Thursday, August 21, 2008

Saints, Holiness, and Charisms

Pope Benedict's catechesis yesterday focused upon the saints in the life of the Church and as models of holiness in daily life. He also spoke clearly of the charisms and the quoted Hans urs von Balthasar as saying that the lives of the saints are "the most important commentary of the Gospel." Pretty cool stuff!

Dear brothers and sisters, day after day the Church offers us the possibility to walk in company of the saints. Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote that the saints constitute the most important commentary of the Gospel, their actualization in the day-to-day routine and, therefore, they represent for us a real path of access to Jesus. The writer Jean Guitton described them as "the colors of the spectrum in relation with the light," because with their own hues and accents each one of them reflects the light of God's holiness. How important and advantageous, therefore, is the determination to cultivate the knowledge and devotion of the saints, together with the daily meditation of the word of God and filial love for the Virgin!


The period of vacation is certainly a useful time to review the biography and writings of some men or women saints in particular, but each day of the year offers us the opportunity to become familiar with our heavenly patrons. Their human and spiritual experience shows that holiness is not a luxury, it is not the privilege of a few, an impossible goal for a normal man. In reality, it is the common destiny of all men called to be children of God, the universal vocation of all those who are baptized. Holiness is offered to all.

Naturally, not all the saints are the same. They are, in fact, as I have said, the spectrum of divine light. And one who possesses extraordinary charisms is not necessarily a great saint. The name of many of them is known only by God, because on earth they seemed to have lived a very normal life. And it is precisely these "normal" saints that God usually wants. Their example testifies that, only when one is in contact with the Lord, is one full of peace and joy and in this way it is possible to spread everywhere serenity, hope and optimism. Considering precisely the variety of their charisms, Bernanos, great French writer who was always fascinated by the idea of the saints -- he quotes many of them in his novels -- points out that every saint's life is like "a new flowering of spring." May this also happen to us! Let us allow ourselves to be attracted by the supernatural fascination of holiness! May Mary, Queen of all Saints, Mother and refuge of sinners obtain this grace for us!

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas


I don't have time to write much about St. Thomas, the great Dominican scholar, saint, and doctor of the Church. Others will do a much better job today than I could. He is a phenomenal example of a Catholic with the charism of knowledge, which empowered him to diligently study scripture, philosophy, theology, and natural science. He once gave thanks to God that he never read a page he did not understand! His far-reaching thought searched out priniciples and was able to synthesize the thoughts of the ancient Greeks, Muslim and Jewish scholars, and the Fathers of the Church, and rejoice in the truths that they had discovered. And then he generously shared what he had discovered in his teaching and writing.

He is a model for Catholics today, especially in that "universal" approach to the search for truth. He was not afraid to study the thought of non-Christians and was confident that God would reveal truths to those that earnestly sought them, whether they were Christian or not. Too often today I run across Catholics who have a "ghetto mentality." They are unwilling to admit that anything useful can be learned from non-Catholics. That certainly was not Thomas's understanding. Not surprisingly, some Catholics in his own day, including a few bishops, condemned him for searching for truth amid the works of Plato, Aristotle, Averroes (Ibn Rushd), Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Moses Maimonedes. I suggest that Aquinas was able to discern the truth in aspects of their writings because of his own intense life of prayer in addition to his brilliance.

The following is taken from a short biography of St. Thomas found on the EWTN website. It underscores Thomas's own focus on Jesus as the source and summit of his life and study.
One night, in the chapel of the Dominican priory in Naples where St.
Thomas was then living, the sacristan concealed himself to watch the
saint at prayer. He saw him lifted into the air, and heard Christ speaking
to him from the crucifix on the chapel wall:

"Thomas, you have written well of me. What reward will you have?"

"Lord, nothing but yourself."

His request was soon answered. On December 6, 1273, St. Thomas
Aquinas was saying Mass for the feast of St. Nicholas in the chapel where
the crucifix had spoken to him. Some profound experience - spiritual,
mental, and physical suddenly overwhelmed him. He showed few
external signs of the change at first; but he declared to his long- time
secretary that he could write no more. "All that I have written," he said,
"seems like straw to me."

This quote is a reminder to all of us who are concerned with good catechesis in the Church. While such catechesis is important, it stands on the foundation of the relationship with Christ, in Whom we live, and move and have our being. And just as reading about someone may give us an idea of who that person is, meeting them, getting to know them, and loving them is such a deeper experience of them that all we could write about them will inevitably seem - and be - inadequate.

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