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Sunday Homily, 28 January 2024 - Fr Paul Rowse, OP

Just a few months before he died 750 years ago this year, St Thomas Aquinas was celebrating Mass and fell into one of his ecstasies.  Standing at St Nicholas’ altar on St Nicholas’ day, our brother halted.  Awkward pauses in the liturgy are never so awkward than when they’re caused by the clergy.  Back in the sacristy, his secretary asked him in true Dominican style: “What was all that about?”  St Thomas famously replied: “What I have written seems like straw to me.”  What did he write?  What did he see?

We celebrate the contribution our Thomas made to Catholic theology in the short span of his earthly life and the first 750 years of his heavenly one.  We know him to be the theologian who more than any other has shaped the way we approach the question of who God is.  We have eight million of his words in numerous writings of different kinds.  His greatest work, the Summa Theologiae (or compendium of theology) is modelled on the Trinity itself: it’s in three parts for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; the second part has two parts, reflecting the humanity and divinity of Christ; and the third part is unfinished, just like the work of the Holy Spirit.

Our brother begins his theologizing from a single principle which  we can make our own: humanity by itself cannot know God, but God has made himself known to humanity.  The divine act overcoming our ignorance is called revelation: God has chosen to reveal the truth about himself to us, so that we shall not have to live in darkness but may live in the joy of the truth.

For him and for us, the good news of God’s being with us in Christ means we can be with him.  We begin therefore all our spiritual talk, prayer, study, and work from the fact that we have been given to know God.  We have no experience or story or myth of our own which will tell us that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit abiding together in perfect love.  This we need to know to be saved.  So, God’s making himself known to us is a mercy, a kindness done to us, so that we shall live well for him.  As the Church preserves God’s revelation in Scripture and celebrates it in her sacraments, each of us as her members comes to know what we must in order to be saved.  The world is good, but it is not our final home.  The best theology begins from God’s founding in us knowledge of himself and hope of heaven.

What did St Thomas see that made him exclaim, “What I have written seems like straw to me”?  We shall not know in this life.  But I like to imagine that he saw heaven thrown open.  Remembering that he was at Mass might lead us to suppose he saw Christ as the Lamb of God, and that the Mass was on St Nicholas’ day that the Lamb was surrounded by his saints.  That would make the best theology seem like straw, like comments in a margin, like the husk the wheat grain comes in.  Heaven for us shall not involve benign thoughts had on a personal cloud, but the momentous event of our reintegration in ourselves and reunion with our heroes.

So, now we approach this altar, on which we have so many times encountered the risen Lord before.  We know he is ever-ready to lead us out of the life we make for ourselves into his love.  We ask him to hear St Thomas’ best prayers for us.  May we cherish our undeserved but certain knowledge of God, and revel in the grace he bestows thereby.  May we here deepen our hope of some-day being grafted into the life of the Blessed Trinity, and thus, filled with the love which God is, be reunited with our brother Thomas and all the saints.

Fr Paul Rowse, OP Parish Priest

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