in communing with God, when in the midst of the games and childlike prattle of the other boys, the future Angel of the Schools, then only five years old, raising his innocent eyes to theirs, would gravely and reverently ask: “What is God?”— And though answered again and again that God is what human tongue cannot express nor angelic intelligence comprehend, he never desisted from repeating: “What is God?”—a question that the monks of Monte Cassino were unable to answer, and that even now in the light of glory they find incomprehensible. It was the brilliant sun upon which the mental eye of the great St. Thomas unweariedly gazed.
The more puzzled the teachers became at his devout question, “What is God?”—the clearer did that very fact make it appear to the boy that God alone, in His incomprehensible beauty and perfection, deserves to be known and loved above all things. What the pure soul of the boy, attracted by the Creator and prevented by the grace of the Redeemer, irresistibly sought, was to him all the dearer on account of the infinitely surpassing greatness of the Supreme Good. He felt what long before St. Ephrem had expressed: “He is hidden from thee, O seeker, though readily disclosed to thy adoration!”
But what is adoration? Nothing else than entire submission, perfect resignation.
Now, ask thyself, my soul, whether at the moment of thy arrival at self-conciousness, God alone became thy highest aim and end. “When didst thou begin to refer thy whole life to Him, to seek Him everywhere, to behold him in all things? When reason dawns, our actions, as emanating from a self-conscious being, become accountable; hence, they must tend to our last end, and according to the same be regulated. Every thought, every word, every action in harmonious accord with God, is good, leads to God, and merits a reward; whilst the contrary is repelled by His infinite sanctity, and loads the responsible agent with guilt. Either one or the other is the consequence of every act of the free-will. This undeniable truth stamps the value upon all our actions, influences our whole life, and consequently determines our fate for eternity. And yet, the unthinking world heedless of this truth runs on, it cares not whither. If after thy self-examen, thou discoverest that thou, too, hast frittered away thy life unmindful of thy destiny and that of the things around thee, transport thyself in spirit to those early days on Monte Cassino, and listen humbly to the earnest question of Thomas, a boy of five years: “What is God?” Let the innocent accents of the future Doctor Angelicus sink deep into thy soul and find therein the echo, “What is God!”—
- Is He not thy end and aim?
- Did He not create thee for Himself?
- Has He not a right over thee?
- Has He not almighty power over thee?
- Canst thou escape Him?
- If thou fleest from Him, wilt thou not like the Prophet Jonas rush into the arms of thy angry God?
“What, then, must thou do? O happy for thee if only a short space of thy life has been spent so in considerately! Happier still if the retrospect unfolds to thee no misspent, no valueless existence! Have thy lost hours been few? Then let mingled sorrow and joy temper the ardor with which thou wilt now hasten to consecrate to God every moment left to thee, and thus consecrating it secure it for thyself.—If, however, the greater part of thy life is already wasted—Ah, then, with still greater ardor press onward ere it is too late! Had a tepid religious of Monte Cassino, or a worldling tarrying there awhile, heard the innocent child lovingly and earnestly asking: “What is God?”—would it not have struck upon his soul like a lightning flash? Would it not have filled him with deepest shame and self-reproach? Yes, unquestionably, those words must have burned into the most callous heart. And so may they burn into thine! May a ray from the clear eyes of that angelic child pierce thy heart, and to his question, “What is God?”— give to him and to thyself the answer: “God is what no one heretofore could be to me, what no one in the future can be: my last end, my highest aim.”
SECOND POINT.—Consider how St. Thomas of Aquin during his whole life kept this aim before his eyes, all others being secondary thereto. “Impossible!” does he exclaim, “Impossible to find happiness in a created good, for the state of blessedness exacts that all longing should cease! That which leaves something still to strive after, can never be the highest aim; consequently, nothing can satisfy the heart of man but that good which contains in itself and of itself all good. Now, that Good is God alone. Creatures possess but a good received; God is in Himself all good.”
So taught the wise master, and his life was in accord with his teachings. Once arrived at the conviction that the goods of earth could not satisfy his heart created for eternal bliss, it cost him no struggle to put them aside for the Supreme Good. The wealthy, young nobleman, sprung from the blood of the Norman princes, closely allied to the imperial House of Hohenstaufen, with the most magnificent future opening up before him, to the dismay of his teachers, to the sorrow of his otherwise pious mother, to the indignation of his brothers and the astonishment of the world at large, took the resolution to enter the poor and but recently founded Dominican Order. He overcame all obstacles, and like a hero struggled for the coveted happiness of becoming a mendicant friar. All the allurements of a later period, intercourse with kings and rulers, with cardinals and with Popes—all that his high position in the world could bestow, made no impression on the saintly youth who knew so well that our happiness consists in God alone.
Now dost thou begin, O Christian soul, to realize the practice of these words: “To recognize God as the supreme end, and for him alone to live.”
Thou mayest already have chosen thy state in life, or thou mayest be about to make that choice, or peradventure thou mayest still much longer ponder over the same. In any case, God’s will should ever be thy rule of conduct, the only consideration which should influence thy decision. As soon as thou preferest a creature to God, as soon as thou ceasest to weigh thy actions by their reference to God, canst thou be sure that thou art laboring at thine own eternal happiness? Since the creature can give no lasting felicity and thou art at war with the true Source of joy, whence shalt thou find peace?
Study well, then, by what way thou, with thy talents, thy abilities, thy peculiar graces, canst most safely and surely arrive at union with God, at that state of purity in which thou wilt find God; or if thou hast already chosen a permanent state in life, then consider how thou mayest best put thy affairs with God in order. It is neither necessary nor possible for all to follow St. Thomas to the cloister. For that a special vocation from God would be demanded. But it is not only necessary but indispensable that we should all follow him in the way that leads to God; that like him we should make God our chief aim; that all other aims in life should be subservient thereto; and that the goods, the joys, the delights of this earth should exert upon us only so much influence as may promote our striving after God. If our trust is placed in God alone, the words of the Psalmist shall never be verified in us; “They that go far from Thee shall perish.” (Ps. LXXII, 27.)
Cast an earnest glance upon thy angelic leader on this the first of his Six Sundays, and by a thorough examination of thy soul, see whether all in thee tends to the Lord, thy God, whether there is aught in thee displeasing in His sight. What is there in thy heart that can attract upon thee His approving gaze, or what is there that must be cast out in order to please Him? What means must thou take to discover in what vocation God’s grace will best be preserved to thee?—or if thy vocation be already decided, what is there in it that does not lead thee to God?—what is there that must absolutely be abandoned?
Think not that it is so very difficult to relinquish earthly goods for the Supreme Good. How many thousands have learned by experience that the very disengaging of the heart from the burden of temporal attachments, brings with it its own reward, and that in freedom of soul lies an indemnification far outweighing the joys of earth!—The severing of the affections from everything that could separate the soul from God, is what must take place under all circumstances whatsoever.
Since God has in Himself all good, thou canst lose nothing even in the supposition that thou art called upon to sacrifice all for Him. In Him all will be restored to thee; and, moreover, thou wilt find in Him what out of Him thou canst nowhere meet.
Rejoice that even now at the beginning, the Angelic Master incites thee to aims so high, and exacts so much of thee. He who sets such a price upon the good he offers, must be thoroughly convinced of its immeasurable value. St. Thomas, here as everywhere, is in strict harmony with Eternal Truth which says: “The kingdom of heaven is like to a merchant seeking good pearls. Who when he had found one pearl of great price, went his way, and sold all that he had, and bought it.”
O Angelic Teacher, St. Thomas of Aquin, thou didst early begin to seek that which alone is worth the efforts of an immortal spirit! That thou wast permitted to gaze so far into the abyss of God’s infinite perfections, is no marvel to me; since even in thy childhood thou didst, like a young eagle fix thine eyes upon the radiance of His divine splendor. O how happy should I be if like thee my early affections had all been given to God, and again like thee I had been true to my first love! And yet even now I may count myself happy if, under thy guidance, I run on unshackled by the things of earth and, at last, reach the Supreme Good. Nothing, nothing shall now impede my progress. If my state in life forbids the absolute resignation of exterior things, it cannot prevent the entire detachment of my heart from them. Exultingly as the lark on a summer morn, shall my heart soar up to God, to breathe the pure air whence thou didst draw such abundance of grace, and near thee to learn how pitiful is all that is not God.
Obtain for me the grace, my angelic guide, to love God above all things, not merely in word, but in heart and in deed. I am sincerely resolved to live for Him, to die for Him. But I know my weakness to be such that without heavenly assistance my resolve can produce no lasting effects. Ah then, be thou my special protector and guide on the way to God. Obtain that like thee, my saintly model, I may sigh for no other reward in the toils of this life than God alone for all eternity! Amen.
Prayer of the Church for the Feast of St. Thomas of Aquin.
(To be repeated after every Consideration.)
O God, who by the wonderful learning of blessed Thomas, Thy confessor, hast illustrated Thy Church, and by his virtues hast enlarged it: grant, we beseech Thee, that we may understand what he taught and in our lives follow what he practised. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Whilst St. Thomas was sojourning in the Monastery at Naples, there appeared to him once when praying in the church, Brother Romanus, whom he had left in Paris as Master of Theology. Thomas addressed him as follows: “Welcome! When did you arrive?”—to which the apparition answered: “I have passed from this life; but I have been permitted to appear to you for your own good.”—For a moment overcome by the sight of his deceased friend, St. Thomas quickly collected himself and said: “If it be pleasing to God, I intreat you in His name to answer these questions: How do I stand? Does my life please God?”—“You are in a good state and your works are pleasing to God,” was the reply. Then the holy Master went on: “How is it with yourself?” “I am in eternal life,” answered the deceased, “though I was for sixteen days in purgatory, on account of my tardiness in carrying into effect a will intrusted to me by the Bishop of Paris.”—“Tell me,” inquired Thomas, “how is it with that question we so often discussed, whether in the other life the soul remains in the particular state acquired in this?”—“Brother Thomas,” answered the apparition, “I see God! Ask nothing more.”—“But,” rejoined the saint, “in what way do you see God? Do you see Him immediately, or by means of some image?”—Then replied the spirit: “As we have heard so have we seen in the city of the Lord of Hosts!”—and vanished, leaving the holy Master filled with joy and astonishment.
It was likewise in the Monastery of Naples that happened the well-known incident, so often represented in pictures, and which serves as another proof that the first thought of the great Master was God. The sacristan, Brother Dominic of Caserta, a man of acknowledged virtue joined to prayer and labor, had frequently remarked that Thomas was in the habit of leaving his cell before Matins to go to the church, whence he afterwards hurried back as if wishing to be seen by none. This led to closer observation on the part of Brother Dominic. He entered the Chapel of St. Nicolas as the saint knelt there in prayer, and saw him, rapt in ecstasy, raised two cubits in the air. Whilst the Brother gazed in awe and astonishment, he distinctly heard the following words addressed to the saint from the Crucifix: “Well hast thou written of Me, Thomas! What reward wilt thou accept for thy labor?”—To which Thomas at once answered: “No other than Thyself, O Lord!”—“Justly,” continues the narrator, “did he desire for reward in the heavenly country Him in whom, by his labor upon earth, he had already found so much joy.”
And happy wilt thou be, my friend, if thou hast the assurance, not from a departed soul, but from thy own conscience, from God Himself, that thy life is pleasing to Him, that thy works can stand the test of His all-seeing eye! And more blessed still wilt thou be if, like the great St. Thomas: thou desirest God alone for thy reward!