“Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.” This simple invocation was the conclusion to my family’s Morning Prayer ritual. Every morning, for as long as I can remember, my family would pray together an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and the St. Michael’s Prayer. We would conclude with the invocations of Saint Anthony (for a safe trip to school) and Saint Thomas Aquinas (for help with our studies). Today the day before the feast day of Saint Thomas, patron saint of students, and during Catholic Schools Week; I wanted to share my experience of education.
I attended public schools from first grade until I graduated from high school. I was not the only religious student in my grade (or even the only Catholic) but nonetheless I was labeled as the “token Catholic.” This label was at times a point of pride for me and at others a burden
I wish I could evade. While it never hindered me from making friends, it still set me apart. I would take up defense of the Church’s often unpopular stance on social issues in class discussions. In some rare cases I even found that my thoughts on certain subjects were brushed off as being my opinion only because of my faith, and any evidence I supplied in support of that stance was ignored. While I received a well-rounded education, the school community was so concerned with being tolerant of all things that it became intolerant of ideas it perceived as being intolerant.
After high school, I attended a Catholic college. This was my first real experience of having faith integrated into my formal education. There were numerous differences, but perhaps the most notable was the community. In every classroom, there were Catholic students whose beliefs varied widely, as well as students of other faiths or no faith at all. Regardless of who you were or what you believed, you were expected to support your opinion with reason. It was this environment that fostered a community of intellectual discussion and debate (which rarely turned into conflict). Every idea was heard, which allowed me to hone my own beliefs while also growing in faith. This community was truly welcoming and challenging to all—even when that meant a difference of opinions.
Education should be a constant exchange of ideas. This exchange is not always smooth and simple, and that can in fact be a good thing. Saint Thomas’s two greatest works, Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles, incorporate the work of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (which, at the time that Saint Thomas lived and wrote, was just shy of heresy). He also conversed with philosophers of other faiths, most notably Islam. Despite this pushing of boundaries—or perhaps because of them—Saint Thomas is recognized today as one of the founders of modern philosophy. In his writings he addresses arguments and opposition to his theories head-on regardless of whom they came from. This boldness in spirit is what made him both an incredible student and teacher. It is also why, over eight hundred years later students—myself certainly included—ask for his intercession with their studies.
As Catholics, it is our duty to build up communities where we can encounter both those who share our faith and those who do not. We can see this lived out in the challenging and formative words of our Holy Father. May we always seek to be students and teachers of the faith. Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.
Patrick Burke is a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
In his final words as Supreme Pontiff, Benedict XVI reminded us from the balcony of Castel Gandolfo that he was “simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on Earth.” In doing so, he reminded us, the faithful, that we too are on an earthly pilgrimage. Benedict’s goal, as well as ours, is the Kingdom of Heaven. As pilgrims, we travel around and seek the ways that will lead us to our destination. Though at times we go down the wrong path, we trust that, having faith in God, He will always bring us back to our goal, to be with Him. Thus, we are truly a “Pilgrim Church,” a community of believers on a voyage to Christ.
This past Sunday, we celebrated the great solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi. The history of the feast goes back all the way to the early 1200s in modern day Belgium. St. Juliana of Liege, a Norbertine canoness, had a vision of a full moon with a dark spot. The spot, she believed, represented the absence of a feast dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament outside the season of Lent. After reporting her visions to her confessor and bishop, the bishop instituted such a feast in the diocese in 1247. Several years later, Pope Urban IV extended the celebration to the universal church in 1261. It was he who requested St. Thomas Aquinas to write hymns for the feast day. We know them today as the Pange Lingua and Panis Angelicus. Urban successors, most especially Clement V in 1311, reinforced the original decree and promoted the observance of the feast.
One of the most beautiful and traditional aspects of the celebration is the procession of the congregation behind the Eucharist encased in a monstrance. On a personal note, this day has always been one of my favorites growing up. I loved walking with my family and friends around the church building (often stopping traffic!), all following our pastor holding the monstrance up as high as he could.
In many ways, the Corpus Christi procession mirrors our pilgrimage (our procession) on earth. Together, with other members of the faithful, we are led toward God, whose real presence on earth is in the Eucharist. The Most Blessed Sacrament is the point in which heaven and earth meet. Not only is it our guide on earth, but also our guide to heaven. Processing around, following the Eucharist is a reminder that what we do on earth can lead us to an everlasting reward. By receiving the Eucharist, we are given the strength (both spiritual and physical) to continue on our earthly journey. As St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, “Per tuas semitas duc nos quo tendimus, ad lucem quam inhabitas” (By your ways lead us to where we are going, to the light where you live.)
Victor David is a recent graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
In the recent “Faithful Citizenship” lecture on the foundations of Catholic political theory, Dr. Stephen Schneck (CUA politics professor and Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies) presented Thomism as an alternative to the radical positions held by groups at opposing ends of the ideological spectrum. While the two extremes disagree about particulars, according to Schneck, both “Ayn Rand conservatives” and “pro-choice liberals” are motivated by a “hyper-individualism,” which is in direct contradiction to the social teaching of the Church. If we are to believe Dr. Schneck’s premise, it seems that faithful Christians are left between a rock and a hard place in the current political landscape. Thankfully, the political philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas offers Christians an authentic alternative.
Synthesizing ecclesiology and political philosophy, St. Thomas understood the nature of a political community as being deeply Christological. Drawing from St. Paul’s imagery, St. Thomas perceived the political community as a reflection of the Mystical Body of Christ: “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another” (Romans 12:3-5). This image of a political community as a corporate whole is in stark contrast to the Lockean image of a group of individuals that is held together solely by an externally imposed contract, rather than internal unity. The Thomistic political community is held together by solidarity among its members, a unitive desire for the wellbeing of the whole, rather than individual self-interest. In Thomistic philosophy, the object of this desire is referred to as the commonweal, or the common good.
But why place more importance on the common good than individual goods? Because, as Aristotle said and St. Thomas affirmed, we are political and social beings; the meaning of our lives transcends beyond who we are as individuals. As John Donne observed in his oft-cited Meditation XVII, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
After Dr. Schneck had concluded his lecture, a question-and-answer session followed. A young woman from the back of the lecture hall politely asked, “What can we do as individuals to combat the pervasiveness of hyper-individualism in our society?” Ironically, this question demonstrates what is at the root of the problem of hyper-individualism: we cannot cease thinking of ourselves primarily as individuals! This shift in thinking does not mean that we must give up our own individual rights; to the contrary, our solidarity with one another should engender a greater appreciation for the individual rights of a group’s collective members. In fact, it is our individual freedoms that allow us to choose how we prioritize our actions and intentions. Through our individual liberties, we are given the opportunity to look and act beyond ourselves.
During this Easter Season, may we all be reminded that through our baptism and as members of Christ’s Body, we have truly been raised with Him! (cf. Ephesians 2:6) In order to more fully participate in God’s divine economy – i.e. His comprehensive plan for Creation – may we “not think of [ourselves] more highly than [we] ought to think” (Romans 12:3), but instead humbly unite ourselves to our fellow members in the One Body of Christ.
Brett Garland is the Program Development Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.