The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19 ¾ 1 Corinthians 12:31—13:13 ¾ Luke 4:21-30
In the year of Our Lord 1273, Saint Thomas Aquinas recognized God calling him to a standard far higher than the one he had set for himself. In that year on December 6th, as St. Thomas was celebrating Mass, he had a mystical vision. After that vision he rarely spoke for the rest of his life. He never described exactly what the vision was. But it was because of that vision that he stopped his work on the greatest project of his career: an encyclopedia of Catholic theology that he had begun seven years earlier.
We still have the more than 3000 pages that he did write for this encyclopedia. These pages contain some of the greatest explanations of the Catholic Faith ever composed, so the Church has great reason to regret St. Thomas abruptly ending his work. But when he was urged by his scribe to continue, he simply replied, “All that I have written is like straw, compared to the things that have been revealed to me.”
At the end of his life, Saint Thomas was able to set aside this work of his, which he’d already written 3000 pages of. He recognized that all his work was nothing compared to the life of God in heaven. I’d imagine that there are few of us here who, at the end of our lives, would be willing to set aside the great projects of our lives in this way.
Especially in our society, we set goals for ourselves, we do our best to accomplish them, and if we don’t, we often ask what’s wrong with ourselves. Parents often fault with themselves over mistakes made by their grown children. When investments are made for one’s future that later dissolve, it’s easy for a person to feel as if their own personal value has dissolved. It can be easy to forget that the only fact that finally has meaning in our lives is the fact that we are loved, not the fact of what we accomplish. Work can be a great good, but love is an even better good, and our lives as Christians are supposed
to dedicated to pursuing this “greatest good”.
Sometimes “love” is made into something abstract or shapeless, but our Scripture readings this Sunday lead us to see God’s love as something very concrete. Every one of us as a baptized Christian needs to be able to “see” this love as the goal of our lives. Those who have entered into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony have a special calling to live out this love.
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Most often, we experience love in the midst of a family. Yet whether we consider the family we grew up in, the families we may have chosen and created through marriage, or any other relationship as well, love among human beings is often very fragile.
It was the same in the life of Saint Thomas Aquinas. He grew up as a member of nobility, and before he was even born, his family made great plans for him. Over time they made clear to Thomas that he was going to become the abbot of the local Benedictine monastery, which happened to be one of the most important monasteries in Europe, because it had been founded by St. Benedict himself almost 700 years earlier. This monastery still stands today, just a few hours south of Rome—monks live there today just as they did in the thirteenth century, and the sixth century. Being educated at this monastery was something like going to Harvard, and becoming a member of this particular Benedictine order was like joining an elite corps of individuals in European society.
And so it was a little upsetting to Thomas’ family when he decided to act against his family’s long-held plans. He decided instead to join the Dominican order. The Dominicans had been founded by Saint Dominic less than thirty years before, and the order’s members never lived in same residence, but rather begged for food and shelter as they wandered and preached throughout Europe. At this early point in their history, the Dominicans were seen more as a cult by many in European society. Thomas’ family was not about to let their son join this “group.” They kidnapped him. They threw him in one of the towers of the family castle for over two years, refusing to release him unless he gave up associating with the Dominicans.
At this point in his life Thomas surely wondered who it was who really loved him. If Thomas’ family had succeeded in their plans, the Church throughout history would have lost one of its greatest thinkers. Fortunately, his family finally gave in to the grace of God, realizing that Thomas was not going to live according to their standards. Thomas could have rejected his family at this point, but he didn’t. He even gave thanks for the opportunity that his captivity had offered him: during those years he memorized most of the Bible, growing deeper in love with the God who had called him to share the love of God with others through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
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This “love of God” is what we hear about in the readings of today’s Mass. According to the world, there are many types of love. According to the world, every person is free to love as he or she sees fit. But Christ and His Church teach us that there is only one real type of love, and that only this “real love” is strong enough to bind two persons together, whether in marriage, or in the union between a human soul and God.
To live in real love is to always love by God’s standards: that is, to seek to understand what He wants for us, and then to be willing to do what it takes to make that a reality. This is difficult because we can so often fool ourselves into thinking that God’s Will and our own so conveniently match up together. Only in consistent prayer can a person ask over and over if something is God’s will. The more important a decision in a person’s life, the more times God should be asked in prayer. The more important a decision in a person’s life, the more one should even do some sort of penance (such as fasting) in order to purify one’s own mind and heart of selfish wants and desires, to clear them out so that God’s Word can be recognized and received.
Only in a heart prepared before-hand to receive God’s Word can one find the strength to actually carry out His Will. At times this can mean doing what is unpopular with others—as Saint Thomas did, as Our Lord did in today’s gospel passage, as Our Lord did on the Cross—and in this, only the Love of God is strong enough to sustain us.