28 January 2016

Preachers need wisdom and humility

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, OP
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

Thomas Aquinas: philosopher, theologian, scripture scholar, university professor, composer of hymns, jurist, consultant to Popes and councils, Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, and, of course, every seminarians' favorite title, Dumb Ox! Before he wrote the Summa contra gentiles and before he wrote the Summa theologiae, and before he composed the Tantum Ergo and the Pange Ligua, and before he was named a Doctor of the Church and gifted the Church with a theological foundation that still breathes 742 years after his death, before all of these and more. . .Thomas flourished as a Dominican friar, a preacher. And everything we wrote, taught, sang, and studied he did for the sake of preaching the Gospel. For the Dumb Ox, preaching endured as that without which his commentaries, hymns, treatises, and books turned to straw. For us, the fruits of his contemplation constitute a body of human wisdom unsurpassed in subtlety, complexity, and depth, and gift us with the means of both perfecting ourselves and our preaching. Underneath Thomas' preaching, supporting his mission and ministry, stands the slender straws of wisdom and humility.

On the nature of wisdom, Thomas writes, “According to [Aristotle] (Metaph. i: 2), it belongs to wisdom to consider the highest cause. By means of that cause we are able to form a most certain judgment about other causes, and according thereto all things should be set in order…Accordingly, it belongs to the wisdom that is an intellectual virtue to pronounce right judgment about Divine things after reason has made its inquiry…”(ST II-II.45.1-2). More simply put, wisdom is that habit of mind that seeks to discover and study the final causes of all things and put these things in their proper order given their final cause. Therefore, Wisdom does not enlighten us like some occult swamp-spirit that flits around waiting for the right moment to sting. Nor does Wisdom live among the tacky tomes of Retail Gnosticism that litter the shelves of B&N. These “wisdoms” – little more than leftover paganism muscled-up with psychobabble – these wisdoms gift the weak ego with a shot of faux courage and urges the newly self-anointed guru to adore him or herself. But from the wisest teacher of them all, we know that: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” 
When we acknowledge that we live and move and have our being in God, when we humble ourselves, we participate in His wisdom. When we participate in His wisdom – seeking the final causes of all things – we enter contemplation and prepare ourselves to share the fruits of our contemplation. And when we share the fruits of our contemplation, we preach the Good News. When we study, we prepare to preach. When we pray, we prepare to preach. When we minister, we prepare to preach. When we rest, we prepare to preach. For Thomas, and for us if we hope to grow in holiness, preaching endures as that without which our papers, our essays and presentations, our teaching and our research turns to straw. Whether we preach from the pulpit, the street corner, the dining room table, or the classroom lectern, our vowed task remains: to go ad gentes – among the peoples – and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our Father freely offers His mercy to sinners, seducing the sinner into salvation. If we will, we live and move and have our being as His mercy-filled instruments.


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