CONSIDERATION FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY.
St. Thomas Love of Chastity. His Great Temptation.
FIRST POINT.—Consider St. Thomas coming off unscathed from the frightful temptation to which his chastity was exposed. He had in peace of soul resisted the temptations of an effeminate, luxurious city and those in particular that beset a university life. He was like an angel among beastly and diabolical slaves of vice. No shadow ever fell upon his virtue, no breath of sensuality ever tarnished the pure mirror of his soul. But lo! from a quarter whence it was least to be expected, from those that should have admired and protected his innocence, came the danger. His resolution to enter the Dominican Order had filled his mother’s heart with sorrow, his brothers with indignation; and the otherwise pious mother approved a step from which, under other circumstances, she would have turned in horror. Thomas’s brothers had learned in the army of the Emperor Frederic II. to look lightly upon any measure deemed expedient by them, to crush whatever militated against their pride of birth. In pursuance of their object, they unexpectedly attacked the young novice when on his way to Paris, took him prisoner, and led him to their castle of Rocca Sicca where he was treated as a malefactor. He was imprisoned in one of the towers and no one allowed to approach him excepting his sisters, who were commissioned to dissuade him from his stupid intention of becoming a mendicant friar. But when the contrary happened and the two girls turned from worldly amusements, to become the champions of their noble brother and zealous servants of God; when every species of violence proved fruitless, then did the brothers adopt the diabolical resolution to rob the angelical youth of his purity and with it of divine grace. As with Samson in the arms of Dalila, so should it be with our young hero—the secret of his heavenly strength and virtue would be betrayed and the victory over him won. “They thought,” says his first biographer, “to conquer him by other tactics—tactics by which strong towers have been shaken, hard rocks softened, and the cedars of Libanus uprooted in the storm. The struggle was to be that in which there are, indeed, many combatants but few victors.” During the night, a charming, but sinful girl in immodest attire, was introduced into the chamber of the holy youth for the purpose of tempting him to sin. But the hero of God, his heart glowing with love for Divine “Wisdom, his chosen bride, had scarcely remarked the threatening danger, and knowing that flight, the best remedy on such occasions, was prohibited him, when seizing a blazing brand from the hearth, he drove the vile wretch from the room. Then, burning with holy enthusiasm, he ran to a corner of his chamber, drew with his charred weapon a cross on the wall, and cast himself on his knees before it in an ecstasy of prayer, begging Almighty God to preserve to him ever what His grace had enabled him to bring from the combat unscathed.
With feelings of wonder and admiration, gaze in spirit upon that champion of virginity coming forth from the contest in which many struggle, but few bear off the palm. Shall I call thee happy if still ignorant of the dangers attendant on such strifes? or happier if thou hast already fought and conquered? But blessed is he that has chosen such a leader as St. Thomas! Think not that trials similar to his will be spared thee. It may not, perhaps, be thy brethren who will lay for thee the snare—though in this very point the words of the Lord are too often verified: “A man’s enemies are those of his own household.” The peculiar circumstances of each, one’s life are somewhat different from those of his neighbor, as are also the dangers consequent on the same; but for none are they wanting, and for all in the main point they are very similar: human frailty on the one hand, the allurements of pleasure on the other. Wilt thou be stronger than the many that, confiding in self, miserably fell? Will it not be better for thee to imitate thy angelic guide and daily before the Crucifix, whence virginity first derived its value since the Son of the Virgin hung thereon, implore God’s help? “As I knew,” says Solomon, “That I could not otherwise be continent except God gave it, and this also was a point of wisdom, to know whose gift it was: I went to the Lord and besought Him, and said with my whole heart: “God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, . . . give me wisdom that sitteth by Thy throne, and cast me not off from among Thy children, for I am Thy servant and the son of Thy hand-maid, a weak man.” (Wis. VIII, 21; IX, 1, 4, 5.) The cross is the throne whereon hung the Incarnate Wisdom, and whence strength flows to preserve body and soul chaste. O treasure highly this virtue which, in His last bequest upon the cross, Our Lord especially provided for when He commended the Virgin Mother to the Virgin disciple! On the cross it hangs, and by the cross it lives. If the enemy draws near, seize this fiery weapon, love for the Crucified. Hold thyself in readiness, for thou knowest not the moment of his approach. Fire in this case must be extinguished by fire. But think not to conquer if thou dost neglect to enkindle within thee the fire of divine love, if thou dost defer until the hellish seduction glares upon thee or the enemy has roused up thy evil passions. The pure flame of God’s love must burn brightly, that thou mayest resist the foul fires of Satan.
SECOND POINT.—As St. Thomas was praying after his victory, he fell into an ecstasy. A throng of angels surrounded him, and two of them bound his loins with the girdle of continence saying: “Commissioned by God, we came to bring thee the gift of perpetual virginity, which irrevocable grace He now insures to thee.”—The pain of this binding roused him and drew from him an involuntary cry. On hearing it, his guards entered the room; but he carefully hid his secret from them, and spoke not of it until his death. Notwithstanding the assurance that he would always preserve his chastity, Thomas was prudent and watchful as before. He fled all company and, especially, conversation with females. His reserve on this point was so remarkable that it aroused some dissatisfaction on the part of those thus shunned. Once a noble lady asked him in complaining, though respectful tones, why he so studiously kept aloof from speech with women, since he had himself been born of a woman. To which the clear-sighted and circumspect Master answered: “I shun women for the very reason that I myself was born of a woman.”—By which words he meant to say that, knowing himself to be a weak child of Adam, he looked upon such caution as necessary. It was by such circumspection that he maintained his purity so unsullied that his friend, Brother Reginald a Piperno, to whom more than once he had made a general confession, deposed upon oath after the saint’s death that his innocence was such as to render the last confession of his life like that of a boy of five years.
He that would quietly observe the deportment of most men, noticing how coolly they abandon themselves to danger, might be tempted to conclude that peril had vanished from earth, or that man had become inaccessible to evil. Where is he to be found who has not some weak point? If strong in other points, thou art, owing to the sin of our first parents, in matters relating to the delicate, holy virtue, so weak and infirm that thou canst not promise thyself security without great watchfulness and the constant help of God. Art thou stronger than those mighty ones of earth, those courageous heros, those able warriors, those wise and holy ones who, in an unguarded moment, fell to such depths that for nearly three thousand years the wailing notes of the “Miserere” have risen from the imitators of him whose own sad fall called that cry for mercy into being? If the cedars of Libanus, the strong towers of mighty citadels could not withstand such whirlwinds, be thou now fearful that later on thou mayest not have to mourn and do penance. If he whom angels bound with the cincture of chastity; whom they thereby admitted to their own number; yes, to whom, in the name of God, they expressly declared the gift of virginity secured,—if St. Thomas, notwithstanding all this was so cautious, with how much greater reason is the most rigorous circumspection needful to thee? “Sensual pleasure,” says the holy Doctor, “more than all things else weakens the strength of the soul. The spiritual eye grows blind, the will becomes lame, as soon as this horrible, this filthy passion gains ground.” Be mindful! Every glance must be guarded, every motion, every thought kept under control, that the enemy may not steal into the heart and establish there his reign even before thou dreamest of the magnitude of the danger.
Hast thou in time past been thus conscientious? Had an improper word the power to offend thy chaste ear? a suspicious picture to startle thy chaste eye?—or are thy eye and thy ear no longer chaste? Dost thou listen willingly to that from which a modest ear should turn? Art thou attracted to what should cause thy modest cheek to blush?—O tremble for thy treasure! A single glance can paint upon thy soul pictures that a life-time will not be able to efface, and which may be for thee the cause of repeated struggles. Though cheerful in thy intercourse with others, art thou discreet and reserved? In thy demonstrations of affection, dost thou not express thyself with too much liberty and tenderness? Such demonstrations may sully the pure lily of chastity, if they do not wholly destroy it. O be careful!—Must thou reproach thyself with having exposed or even with having altogether ruined thy precious treasure?—O fly to the Angelic Doctor! His girdle, his cord works most efficaciously through the blessing of the Church. The angelic virtue under the protection of the Angelic Doctor will grow dear to thy soul, its practice easy and fruitful of blessing; for where earthly passion has been extinguished, there will be enkindled the celestial flame of the seraphim, there will be bestowed the bright vision of the cherubim of which Jesus says: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”
O holy, innocent Master, thou leader of the host pure of soul, I now begin to understand what gained for thee the title, “Angel of the Schools.” The eye of an angel must indeed be able to contemplate that which constitutes an angel’s blessedness. Well didst thou understand that saying of the Holy Spirit: “Wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sin.”—Thou hast told me that the heart that gives itself up to sensuality, must be weak, bad, and subject to low instincts. I believe thee, and I will follow thy counsels. Never will I have aught to do with what might endanger the lovely, the precious purity of my soul. When the tempter suddenly appears, may I like thee in the hour of thy fiery and memorable victory, seize the flaming brand of holy love with which to put my enemy to flight! I solemnly promise thee, O my holy Leader, to flee from every shadow of danger, to be watchful in the choice of my books, my friends, my conversations, my recreations, yes, even in my food and drink as far as in me lies. But do thou, O heavenly Protector, obtain for me the divine assistance in those encounters from which so few come forth victorious. I will conquer, I must conquer! Protect me from whatever could wound purity in the least degree and keep me in the love of this beautiful virtue till the end, that I may belong to those who in heaven thank thee for thy guard over them and contribute to thy glory, O thou triumphant Leader and renowned Hero of virginity! 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.
Trait, from the Life of St. Thomas of Aquin.
The witnesses at St. Thomas’s canonization mentioned in their deposition the opinion openly expressed at the time of the saint’s death; viz., that he had lived perfectly pure and chaste, and that he had carried to the grave the virginity with which he had come into the world.
The following fact is worthy of remark: On August 4, 1319, in presence of the Archbishop and the members of the Commission of Inquiry assembled at Naples, for the purpose of collecting evidence in St. Thomas’s case, Brother Anthony of Brescia, Priest of the Dominican Order, affirmed upon oath that he had from Brother Albert of Brescia, a man of great sanctity and professor at Brescia, who closely followed the teaching of St. Thomas, often heard the words: “Thomas is a saint!”—adding as if perfectly convinced of the truth of his statement: “I know, my dear Brother, that he is a great saint in heaven.”—When he, the witness, with one of his companions, Brother Janinus, since deceased, had long besought the above-mentioned Brother Albert to tell them how he knew with so much certainty that Brother Thomas was a saint. Brother Albert spoke, as follows:—
“You know, my dear sons, that in every point I follow the teaching of the saintly Thomas, and often have I wondered, how he in so short a life time should have attained such holiness and knowledge. Reflecting upon this astonishing fact, I repeatedly implored God through the intercession of the most holy Virgin and St. Augustine, to show to me the glory of Brother Thomas. One day whilst prostrate before the altar of the Blessed Virgin, being fully conscious and having prayed long with abundant tears, two noble looking men appeared to me. They shone with light and magnificence. One wore a mitre; the other was habited in the Dominican garb, on his head a crown of gold set with precious stones, and around his neck two chains, one of gold, the other of silver. On his breast glittered a large magnificent jewel, whose radiance lit up the whole church. His cappa was covered with precious stones; his tunic and scapular radiated light as white, as snow. Astounded at the wonderful vision, I cast myself at their feet and begged them to make known to me who they were in their glorious beauty. Thereupon he that wore the mitre answered: “Why art thou so amazed Brother Albert? Thy prayers have been heard. Behold, I now disclose to thee who we are! I am Augustine, the Doctor of the Church. I have been sent to thee in order to show the glory of Brother Thomas of Aquin, who here stands beside me. He is my son, inasmuch as he followed in all things the teachings of the Apostles and my own, and by his learning illustrated the Church. Those precious stones, and especially that magnificent one on his breast, which betokens the pure sentiments that animated him for the defence of the faith and to which he gave utterance in his works, are indicative of this. Those gems and especially the largest, symbolize the numerous books and other fruits of his mental labors. His glory is like unto mine, but he surpasses me by his crown of virginity.”—
The same witness testified that he had heard Brother Nicholas of Marsiliaco, Councillor and Chaplain to the King of Cyprus, and who had, at Paris, been the scholar of Brother Thomas of Aquin, say: “Brother Anthony, I was with Brother Thomas at Paris, and I tell thee before God that never have I seen one endowed with such purity as he.”
In the attestation upon oath of the Abbot Thomas of Mathia, Canon of Salerno, it appears that he had at one time spoken in rather contemptuous terms of St. Thomas; but after having been miraculously reprimanded for the same and by a second miracle cured, he ever after felt great confidence in him. Once, when attacked by a temptation of the flesh, and about to commit a sin with full deliberation, he suddenly commended himself to Brother Thomas of Aquin, and the evil thoughts were entirely dissipated. From that time he more than once invoked the name of Brother Thomas, and always with similar results.—Try the same, dear friend. Invoke the saint often, yes, daily. Then wilt thou be sure of relating many victories.