From a sermon by Saint Augustine
|The martyrs had seen what they proclaimed
This day has been consecrated for us by the martyrdom of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. It is not some obscure martyrs we are talking about. Their sound has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world. These martyrs had seen what they proclaimed, they pursued justice by confessing the truth, by dying for the truth.
The blessed Peter, the first of the Apostles, the ardent lover of Christ, who was found worthy to hear, And I say to you, that you are Peter. He himself, you see, had just said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Christ said to him, And I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. Upon this rock I will build the faith you have just confessed. Upon your words, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, I will build my Church; because you are Peter. Peter comes from petra, meaning a rock. Peter, “Rocky,” from “rock”; not “rock” from “Rocky.” Peter comes from the word for a rock in exactly the same way as the name Christian comes from Christ.
Before his passion the Lord Jesus, as you know, chose those disciples of his whom he called apostles. Among these it was only Peter who almost everywhere was given the privilege of representing the whole Church. It was in the person of the whole Church, which he alone represented, that he was privileged to hear, To you will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. After all, it is not just one man that received these keys, but the Church in its unity. So this is the reason for Peter’s acknowledged pre-eminence, that he stood for the Church’s universality and unity, when he was told, To you I am entrusting, what has in fact been entrusted to all. To show you that it is the Church which has received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, listen to what the Lord says in another place to all his apostles: Receive the Holy Spirit; and immediately afterwards, Whose sins you forgive, they will be forgiven them; whose sins you retain, they will be retained.
Quite rightly, too, did the Lord after his resurrection entrust his sheep to Peter to be fed. It is not, you see, that he alone among the disciples was fit to feed the Lord’s sheep; but when Christ speaks to one man, unity is being commended to us. And he first speaks to Peter, because Peter is the first among the apostles. Do not be sad, Apostle. Answer once, answer again, answer a third time. Let confession conquer three times with love, because self-assurance was conquered three times by fear. What you had bound three times must be loosed three times. Loose through love what you had bound through fear. And for all that, the Lord once, and again, and a third time, entrusted his sheep to Peter.
There is one day for the passion of two apostles. But these two also were as one; although they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, Paul followed. We are celebrating a feast day, consecrated for us by the blood of the apostles. Let us love their faith, their lives, their labours, their sufferings, their confession of faith, their preaching.
I had a recent experience where I was sitting with the choir at Mass and I was continually distracted throughout by the members chatting and carrying on as if they were in an orchestra pit. All very nice people (and talented) but I could not help but think how sad it was that they had become so “familiar” and detached from the sacred actions that were taking place right before them. We’ve all heard the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt”. In regards to the Mass and our worship due to God, familiarity can breed irreverence. In his latest article, Bishop Thomas Tobin brings this point home regarding our “familiarity” with the Eucharist:
WITHOUT A DOUBT
Never Take the Eucharist for Granted
I suppose it’s typical for human beings to sometimes take our finest gifts for granted – our health, our faith, our family and our friends, for example.
And even as Catholics we have the tendency to take for granted one of God’s most precious gifts – the Holy Eucharist, and all that it means for us. Although we typically pay lip service to the importance of the Eucharist, I wonder if we really appreciate its significance in our lives.
As the heart and soul of our Catholic Faith, the Eucharist a gift and mystery that includes several important dimensions. The Eucharist is a sacrifice – the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, made present again in a sacramental way. The Eucharist is a sacrament – the abiding presence of Christ among His people under the external forms of bread and wine. The Eucharist is a meal – established by Jesus at the Last Supper, and in which the action of eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ is essential to its meaning. And the Eucharist is a celebration – an affirmation of our faith in sign and symbol.
Each dimension of the Eucharist tells us something important about its meaning and all of them are included whenever we follow the Lord’s command: “Do this in memory of me.”
From the very beginning, even in the Apostolic era, the Church has recognized that reception of the Holy Eucharist demands a certain spiritual disposition. Here it’s helpful to recall that no one has an absolute right to receive the Eucharist, or any other sacrament for that matter. And while we routinely profess that “I am not worthy to receive you,” in recent years the requirements for receiving Holy Communion have become a hot topic, moving beyond the walls of internal Church discipline and crossing over into the political domain, even becoming the fodder of radio talk show debates.
Pope John Paul explained the criteria for receiving Holy Communion in these words: “The celebration of the Eucharist cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #35) The Pope goes on to explain that this necessary unity with the Church has both an invisible dimension (the spiritual disposition) and a visible dimension (the structural disposition.) In other, more traditional words, to properly receive Holy Communion, a communicant must be in the state of grace and be a member of the Catholic Church. These requirements apply not only to Catholic politicians – although they have particular obligations because of their role as public officials – but equally to all members of the Church.
There are other important dimensions of the Eucharist we should consider as well. And one is the fact that while the Eucharist effects union with Christ, “body and blood, soul and divinity,” it also has more horizontal, societal implications.
Pope Benedict said this: “The Eucharist brings about a fundamental transformation. God no longer simply stands before us as totally other. He enters into us and then seeks to spread outward to others until He fills the world, so that His love can truly become the dominant measure of the world.” (World Youth Day, Cologne, 2005)
The Eucharist, then, is all about “transformation” the Pope says. It begins with the transformation of the elements of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. (Note this is a very special kind of transformation that Catholics call “transubstantiation,” meaning the very substance of the bread and wine is changed into the very substance of the Body and Blood of Christ.) This transformation continues as the person receiving Holy Communion grows spiritually and is transformed into the image and likeness of Christ in their daily lives. And that transformation reaches its conclusion as the faithful enter into the world and, by living the vision and values of Christ, transform it, the secular world, into the Kingdom of God.
Blessed Mother of Teresa of Calcutta put it this way: “If we truly understand the Eucharist; if we make the Eucharist the central focus of our lives; if we feed our lives with the Eucharist, we will not find it difficult to discover Christ, to love Him, and to serve Him in the poor.”
And finally, in reflecting upon the value of the Eucharist, we should also recall the importance of Eucharistic adoration, a wonderful devotion in the history and spiritual tradition of the Church. Pope John Paul wrote that “it is pleasant to spend time with Him, to lie close to His breast like the beloved disciple, and to feel the infinite love present in His heart.” He also points to the example of many saints, specifically St. Alphonsus Liguori who wrote, “Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #25)
So, dear reader, as we consider the Holy Eucharist, let’s try to resist our normal tendency to take our gifts for granted. The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ; it is the Bread of Life; it is spiritual food for our journey on earth; and it contains all the power we need to transform the world into the Kingdom of God.
from the bolletino
The Holy Father explained how St. Thomas’ masterpiece, the “Summa Theologica”, contains 512 questions and 2,669 articles in which the saint “precisely, clearly and pertinently” outlines the truths of faith as they emerge from “the teachings of Holy Scripture and of the Fathers of the Church, especially St. Augustine”. This exertion “of the human mind was always illuminated – as St. Thomas’ own life shows – by prayer, by the light that comes from on high.
“In his ‘Summa'”, the Pope added, “St. Thomas starts from the fact that God exists in three different ways: God exists in Himself, He is the principle and end of all things, so all creatures come from and depend upon Him. Secondly, God is present through His Grace in the life and activity of Christians, of the saints. Finally, God is present in a very special way in the person of Christ, and in the Sacraments which derive from His work of redemption”.
“St. Thomas dedicates special attention to the mystery of the Eucharist, to which he was particularly devoted”, said Benedict XVI, encouraging people “to follow the example of the saints and love this Sacrament. Let us participate devotedly in Mass in order to obtain its spiritual fruits; let us feed from the Body and Blood of the Lord that we may be incessantly nourished by divine Grace; let us pause willingly and often in the company of the Blessed Sacrament”.
The Holy Father went on: “What St. Thomas explained with academic rigour in his main theological works such as the ‘ Summa Theologica’ was also expressed in his preaching”, the content of which “corresponds almost in its entirety to the structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Indeed, in a time such as our own of renewed commitment to evangelisation, catechism and preaching must never lack the following fundamental themes: what we believe, i.e., the Creed; what we pray, i.e., the Our Father and the Ave Maria; and what we live as biblical revelation teaches us, i.e., the law of the love of God and neighbour and the Ten Commandments”.
“In his brief ‘Devotissima expositio super symbolum apostolorum’, St. Thomas explains the importance of faith. Through it, he says, the soul is united to God, … life is given a clear direction and we can easily overcome temptations. To those who object that faith is foolish because it makes us believe something that does not enter into the experience of the senses, St. Thomas offers a very detailed response, claiming that this is an inconsistent objection because human intelligence is limited and cannot know everything.
“Only if we were able to have perfect knowledge of all things visible and invisible would it be foolish to accept truth out of pure faith”, said the Pope. “Moreover, as St. Thomas observes, it is impossible to live without entrusting ourselves to the experience of others, when our personal knowledge does not extend far enough. Thus it is reasonable to have faith in God Who reveals Himself, and in the witness of the Apostles”.
Commenting on the article of the Creed concerning the incarnation of the Divine Word, St. Thomas says that “the Christian faith is reinforced in the light of the mystery of the Incarnation; hope emerges more trustingly at the thought that the Son of God came among us as one of us, to communicate His divinity to mankind; charity is revived because there is no more evident sign of God’s love for us than to see the Creator of the universe Himself become a creature”, said the Holy Father.
“St. Thomas, like all saints, was greatly devoted to the Blessed Virgin”, Pope Benedict concluded. “He gave her a stupendous title: ‘Triclinium totius Trinitatis’; in other words, the place where the Trinity finds repose because, thanks to the Incarnation, the three divine persons dwell in her as in no other creature, and experience the delight and joy of living in her soul full of Grace. Through her intercession we can obtain any kind of help”.
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from the bolletino
VATICAN CITY, 16 JUN 2010 (VIS) – In his catechesis during this morning’s general audience, Benedict XVI continued his presentation of the figure of St. Thomas Aquinas, “a theologian of such importance that the study of his works was explicitly recommended by Vatican Council II”, he said. He also recalled how in 1880 Leo XIII declared him as patron of Catholic schools and universities.
The Pope noted how Thomas Aquinas focused on the distinction between philosophy and theology. This was because in his time, in the light of Aristotelian and Platonic thought on the one hand, and the philosophy of the Church Fathers on the other, “the burning question was whether … a philosophy elaborated without reference to Christ and the world of faith, and that elaborated bearing Christ and the world of faith in mind, were compatible or mutually exclusive”.
“Thomas”, the Holy Father explained, “was firmly convinced that they were compatible, and that the philosophy elaborated without Christ was awaiting only the light of Jesus in order to be made complete. The novelty of Thomas, what determined his path as a thinker, was this: to demonstrate the independence of philosophy and theology, and at the same time their inter-relation”.
For the “Doctor Angelicus”, the Pope went on, “faith consolidates, integrates and illuminates the heritage of truth acquired by human reason. The trust St. Thomas places in these two instruments of knowledge (faith and reason) can be explained by his conviction that both come from a single wellspring of truth, the divine Logos which works in the area of both creation and redemption”.
Having established the principle of reason and faith, St. Thomas makes it clear that they follow different cognitive processes: “Reason accepts a truth by virtue of its intrinsic evidence, either mediated or direct; faith, on the other hand, accepts a truth on the basis of the authority of the revealed Word of God”.
“This distinction ensures the autonomy of the human sciences, … and the theological sciences. However this does not mean a separation; rather, it implies mutual and advantageous collaboration. Faith, in fact, protects reason from any temptation to mistrust in its own capacities and stimulates it to open itself to ever broader horizons”.
“Reason too, with the means at its disposal, can do something important for faith, offering it a triple service which St. Thomas summarises thus: … ‘demonstrating the foundations of faith; using similitudes to explain the truth of faith; rebuffing the objections that arise against the faith’. The entire history of Christian theology is, in the final analysis, the exercise of this duty of the intellect, which shows the intelligibility of the faith, its inner structure and harmony, its reasonableness and its capacity to promote the good of man.
“The correctness of theological reasoning and its true cognitive significance is based on the value of theological language which, according to St. Thomas, is principally a language of analogy”, the Pope added. “Analogy recognises shared perfections in the created world and in God”. Thomas based his doctrine of analogy, “not only on purely philosophical arguments, but also on the fact that, with the revelation, God Himself spoke to us and, thus, authorised us to speak about Him”.
The Holy Father highlighted the importance of this doctrine which, he said, “helps us overcome certain objections raised by modern atheism which denies that religious language possesses objective meaning and holds that it only has a subjective or merely emotional value. In the light of the teachings of St. Thomas, theology affirms that, however limited, religious language does have meaning”.
St. Thomas’ moral theology retains great relevance in its affirmation that “the theological and moral virtues of man are rooted in human nature”, said Pope Benedict. “Divine Grace accompanies, supports and encourages ethical commitment but, according to St. Thomas, all men and women, believers and non-believers, are of themselves called to recognise the requirements of human nature as expressed in natural law, and to draw inspiration therefrom when formulating positive law; that is, the laws produced by civil and political authorities to regulate human society.
“When natural law and the responsibility it implies are denied,” he added, “the way is thrown dramatically open to ethical relativism at an individual level, and to totalitarianism at a political level. Defending the universal rights of man and affirming the absolute value of the dignity of the person presupposes a foundation: and is not this foundation natural law, with the non-negotiable values it contains?”.
“Thomas”, the Holy Father concluded, “presents us with a broad and trusting view of human reason. Broad, because it is not limited to the area of empirical-scientific reason but open to all of existence and therefore also to the fundamental and inescapable questions of human life; trusting, because human reason, especially if it welcomes the inspiration of Christian faith, promotes a civilisation which recognises the dignity of the person, the inviolability of his rights and the cogency of his duties”.
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VATICAN CITY, 2 JUN 2010 (VIS) – In today’s general audience held in St. Peter’s Square, Benedict XVI continued with his catechesis dedicated to the great saints of the Middle Ages, speaking on St. Thomas Aquinas, called the “Angelic Doctor” for the elevated nature of his thought and the purity of his life”.
The Pope explained that Thomas was born around 1225 to a noble family in Roccasecca, Italy near the Abbey of Montecasino. He was sent to the University of Naples at a young age where he first became interested in Aristotelian thought and felt a call to the religious life.
In 1245 he went to Paris to study theology under the guidance of St. Albert the Great who held this student in such esteem that he was asked to accompany him to Cologne, Germany to open a centre for theological studies.
“Thomas Aquinas, at St. Albert the Great’s school, carried out a task of fundamental importance in the history of philosophy and theology as well as for history and culture”, the Pope said. “He studied Aristotle and his interpreters in depth” and “commented on a great part of Aristotle’s works, discerning what was valid in it from what was doubtful or refutable, demonstrating its consonance with the facts of Christian revelation, using Aristotelian thought with great breadth and intelligence in presenting the theological writings he composed. In short, Thomas Aquinas demonstrated that a natural harmony exists between reason and the Christian faith”.
“His great intellectual endowment brought him again to Paris to teach theology. That is where he began his monumental literary output: commentaries on the Sacred Scriptures and the works of Aristotle along with his masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae”.
“There were a few secretaries who assisted in drafting his works, among whom was Reginald of Piperno […] who was bound to him by a fraternal and sincere friendship characterized by great trust and reliance. This is a characteristic of the saints”, the pontiff observed. “They cultivate friendship because it is one of the most noble manifestations of the human heart and holds something of the divine within it”.
In 1259 Thomas Aquinas participated in the General Chapter of the Dominicans in Valenciennes, France to establish the order’s constitutions. On his return to Italy, Pope Urban IV charged him with composing the liturgical texts for the feast of Corpus Christi.
“St. Thomas has a profoundly Eucharistic soul”, the Pope affirmed. “The beautiful hymns that the liturgy of the Church sings to celebrate the mystery of the real presence of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist are due to his faith and theological wisdom”.
In Paris, where he returned in 1269, a great number of students followed his courses, but the “Angelic Doctor” also dedicated himself to preaching to the people, who listened with attention. “It is a great gift that theologians know how to speak with simplicity and fervour to the faithful. The ministry of preaching, on the other hand, also helps those who are experts in theology to develop a healthy pastoral realism and enriches their research with stimulation”, the pontiff remarked.
In the final months of his life, St. Thomas — who died in 1274 at the Abbey of Fossanove, Italy when he was heading to Leon to participate in an ecumenical council — confessed to his friend Reginald of Piperno that, after a divine revelation, he considered his work as “so much straw”, writing nothing further afterwards.
“It is a mysterious episode that helps us understand not only Thomas’ personal humility but also the fact that all that we are able to think and say about the faith, as elevated and pure as it may be, is infinitely surpassed by the greatness and beauty of God who will reveal himself to us in the fullness of paradise,” Benedict XVI concluded.
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