Homily – January 29th, 2012
TEACHING JESUS AND AQUINAS Mark 1:21-28 January 29, 2012
Today [yesterday] we celebrated Saint Thomas Aquinas, master of philosophy and of theology, a holy person who, in his teaching, has bequeathed to us a reasoned exposition of the faith. Our Creator has endowed you and me with understanding. Thomas Aquinas teaches us a mode of question and answer so that we might conceive God and conceive his revealed truth, and speak of truth, whether divine or human, as of one truth, as being the single intellectual light whereby we mentally grasp everything.
Jesus is known as a teacher. Today’s gospel opens with our Lord teaching. “…on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” Jesus often, even regularly, explains the prophets and the Mosaic writings to the Sabbath listeners. The synagogue crowd feels a thrill of recognition as Christ interprets these instructions with a sureness and a competence and a complete knowledge.
The gospel recounts a dramatic exorcism at this time of Christ’s teaching. The exorcism demonstrates the very power which so enthuses the listeners. At this point, a man with an unclean spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the holy one of God!” We imagine a building dedicated to proclaiming the scripture; the day’s scriptural passage might be from Isaiah or from Deuteronomy. We imagine ourselves
among those religious listeners. Suddenly one person from the
congregation stands up shouting; this demon has taken over the man’s personality, and that demon-possessed personality shouts that the speaker, Jesus, wrecks the Satanic influence. Satan’ power is being broken-up because the Lord has come to redeem the people.
The unclean spirit is the antithesis of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus possesses. This demon, in resisting Jesus’ power speaks for all the evil spirits: “Have you come,” says the demon infested man, “to destroy us?” The violent reaction of the demon proves that Jesus has power over such evil spirits. And Jesus “rebukes” the demon, and then Jesus commands the demon. “Quiet!” Jesus orders the demon. “Come out of him!” “The unclean spirit convulses [the man] and with a loud cry comes out of him.” Is it any wonder that such force brings amaze to the people? Jesus demonstrates his strength in an energetic flash. Sure the people turn to each other in wonder that His teaching effects the submission of Satan. By exorcising a demon from the man, Jesus dramatizes the energy of His discourse. What Jesus has to say releases us as the possessed man is released from Satan’s grip. In mid-thirteenth century, a man named Thomas heeds the Lord’s call. At age eighteen, Thomas enters the religious order founded by St. Dominic. Herein, Thomas, from near Naples, Italy, studies under important lecturers at Naples, at Paris, at Cologne. In the year 1248 we realize that Thomas becomes an author. He defends the right of religious order priests to teach at the university in Paris. By 1257 Thomas assumes the chair of theology, and from hence he writes voluminously. He has a secretary who transcribes his notes and puts them in order. I have seen a photo copy of a page of his writing. His secretary, certainly not me, apparently could unravel his scratching. While lecturing, he also delivers lengthy sermons and he also devises a course of study for students in the Dominican Order. He continually engages in the active service of his order, is frequently travelling—on foot, of course—and is often consulted both by the king (Louis VIII), his kinsman, and by the pope. In defending theological understanding, Thomas is embroiled in controversy. His pen on a rare occasion dips in acrid ink. Perhaps the most biting criticism in all his works is this thrust at his antagonists: “They speak as though they alone were rational beings and wisdom has originated in their own brains” (1271, De Aeternitate Mundi contra Murmurantes).
In a special manner, Aquinas teaches about the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. While Aquinas engages many questions about this central sacrament of the Church, he manifests his faith in explaining that in receiving Communion, we receive Jesus Christ, true God and true man, body and blood, soul and divinity. In celebrating the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Church extensively uses the hymns and poetry of Aquinas. Of special note are the hymns at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament: “O salutaris hostia,” and “Tantum Ergo.” We also learn from this Angelic Doctor a sequence employed at Corpus Christi that says in part:
This the truth each Christian learns,
Bread into his flesh he turns,
To his precious blood the wine:
Sight has fail’d, nor thought conceives,
But a dauntless faith believes,
Resting on a pow’r divine.
Aquinas like his model Christ continues to teach us in his extensive writing. Yet this Doctor of the Church not long after his forty-ninth birthday undergoes something extraordinary during his offering of Mass on December 6, 1273. His secretary [Reginald] writes this. “After the Mass, [Thomas] never wrote or dictated anything; in fact he hung up his writing instruments.” When his secretary inquired and encouraged him to continue his writing, he said this. “I cannot go on…. All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” His teaching life has come to an end. Not long after, while suffering an illness of seven weeks, he dies on March 7, 1274.