Category Archives: Aquinas

St Thomas Aquinas’ 5 Remedies for sadness

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I suffer from clinical depression.  I was diagnosed in 1994; meds, therapy, the whole nine yards.  So sadness to me is not unfamiliar or infrequent.  It is a cursed associate:  soul & body, body & soul.

In Roman Catholicism, the theology of the body is based on the belief that the human body has its origin in God. It will be, like the body of Jesus, Resurrected, transformed and taken into heavenly glory.

“Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity” (GS 14 § 1). The doctrine of the faith affirms that the spiritual and immortal soul is created immediately by God.”  -CCC 382

On certain days we have all been sad, days when we have been unable to overcome an inner torpor or depression that weighs down on us and makes it difficult to interact with others. Is there a trick for overcoming sorrow and recovering our smile? St. Thomas Aquinas suggests five remedies against sadness that have proven surprisingly effective (Summa Theologiae, I–II, q. 38).

The first remedy is granting ourselves something we like. It’s as though the famous theologian had already intuited seven centuries ago that “chocolate is an antidepressant.” (YEAH!! 🙂 )This might seem a bit materialistic, but no one would deny that a tough day can end well with a good beer (DOUBLE YEAH!!!). It’s hard to refute this by citing the Gospel, since our Lord took part joyfully in banquets and feasts, and both before and after his Resurrection enjoyed the noble and good things in life. One of the Psalms even says that wine gladdens the human heart (although the Bible also clearly condemns getting drunk).

The second remedy is weeping. St. Thomas says “a hurtful thing hurts yet more if we keep it shut up, because the soul is more intent on it: whereas if it be allowed to escape, the soul’s intention is dispersed as it were on outward things, so that the inward sorrow is lessened” (I-II q. 38 a. 2). Our melancholy gets worse if we have no way to give vent to our sorrow. Weeping is the soul’s way to release a sorrow that can become paralyzing. Jesus too wept. And Pope Francis said that “certain truths in life can only be seen with eyes cleansed by tears. I invite each of you to ask yourself: Have I learned how to cry?”

The third remedy is sharing our sorrow with a friend. I recall here the friend of Renzo in Manzoni’s great novel The Betrothed. Finding himself alone in his deserted home ravaged by the plague and mourning his family’s horrible fate, he tells Renzo: “What has happened is horrible, something that I never thought I would live to see; it’s enough to take away a person’s joy for the rest of his life. But speaking about these things with a friend is a great help.” This is something we have to experience in order to understand it. When we are sad, we tend to see everything in tints of gray. A very effective antidote is opening our heart to a friend. Sometimes a brief message or phone call is enough for our outlook to once again be filled with light.

The fourth remedy against sadness is contemplating the truth. Contemplating the “fulgor veritatis” St. Augustine speaks of, the splendor of truth in nature or a work of art or music, can be an effective balm against sadness. A literary critic, a few days after the death of a dear friend, was scheduled to speak at a conference about the topic of adventure in the works of Tolkien. He began by saying: “Speaking about beautiful things to people interested in them is for me a real consolation …” Amen.

The fifth remedy suggested by St. Thomas is perhaps something we wouldn’t expect from a medieval thinker. The theologian says that a wonderful remedy against sadness is bathing and sleeping. Amen. It’s a deeply Christian viewpoint that in order to alleviate a spiritual malady one will sometimes have to resort to a bodily remedy. Ever since God became Man, and therefore took on a body, the separation between matter and spirit has been overcome in this world of ours.

A widespread error is that Christianity is based on the opposition between soul and body (a deadly heresy, actually…), with the latter being seen as a burden or obstacle for the spiritual life. But the right view of Christian humanism is that the human person (both body and soul) is completely “spiritualized” by seeking union with God.

No one thinks it strange to seek out a physician who cares for the body as a guide for a spiritual illness,” says St. Thomas More. “The body and soul are so closely united that together they form a single person, and hence a malady of one can sometimes be a malady of both. Therefore, I would advise everyone, when confronted with a physical illness, to first go to confession, and seek out a good spiritual doctor for the health of their soul. Likewise for some sicknesses of the soul, besides going to the spiritual physician, one should also go to a physician who cares for the body.”

Sadness and the danger of despair

St. Thomas Aquinas defines sadness as “the pain of the soul.” The danger of sadness is that we may indulge in it indefinitely and sink into despair. This is the “excessive sorrow” St. Paul warns against (2 Cor 2:7). That state ultimately distances us from God, Who is the source of hope.

St. Thomas points out the value of exterior expressions of sorrow—”tears and groans”—as a means of assuaging it. Indeed, for the author of the Summa Theologica, a psychologist before his time,

“a hurtful thing hurts yet more if we keep it shut up, because the soul is more intent on it: whereas if it be allowed to escape, the soul’s intention is dispersed as it were on outward things, so that the inward sorrow is lessened.” (I-II q. 38 a. 2).

Melancholy is accentuated if we do not accept our sadness. Let’s allow ourselves to cry and to talk about our sorrow. This will help us avoid falling into the trap of despair.

Pope Francis strongly encourages this, saying, “Some realities of life are only visible once our eyes have been cleansed by tears. I enjoin you all to ask yourselves: Have I learned to cry?”

“Our world today needs weeping!” he exclaimed during a meeting with young people in the Philippines on January 18, 2015, facing a young woman in tears.

Crying is also a way of placing our sadness in God’s hands. It allows us to be comforted by the One who is the source of all consolation:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, Who consoles us in all our affliction” (2 Cor 1:3-4a).

Love, and always praying for your well being. Give Praise to our Creator Who wonderfully made us!!!
Matthew

Let your heart be an altar

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O LORD MY GOD,
help me to be obedient without reserve,
poor without servility,
chaste without compromise,
humble without pretense,
joyful without depravity,
serious without affectation,
active without frivolity,
submissive without bitterness,
truthful without duplicity,
fruitful in good works without presumption,
quick to revive my neighbor without haughtiness,
and quick to edify others by word and example without simulation.

Grant me, O Lord,
an ever-watchful heart
that no alien thought can lure away from You;
a noble heart that no base love can sully;
an upright heart that no perverse intention can lead astray;
an invincible heart that no distress can overcome;
an unfettered heart that no impetuous desires can enchain.

O Lord my God,
also bestow upon me understanding to know You,
zeal to seek You,
wisdom to find You,
a life that is pleasing to You,
unshakable perseverance,
and a hope that will one day take hold of You.

May I do penance here below and patiently bear Your chastisements.
May I also receive the benefits of Your grace,
in order to taste Your heavenly joys and contemplate Your glory. AMEN.
St Thomas Aquinas, OP

Love,
Matthew

Aquinas on Prayer

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-by Rev John Sica, OP

“Prayer, St. John Damascene says, is the unveiling of the mind before God. When we pray we ask Him for what we need, confess our faults, thank Him for His gifts, and adore His immense majesty. Here are five tips for praying better– with the help of St. Thomas Aquinas.

5. Be humble.

Many people falsely think of humility as a virtue of a low self-esteem. St. Thomas teaches us that humility is a virtue of acknowledging the truth about reality. Since prayer, at its root, is an “asking” directed at God, humility is crucially important. Through humility we recognize our neediness before God. We are totally and entirely dependent on God for everything and at every moment: our existence, life, breath, every thought and action. As we become more humble, we recognize more profoundly our need to pray more.

4. Have faith.

It’s not enough to know that we’re needy. To pray, we also have to ask someone, and not just anyone, but someone who can and will answer our petition. Children intuit this when they ask mom instead of dad (or vice versa!) for permission or a gift. It is with the eyes of faith that we see God is both powerful and willing to help us in prayer. St. Thomas says that “faith is necessary… that is, we need to believe that we can obtain from Him what we seek.” It is faith which teaches us “of God’s omnipotence and mercy,” the basis of our hope. In this, St. Thomas reflects the Scriptures. The Epistle to the Hebrews underlines the necessity of faith, saying, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). Try praying an Act of Faith.

“O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches, because in revealing them you can neither deceive nor be deceived.”

or, something close to that, so long as not heretical. Check w/your favorite, friendly, faithful, trained Catholic wonk.

3. Pray before praying.

In old breviaries you can find a small prayer that begins, “Open, O Lord, my mouth to bless your Holy Name. Cleanse, too, my heart from all vain, perverse and extraneous thoughts…” I remember finding this slightly amusing– there were prescribed prayers before prescribed prayers! When I reconsidered it, I realized that although it might seem paradoxical, it gives a lesson. Prayer is utterly supernatural, and so it is far beyond our reach. St. Thomas himself notes that God “wishes to bestow certain things on us at our asking.” The prayer above continues by asking God: “Illumine my mind, inflame my heart, that I may worthily, attentively and devoutly recite this Office and merit to be heard in the sight of Your divine Majesty.” The attentiveness and purity of heart needed to attain to God in prayer is itself received as a gift– and we will only receive if we ask.

2. Be intentional.

Merit in prayer– that is to say, whether it brings us closer to heaven– flows from the virtue of charity. And this flows from our will. So to pray meritoriously, we need to make our prayer an object of choice. St. Thomas explains that our merit rests primarily on our original intention in praying. It isn’t broken by accidental distraction, which no human being can avoid, but only by intentional and willing distraction. This also should give us some relief. We need not worry too much about distractions, as long as we don’t encourage them. We realize something of what the Psalmist says, namely, that God “pours gifts on His beloved while they slumber” (Ps 127:2).

1. Be attentive.

Although, strictly, we need only be intentional and not also perfectly attentive to merit by our prayer, it is nevertheless true that our attention is important. When our minds are filled with actual attention to God, our hearts too are inflamed with desire for Him. St. Thomas explains that spiritual refreshment of the soul comes chiefly from being attentive to God in prayer. The Psalmist cries out, “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek!” (Ps 27:8). In prayer, let us never cease to search for His Face.”

Love,
Matthew

Jan 28 – St Thomas Aquinas, O.P., (1225-1274) – Doctor of the Church, Doctor Communis, Doctor Angelicus, “The Dumb Ox!”

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Also known as the “Common Doctor/Doctor Communis”, which is high praise, meaning his opine is universal, something for everyone, relevant in every situation.

Probably, for me, the highlight, liturgically, of the year is Holy Thursday, after communion has been distributed and the priest is enwrapped in cope, incense is lit, the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the monstrance, the procession to the place of reservation begins and Pange Lingua, attributed to St Thomas Aquinas, and not just because I am his wonk, is sung beautifully and reverently, nearly as chant…

“Sing, my tongue, the Saviour’s glory,
of His Flesh, the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our Immortal King…

Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail…”

It is very moving for me.  My mother always taught me to genuflect on both knees when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.  The altar is then stripped and ornamentation in the sanctuary is removed in anticipation of the events remembered the following day.  There is such a peace, solemnity, silence, and profound meaning beyond words I look forward to each year.

I tried reading the Summa on my own, once, and only once.  Emphasis on the word “tried” and “once”.  I quickly gave up.  Calculus is easier, more self-evident.

There are a great number of erudite tomes way over my head which are best introduced to the novice, literally, with a well seasoned, compassionate guide to whom the bewildered, overwhelmed student can revert with great frequency, great frequency, receiving tender mercies of experienced instruction and wisdom, presuming these qualities are present in the teacher.  Thank God for merciful instructors.  We would never graduate without their encouragement and support.  I try to imitate that with my own students, who, too, are deeply grateful, usually, but there are some… 🙁  For those students, I have to pray even harder!!! 🙂

Don’t try the Summa on your own, boys and girls.  Fair warning.  Many of the original works of the Church Fathers fall into this category as well.  You have been fairly warned!  I have the intellectual scars from those “knowledge bombs”, a term one of my students recently introduced me to, to prove it!  Wanna see?  🙂

St. Thomas Aquinas was born January 28, 1225, in Aquino, a town in southern Italy from which he takes his surname. In his masterwork, Summa Theologica, he represents the pinnacle of Scholasticism, the philosophical and theological school that reconciles faith with reason and the works of Aristotle with the scriptures.

At the time Thomas lived, the works of Aristotle were being rediscovered in the West and great Christian thinkers of the day spent a good deal of attention and effort trying to unify Divine revelation with human philosophy.  In the East, intellectual life flourished.  The West was still recovering from the inertia of the “Dark Ages”, where little intellectual innovation occurred.  It is said St Thomas was the spark who prepared the the West for the Renaissance.  Aristotle had been preserved in Arabic, and Islam was producing great Aristotelian thinkers.  Western Christians needed to respond in kind.

The family of Thomas Aquinas was a noble one, his parents, the Count of Aquino and Countess of Teano, were related to Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II, as well as to the Kings of Aragon, Castile, and France.  He was the youngest of eight children.

During his early education, Thomas exhibited great acumen in the medieval trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Described as “a witty child”, who “had received a good soul”, even as a child student, he posed the question to his instructors, “What is God?”

Because of his high birth, Thomas’ entry into the Dominican order in the early 1240s was very surprising, and especially disturbing to his family. They especially opposed entry into “mendicant”, or begging orders, who beg for their sustenance, thinking it far below their family status.

Thomas’ family employed various means to dissuade him from his vocation, including kidnapping him and imprisoning him for two years.  Thomas spent his time tutoring his sisters, and communicating with other Dominicans.  His resolve was strong.  Family members became desperate to dissuade Thomas, who remained determined to join the Dominicans. At one point, two of his brothers resorted to the measure of hiring a prostitute to seduce him. Thomas drove her away wielding a fire iron. That night two angels appeared to him as he slept and strengthened his determination to remain celibate giving him a mystical belt of chastity.  He never faced sexual temptation again. (????!!!! Really? Wow? :< I guess. Mixed feelings on that one…. 🙂 [I DO like my sin, unfortunately. 🙁 Give me strength, Lord! :] Concupiscence.

Upon his escape, which was arranged by his mother, Theodora, as a face saving measure, rather than all out surrender to a religious order, Thomas returned to the Dominicans and his studies.  Since, “still waters run deep”, Thomas was a thoughtful, and hence, quiet student.  His taciturn nature was deceiving.  So much so, his classmates thought him dim-witted.  Possessing hefty stature, his classmates nick-named him “The Dumb Ox!”

After a stint as a student in Paris, Thomas made his way to Cologne to teach, receiving ordination to the priesthood in 1250. Soon after this, he was assigned to teach at Paris, where he also worked toward his degree of Doctor of Theology, which he received in 1257, with his friend St. Bonaventure, after some intramural political difficulty.

The remainder of his life was spent in prayer, study, and writing his great Summa Theologica, a systematic attempt to present the findings of scholasticism. Although Thomas is sometimes perceived simply as an analytical and methodical writer, he was, especially in his later years, given to periods of mystical ecstasy. During one such experience, on December 6, 1273, he resigned from his writing project, indicating that he had perceived such wonders that his previous work seemed worthless.  During the Feast of St. Nicolas in 1273, St. Thomas Aquinas had a mystical vision that made writing seem unimportant to him. At Mass, he heard a voice coming from a crucifix tell him, “Thou hast written well of Me, Thomas; what reward wilt thou have?” to which St. Thomas Aquinas replied, “None other than Thyself, Lord.”

When St. Thomas Aquinas’ confessor, Father Reginald of Piperno, urged him to keep writing, Aquinas replied, “I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value, as so much straw.” St. Thomas Aquinas never wrote again.

The Summa Theologica was left unfinished, proceeding only as far as the ninetieth question of the third part. St. Thomas Aquinas died a few months later, on March 7, 1274. Today, Thomist theology stands at the center of the Roman Catholic tradition.


-The Temptation of St Thomas Aquinas, by Diego Velazquez, 1631-2, oil on canvas, Orihuela Cathedral Museum, please click on the image for greater detail.

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– artist anonymous, Cusco School, (1690 – 1695), “Saint Thomas Aquinas, Protector of the University of Cusco”, oil on canvas, H:1,610 mm (63.39 in), W:1,170 mm (46.06 in), Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru.


“Joy is the noblest human act.” -St Thomas Aquinas

“We can’t have full knowledge all at once. We must start by believing; then afterwards we may be led on to master the evidence for ourselves.”
–St. Thomas Aquinas

“Charity is the form, mover, mother and root of all the virtues.” – Saint Thomas Aquinas

“[The] ultimate end of man we call beatitude. For a man’s happiness or beatitude consists in the vision whereby he sees God in His essence. Of course, man is far below God in the perfection of his beatitude. For God has this beatitude by His very nature, whereas man attains beatitude by being admitted to a share in the divine light.”
—St. Thomas Aquinas

“To love God is something greater than to know Him.” -St. Thomas Aquinas

“Almighty and ever-living God, I approach the sacrament of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  I come sick to the doctor of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the radiance of eternal light, and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.  Lord, in your great generosity, heal my sickness, wash away my defilement, enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness.  Amen.”  -St Thomas Aquinas

“May I receive the bread of angels, the King of kings and Lord of lords, with humble reverence, with the purity and faith, the repentance and love, and the determined purpose that will help to bring me to salvation.  May I receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood, and its reality and power.  Amen.”  -St Thomas Aquinas

“The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Love; It signifies Love, It produces love. The Eucharist is the consummation of the whole spiritual life.”— St. Thomas Aquinas

“As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary.”
–Saint Thomas Aquinas

“Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.”
–St. Thomas Aquinas

“As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary.”
–Saint Thomas Aquinas

“It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate, even publicly” – St Thomas Aquinas, SUMMA THEOLOGICA  II, II q.33

“Faith is a habit of the mind whereby eternal life is begun in us, making the intellect assent to what is non-apparent.”
–St. Thomas Aquinas

“The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Love; It signifies Love, It produces love. The Eucharist is the consummation of the whole spiritual life.”
–St. Thomas Aquinas

“Give me, O God, an ever-watchful heart which nothing can ever lure away from You; a noble heart, which no unworthy affection can draw downwards to the earth; an upright heart, which no evil can warp; an unconquerable heart, which no tribulation can crush; a free heart, which no perverted affection can claim for its own. Bestow on me, O God, understanding to know You, diligence to seek You, and wisdom to find You; a life which may please You, and a hope which may embrace You at the last.” -St Thomas Aquinas, OP

“It is nevertheless commendable at times that the object of a favor should remain in ignorance of it, both in order to avoid vainglory, as when Blessed Nicolas threw gold into a house secretly, wishing to avoid popularity: and because the kindness is all the greater through the benefactor wishing not to shame the person on whom he is conferring the favor.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

“Leaves without flowers: these are they which have words without works.” -St. Thomas Aquinas, from the book Sermon in a Sentence, Vol. 5.

“Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you.”
–St. Thomas Aquinas

“Purity is necessary if the mind is to be applied to God, because the human mind is sullied when it is attached to inferior things; just as anything is rendered impure by being mixed with something baser, e. g. silver when mixed with lead. The mind ought to be withdrawn from inferior objects if it is to be united to the supreme object; and therefore the mind that lacks purity cannot be applied to God.” -St Thomas Aquinas, OP

“O most blessed and most sweet Virgin Mary full of mercy,
to thy compassion I recommend my soul and body, my thoughts, actions, life and death.
O my Lady, help and strengthen me against the snares of the devil;
obtain me true and perfect love with which to love thy most beloved Son and my Lord Jesus Christ with my whole heart, and after Him to love thee above all things.
My Queen and Mother, by thy most powerful intercession,
grant that I may persevere in this love until death
and after death be conducted by thee to the kingdom of the blessed. ” – St Thomas Aquinas

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Wonderful Theologian and Doctor of the Church, you learned more from the Crucifix than from books. Combining both sources, you left us the marvelous “Summa” of theology, broadcasting most glorious enlightenment to all.  You always sought for true light and studied for God’s honor and glory.  Help us all to study our religion as well as all other subjects needed for life, without ambition and pride in imitation of you. Amen.

PRAYER OF THANKS FOR GOD’S BLESSING

I praise, glorify, and bless you, my God, for the immeasurable blessings shown to me who am unworthy of them. I praise your compassion extended to me for so long a time, and your gentleness appearing in the guise of correction. I praise your tenderness calling out to me, your kindness welcoming me, and your mercy forgiving my sins. I praise your goodness given to me beyond what I deserve, and your forbearance that does not remember grievances. I praise your humility that consoles me, your patience that shelters me, your eternity that preserves me, and your truth that rewards me. What can I proclaim, my God, about your ineffable generosity? For you call the fugitive back. You welcome the one who returns. You sustain the faltering. You gladden the despondent. You prod the negligent. You arm the warrior. You crown the victor. You spurn not the repentant sinner. You do not remember his wrongdoing. You free him from many perils. You soften his heart for penitence. You frighten him with chastisement. You entice him with promises. You castigate him with rods. You guard him with ministering angels. For you supply us with all temporal goods. You reserve for us an eternal good. You inspire us with the beauty of creation. You appeal to us with the mercy of redemption. You promise us blessings in reward. For all these I am incapable of sufficient praise. I thank your majesty for the abundance of your immense goodness. May you always increase your grace in me, preserve that increase, and reward what you have preserved. Amen.
-Saint Thomas Aquinas

St Thomas Aquinas, OP, reminds us that, “Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe, to know what he ought to desire, and to know what he ought to do.” Everyone is called to work toward their salvation (Phil 2:12), which is ultimately union with God. Those who take this call seriously must embark upon a journey inward to the deepest recesses of their soul. In the adventure and wonder of that journey, we work out the details of our union with our Beloved. We cling to what we need to believe, remain firm in what we truly desire, and are guided by what we know we have to do.

Prayer

Father of wisdom, You inspired Saint Thomas Aquinas with an ardent desire for holiness and study of sacred doctrine. Help us, we pray, to understand what he taught, and to imitate what he lived.   Amen.

Love,
Matthew