The Beauty of Both/And: Thomas Aquinas

Thomas was picked on by his classmates. Because he was big and quiet, they thought that he was developmentally delayed and called him a dumb ox. But, his teacher saw things differently, he saw beyond the surface to the truth and said to the class, “You call him the dumb ox, but in his teaching he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world.”

This teacher (who came to be known as Saint Albert the Great) was right about who that young man would become and what his contributions to the world would be. The young man was Thomas Aquinas, who became a Doctor of the Church, one of the most influential theologians and philosophers in the world, and a great Saint.

Also, my favorite saint.

A Truly Beautiful Mind

quotes St. Thomas Aquinas preserved ship

I do admire him because of his perseverance, not only withstanding the ridicule and misunderstanding of his classmates, but also the desperate force of his family: brothers kidnapping him, mother imprisoning him, as they tried in vain to keep him out of the Dominican Order of poor, itinerant friars. Most saints show grit and strength in their commitment to serving God, though. Thomas’ special gift from God was a rare mind. Not that he was superhuman (or supra-human). No. He was very, very human. Indeed, he loved food, ate too much, and was rather fat. His great gift was an understanding of what it is to be human. Through the use of his great intellectual gifts and spiritual insights, Thomas himself saw beyond the surface of things. He recognized the wisdom beneath the paganism of Greek philosophy. He married Aristotle’s works of reason with Christian understandings of faith, proving that faith and reason are not incompatible. Thomas famously offered five proofs for the existence of God, using reason to illustrate the unmoved mover, the uncaused cause – that which everyone calls God.

Reading just one of his quotes – just one partial one – made me want to be a Catholic, a Christian…

Faith and Reason

Seven years out of atheism, I was still wondering about faith, religion, and, as I put it, “that which we call God”. I had come to know of the existence of God without the Bible, without religion, by deeply reflecting upon the natural world and my wordless, wondrous response to it. But, I was not a Christian and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be. The thought of the Incarnation, that is, Christ Jesus, both scared and thrilled me. It was beautiful, terrible, wonderfully profound…. But, was it true? Surely, I believed, truth could only be arrived at through reason. If I became a full-fledged person of faith, wouldn’t reason become secondary, inferior, even pushed out of my life?

And then I read these words while just starting to inspect the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“The world, and man, attest that they contain within themselves neither their first principle nor their final end, but rather that they participate in Being itself, which alone is without origin or end. Thus, in different ways, man can come to know that there exists a reality which is the first cause and final end of all things, a reality “that everyone calls ‘God.’” (CCC paragraph #34[1])

This is what I believed before becoming Christian – this is what I knew. And it came from none other than the great Doctor of the Church, himself, St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor”. This was Catholic. And my jaw dropped. I began to think… maybe faith and reason exist in harmony after all….

After that I wholeheartedly took the leap of faith – not without reason.

Thomas Aquinas faith and reason

Fear Not

St. Thomas Aquinas is also my favorite because he loved truth and, therefore, he loved questions. He wasn’t afraid of them. He wasn’t afraid of any doubt. He wasn’t afraid of anyone’s argument or negative response. In a commentary on Aristotle’s works he wrote, “We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.” .

He understood fear:

“Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts.”

He was full of wonder:

“Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.”

He could hold his own in any debate and defended the Faith against heretics – yet, he was humble:

“I would rather feel compassion than know the meaning of it. I would hope to act with compassion without thinking of personal gain.”

He wrote a lot of words – a lot. And, yet, he understood the littleness of human words in the wondrous infinity of God. At about the age of 50, while mystically deep in prayer, Thomas had a vision of Christ coming to him and asking him what reward he would have for his labor. Thomas responded, “Nothing but you, Lord.” After this, Thomas came to stop writing altogether, feeling that his words were like straw. He still worked to serve God, but died only a few months later.

Aquinas answered it

Many are discovering St. Thomas Aquinas anew and are growing in both faith and reason as a result. I am thankful to God for creating this man to help us better understand Him. For these many reasons, as a person of both faith and reason, I join the Catholic Church in celebrating today, January 28, the Holy One of God (Saint) Thomas Aquinas.

© 2016 Christina Chase


[1] referencing his Summa Theologica, question 2, article 1-3.

For more information see http://www.aquinasonline.com/thombiog.html
and http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1002.htm

The Humility of God and Holy Communion

Do you pray silently before receiving Communion or afterward?  What do you pray?  After receiving Christ in the Eucharist, my prayer is intimately personal.  Not always grand or uplifting, that’s for sure, but I do try to listen even though, when it comes to me and God, that’s difficult for me to do.  Before receiving, however, I always pray the same prayer as I have been doing for several years.  Technically, it might not be called a prayer as it isn’t communication directed to God, or even to a Saint.  But it is a prayerful meditation upon the Mysteries of God and a shared exhortation with a Saint to receive the blessings of these Mysteries – it’s a mindful, soulful attempt to connect with God.  It’s a prayer.

Before entering the profound Mystery of consuming the Body and Blood of Christ, I want to wake up, I want to be alert.  I want to truly and profoundly receive.  So I say in my mind and my heart, I pray, these remembered words of St. Francis of Assisi.  He wrote them to the fellow brothers of his Order concerning the Eucharist.  I know I don’t remember them exactly, but the meaning is here… the wonder, the joy, and the love are here…

Let everyone be struck with fear.  Let the whole world tremble and the heavens exalt when Christ, Son of the Living God, is made present on the altar in the hands of a priest.  Oh, wonderful heights of stupendous dignity!  Oh, sublime humility and humble sublimity!  That the Lord of the Universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that, for our salvation, He hides Himself under the little form of bread.  Oh brothers, look at the humility of God and pour your hearts out before Him!  Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He, who gives Himself totally to you, may receive you totally.

©2015 Christina Chase

Words to Live By

Christian humility and charity are neither timid nor sappy – they are a radical recognition, a bold transformation of life: Metanoia.

Yesterday was the Feast Day of the patron saint of my home parish, St. John the Baptist. In his honor, I’m reflecting upon three phrases attributed to him in the Bible. This voice crying out in the wilderness gave us words to live by…

“… there is one among you whom you do not recognize…” (John 1:26)

We never know when we will have an encounter with the Divine. The truth is that wherever we go, in every moment of our lives, we are in the presence of God… God, who is always watching us… who is always loving us where we are…. If I truly become conscious of this truth in my every waking moment – how will my life change?

For the people of 1st century Israel, to whom John spoke these words, the meaning was of particular and immediate import. There was literally a person among them whom they did not recognize as being any different than anyone else. And, yet, although he was a human being just like them – he was profoundly different, because he was also God.

Christ Jesus walked among many unremarkably. The power of the Creator of the Universe was within him – but, to most, if their eyes even fell upon him, he was just some guy. Like so many strangers that we pass on the sidewalk, on the road, in the office, in the park, or in the mall, Christ seemed ordinary… dismissible. We think to ourselves now that it’s a shame, an utterly wasted opportunity, that some of the people back then went right by Christ without even knowing who he was. Yet… those strangers that we pass by every day… do we not know that they are images of God? And we pass them by without a single thought or care for them. Do we not know that Christ is within each and every one of us? Whenever we skirt around a homeless person, we are skirting around Christ. Whenever we say, Good Riddance, about a criminal who is put in prison, we are saying good riddance to Christ. Whenever we ignore the plight of the jobless or the hungry, of the lonely or the diseased, we are ignoring Christ in his sorrow. Whenever I am cruel to the person next to me, it is like I am piercing that person with a thorn… I am piercing that thorn into Christ.

I am only one person, limited, as every human is, and I cannot be everything to everybody. God knows. Being human like us, there were countless many who Christ Jesus could not help in person during his earthly life, countless many to whom he could not speak face-to-face while he walked upon the roads and through the fields, villages, and towns. His earthly mission was to open.

It’s like, by the Mystery of the Incarnation, a divine portal was created to the kingdom of God – and by his death and resurrection that portal was opened to all. Not all will pass through, because we must choose to do so – we must choose to follow Christ. In order to fully and truly encounter the Divine and enter, eternally, the kingdom of God, we must recognize God’s love for us and choose to follow Christ. My mission (say it with me) limited as I am, is to love Christ… and I do that by loving others as Christ loves me. I do that by recognizing my cruelty to another as cruelty to Christ my beloved… and I repent and ask forgiveness.

I carry out my mission of love (which is your mission, too) limited as I am, by recognizing the gifts that God has given to me, in His infinite love for me, and then giving those gifts in the service of those in need of healing, nourishment, guidance, compassion, and light, wherever I can. There will be times when I falter, times when I fail. But, I will recognize my failures as human weakness – and I will not deplore my human weakness but, rather, unite my struggles with the struggles of Christ as he carried the Cross of Salvation to Calvary. Divine and human, it was only with pain that he could place that key into the lock and grant our freedom. He dreaded, he suffered, he was tormented and ridiculed, he fell flat on his face along the way – but he persevered because of love. Christ loves divinely – infinitely and intimately. Profess my love for him as I might, I cannot recognize him in others – and therefore love him in others – unless I recognize him in me.

“He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Do I recognize and love Christ within me? Do I recognize and give forth the particular gifts that God has given me? This is what true Christian charity is all about – this is the heart of true Christian humility. It is not overly sentimental, it is not hanging my head down himself abasing shame. God chooses to make a home inside of me… Christ dwells in me in a personally particular way, lovingly unique – as Christ dwells in everybody. Christ is everyone… Christ is you and me and them. Christ IS. That is what we, as Christians, need to be able to see. I open my heart to God’s loving presence and let Christ live in me… through me… through the gifts that are particularly unique to me, which he knows so intimately.

This recognition of Christ is the encounter with the Divine that pulls us through the sacred portal to the fullness of truth, the fullness of life… into the kingdom of God. For, as Christ is ever present, so is the kingdom, so is the loving and saving presence of God. We encounter the Divine, not only in the life to come, but also here and now.

And that’s pretty radical.

“Metanoia, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2)

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

For the Feast of All Hallows: The Saint Maker

After I had chosen, intellectually, to become a Christian, but way before I had embraced Christ in my heart, a priest told me that I was a saint maker. And I was perplexed. He looked at me, thin and frail, all crippled and crumpled and stuck in my wheelchair, and seemed a little surprised that no one had ever told me that. Explaining, he said that people were drawn to be more generous, kinder, and gentler around me. He told me that I was a powerful help to others because of my disability. My vulnerability, my weakness and dependency, inspired people to step up and be better persons – to be more like the saints they were created to be. My response? Well… not being right in the heart yet, I said, “But, what about me?” Yup, that’s right. I wanted to know what was in this whole saint-making business for me.

The problem was that I was thinking solely with my head, in terms of the practical: by merely being needy, and even difficult, those around me would be tested in patience and forgiveness and could become better people. Instead, I should have been (and should be now) thinking with my heart as well, in terms of the holy: by imaging Christ on the Cross, those around me are inspired to reflect God’s love and mercy and to become holy ones of God.

For that’s what a saint is: a person whose soul, whose very essence of being, perpetually reflects divine goodness, truth, compassion, and love into the world. And this is the purpose for which every human being is created. We are created in the image and likeness of God in order to receive the light of God’s love and, by truly receiving, give that love back to God and to others.

Imaging Christ

How I was created to live …

I hold myself before God Incarnate and, in the stillness of my holy contemplation of Christ, I let Him impress upon me, let Him form my soul, so that I may resemble Him and, in that imaging, shine Him out, shine out the light of the divine love and goodness that I have received. No one of us can either receive or give all of who Christ is at once – rather, each one of us is called to image Christ in the unique way peculiar to our God-given talents and the vocations to which we are called.

For me, it is Christ Crucified who calls, the Sacred Heart that was pierced. (Gulp and Heavy Sigh and “God, help me.”) But – and this is very important – it is not enough for me to be physically weakened and nailed down by limitations, my deformity resembling Christ in his agony – no. I must also be patient in my pathos, generous in my self abasement, and powerfully loving in my weakness: like Christ. This is what the priest meant by calling me a saint maker: that in my gentle suffering others are drawn to me, and, if I truly image Christ – who was crucified out of love for humankind – then, when they are drawn to my side, they are actually being drawn to Christ. They receive the light of His love, which is what I am simply reflecting out to them in my willingness to be like Christ, to be who I am created to be.

As in a Mirror…

mirror

To become a saint and to be a saint maker is the purpose for which every human being was created. If we don’t take up the call to holiness then we are not fully living our lives as human beings. We are not fully human. Take this analogy:

A mirror is made of particular materials for the purpose of reflecting the particular material things before it. The only reason that a mirror is made is for this reflection. If it is unable to reflect, then the mirror is not truly a mirror. Similarly, we, human beings, are made in the image and likeness of God for the purpose of reflecting God’s loving omnipresence. The only reason that we are made is for this reflection. If we are unable to reflect thusly, then we are not fully and truly human.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI shares this thought about saints: “In addition to the sun, which is the image of Christ, there is the moon, which has no light of its own but shines with a brightness that comes from the sun.” He goes on to say that the saints are like new heavenly bodies “… in which the richness of God’s goodness is reflected. Their light, coming from God, enables us to know better the interior richness of God’s great light, which we cannot comprehend in the refulgence of its glory.”[1]

FULL MOON OVER WATER

In Dante Alighieri’s Paradiso and in The Great Divorce, by CS Lewis, saints in the outer reaches of Heaven are depicted as being clothed in light. They are so brightly resplendent that their distinction is not of form but of being – fulfilled as images of the Divine Love in which they were created. Their unadulterated reception of God’s love shines out in loving brilliance. Meanwhile we, who hem and haw below, who stumble and dither in the dark, need only look up from our self-centeredness, look up with open faces beholding, to be guided by the divine light….

*          *          *

            We are all saints-in-progress, created to help one another delight in the reflection of God’s love. I cannot stop people from calling me a little saint maker. But, I know that God is the real saint maker. If my vulnerability draws out the sweetness in others, it is the sweetness that was already within them, put there by the Maker of human beings. Any goodness, any beauty, any light that we shine is His.

© 2014 Christina Chase

[1] Benedictus, for the feast of All Saints, November 1

How Good We Have It

            Enough said:

            “But your eyes are blessed, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I’m telling you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”[1] ~ Jesus, God Incarnate

            Do we know how good we have it?

            The brightest geniuses from all antiquity searched in vain for what we have, though we may be neither clever nor brilliant. Even in the common era, now, and into the future, great minds will peer into the depths of lifeforms and the universe, scrutinizing matter and energy looking for something that their fine intellects and technologies cannot disclose to them. And yet, we, though we may be neither skilled nor ambitious, have that Something More right before us in loving embrace.

            We, who are believers, impeded neither by historic circumstance nor advanced ignorance, have seen and heard Truth in profound intimacy. The Mystery of Ultimate Reality, the reason and meaning of the finite and the infinite, all revealed through the Will of the Uncaused Cause: we are allowed to find the divine Logos – the Word of God – through the Word of God Made Flesh, who became one of us in order to lead us, transform us, and save us from the darkness of our intellects and the weakness of our wills. We hear and we see. This is true Transcendence, not through measurements or calculations or even awe – not through some thing, but through some One.

            They long to see what we see and hear what we hear – but they are blind and deaf. Have pity on them, practice true compassion, and, in sharing in the wonder and delight of what we can know in common, let us pray that they may be wholly healed and that we may not shut our eyes and ears to the truth with which we have been blessed.

© 2014 Christina Chase

 

[1] Matthew 13:16-17 – Gospel reading from the Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne

Mercy Is Joy or It Is Nothing

What is a joyful Catholic? What is a joyful Christian? Let the answer not be: “a rarity”.

A joyful Christian is not someone who dwells in fear, mistrust, and misgivings. Rather, a joyful Christian is someone who lives in hope and trust and generosity. “By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:3.)We are not to go about in gloom, covered always in ashes and sackcloth, bemoaning and wailing the waywardness that is man, groveling in a flood of tears for our sins. Jesus died for our sins. He took on the responsibility of our waywardness and let himself be crucified for our sakes. And then… the glorious “and then”… Jesus rose from the dead. Because of the Resurrection, the true Christian dwells in joy. We are an Easter people.

People often say to me that I am an inspiration. This is not an uncommon thing for a person in a wheelchair to hear. But, not all of us will hear it. Simply being disabled is not very inspiring, after all. But – I am a naturally joyful person. God created me with a sense of humor, an easy smile, and a deep love for the beautiful in all things. When I became a Christian, therefore, it was easy for me to be a joyful Christian – because, even as an atheist (when God spoke to me in secret, a secret kept even from me) God has always spoken to me in the language of joy. So, when people see me all crumpled up in my wheelchair – and genuinely smiling – they are inspired. Loss and limitations, disease and suffering, deformity and pain, fragile body and pending death – none of these things can kill the joy in the human heart, the joy placed there by God. To know this is, indeed, divine inspiration. I did not create it nor do I produce it – it is a gift from God, it is the gift of God, flowing through me.

Today, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, two great popes are being canonized by the Catholic Church as saints. And I am struck by what these two men have in common. Yes, yes, they were both popes. But, they were also, perhaps most importantly, joyful Christians. John XXIII was known for his smiles, jokes and friendliness, his enthusiasm for people. And John Paul II, more widely known by people in our time, was renowned for his love of life and his joy in all things beautiful – especially his joy in humanity. Oh, these men knew suffering, deep suffering. And these men spent many hours on their knees, these men cried and wept, these men could be angered by injustice – but nothing squelched the joy. The joy that is Christ, Christ Risen, Christ Glorified. Alleluia.

Jesus, while he walked and talked upon the earth, told his followers over and over again, “Be not afraid.” If we truly have faith, that is, if we truly trust in God, then what do we have to fear? If we have hope, believing in the resurrection of Christ, who is our living hope, then we not only know mercy, but we are revolutionized by mercy, living it day in and day out. And if we have love, true love… then we know true joy, deep, eternal joy.

And we are ever and always an Easter people.

Let us go to those who are wounded, and to those who inflict wounds, and let us pour out the healing mercy of God with all of our faith, with all of our hope, and with all of our love. With the knowing peace that is joy! Let us live the mercy of God, thus living the fullness of humanity, the fullness of life.

© 2014 Christina Chase

First Friday and Knowing Love

Margaret, a blind, crippled, deformed dwarf[i] is my choice of facilitator for the First Friday of this month.[ii]

One thing that I have always known is that I am loved. By the time I was two years old, the doctors had figured out why I wasn’t walking, why my legs were so weak that they flopped around when I was carried. This is the news that they told my parents: your daughter has spinal muscular atrophy, she will never walk and will get progressively weaker, developing severe scoliosis and dying of pneumonia before the age of 13. On hearing this devastating prognosis, some people suggested that I be put away in a facility – and others presumed I would be. One relative said, “I could never let myself love a child who was going to die.” Thankfully, my parents are deeply loving people. I was a bright and happy child, curious, intelligent, with big, smiling eyes. This is what my parents knew. This is who my parents saw: me.

Not so for a medieval girl named Margaret. She, born blind, with dwarfism, disabled, becoming hunchbacked, was thoroughly unwanted by her well-to-do parents. Embarrassed, even horrified, by her deformities and disabilities, they shut her away from society – and shut themselves off from her as well – imprisoning her as a child in a custom-made doorless room attached to the parish chapel. There were two windows in Margaret’s cell: one through which food and necessities of survival were passed and one through which she could receive the sacraments. The priest was touched and amazed by Margaret’s gentleness and the wisdom of her soul. He provided education on his own, through the window, and they became friends. Margaret’s relationship with God grew in depth and intimacy through these years.

When Margaret’s parents heard of miracles happening at a far-off shine, they brought their daughter there to be cured. After a couple of days, however, they saw no change in Margaret. They didn’t get what they wanted. So, they snuck off and left her there, never to return. Thus abandoned, Margaret had to beg for food, there in the streets of Castello, dependent upon the mercy and kindness of strangers. Many townspeople admired Margaret’s cheerfulness in spite of all of her hardships and were impressed by her spiritual heart and her trust in God’s goodness. She was always willing to help others whenever and however she could. She was accepted into the Dominican order, but, disturbed by the lack of piety at the local monastery, she became a habit-wearing third order Dominican, living with her friends in Castello.

With her deep faith and understanding, Margaret was joyful and kind, living her life for the glory of God, taking care of people who were sick and visiting criminals in prison. Her lovingness was completely unmarred by her parents lack of love. Though they did not see the true person that she was, others did and respected her and her talents. Though some could not see past the surface, others had the privilege of glimpsing the depth of her soul. Margaret died on April 13, 1320 at the age of 33. The people of Castello continued to stand by her and demanded that their beloved Margaret be buried inside the church. The priest refused, but, when a disabled girl at Margaret’s funeral was miraculously cured, he relented. Margaret was declared a Blessed of the Church by Pope Paul V in 1609. She, who was unwanted and abandoned, became one of the glories of Christianity through her acceptance and embrace of God’s steadfast love for her.

So I, accepted and loved by my parents for all that I am, take Blessed Margaret of Castello as my First Friday Facilitator for the month of April. Like the good people of Castello, I want to take this unloved and rejected girl into my heart and my home. For I want to be like her, knowing that I can learn much from her life. I have always known that my parents love me – but, is my happiness only in human love? Do I love my family for what they do for me – or because they are beloved by God?

“O Blessed Margaret of Castello, how it must have hurt when your parents abandoned you! Yet you learned from this that all earthly love and affection, even for those who are closest, must be sanctified. And so, despite everything, you continued to love your parents –

but now you loved them in God. Obtain for me [through your prayers of intercession] the grace that I might see all my human loves and affections in their proper perspective…

in God and for God.”[iii]

I see, through Blessed Margaret, that even those who are treated cruelly and harshly by the people who should love them the most can know the healing power of true love that comes from the One Who Loves Most of All: God. Through forgiveness and sympathetic kindness, a girl like Margaret can joyfully experience the fullness of life, generously sharing the richness of the gifts that God has given her. Perhaps… in many ways… her blessings were greater and richer than those of one who lives in comfort and security all the days of her life – because Margaret saw (though physically blind) that she was always being comforted in the eternally secure shelter of God’s love. Do I see that?

“Compassionate God,

you gave your divine light

to Blessed Margaret who was blind from birth,

that with the eye of her heart

she might contemplate you alone.

Be the light of our eyes

that we may turn from what is evil, the shadows of this world,

and reach the home of never-ending light.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.”

Amen. [iv]

[i] I’ve heard that dwarf is the proper term to use; I’m told that I can say the word crippled because I myself am crippled; but, I don’t know the PC value of “blind”. However, I thoroughly dislike Political Correctness – because there is absolutely nothing shameful in being blind, crippled, deformed or a dwarf. It’s not the words you choose, it’s what’s in your heart that matters.

[ii] for more on First Friday Facilitators see my previous post here.

[iii] http://www.catholicdoors.com/prayers/english3/p02302.htm

[iv] http://saints.sqpn.com/blessed-margaret-of-castello/