Friday, January 28, 2011

From the Word on Fire Blog

Spirituality: Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

Today is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, who is one of the great patron saints of both Father Barron and Word on Fire Catholic Ministries as a whole. On the blog today, read a short reflection from Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master and watch Fr. Barron's video on his theological hero.  

"No account of the life and spirituality of Aquinas would be complete without a reflection on the events immediately preceding and surrounding his death. In Naples, on the feat of St. Nicholas, December 6, 1273, Thomas was, according to his custom, celebrating Mass in the presence of his friend, Reginald. Something extraordinary happened during that Mass, for afterward Thomas broke the routine that had been his for the previous twenty years. According to one source, he ‘hung up his instruments of writing,’ refusing to work, to dictate, to write. When his socius encouraged him to continue, Thomas replied very simply that he could not. Afraid that his master had perhaps become mentally unbalanced, the younger man persisted until Thomas, with a mixture of impatience and resignation, finally replied, ‘Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me.’
To many, those are the most eloquent words that Thomas Aquinas ever uttered. After filling tens of thousands of pages with words about God, the great master very abruptly fell silent, convinced that everything he had written amounted to no more than refuse, perhaps persuaded that nothing finally can capture the strangeness and elusiveness of God. Some speculate that Thomas might have suffered a stroke (there is indeed some evidence that he was physically impaired after the December 6 incident) and others that he had what amounted to a psychological breakdown (many of his symptoms are consistent with burn-out, profound depression, or even a midlife crisis). Whatever explanation we offer, the simple fact of his remarkable silence remains.

In January of 1274, Thomas visited his sister but was scarcely able to speak to her. She described him as stupefactus (dazed or out of his senses). According to some sources it was during this visit that Thomas told Reginald that his work seemed like straw ‘compared to what had been revealed to him.’ If this is so, then Thomas’s silence takes on a stranger and more mystical quality.
Summoned to the Council of Lyons in early 1274, the dutiful Aquinas set out fro France but fell ill on the way. Anticipating his death, Thomas asked to be taken to the Cistercian monastery of Fassanuova. It was there that he died on March 7, some say after composing a commentary on the Song of Songs.”[1]

For further reading, here is a link to Father Barron's article entitled, America Needs You, Thomas Aquinas. 

[1] Robert Barron. Thomas Aquinas, Spiritual Master (New York: Crossroads Publishing Company, 1996), 23-24

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