Saturday, January 4, 2014

First Things First

I've always been particularly struck by a quote of St. Thomas Aquinas', which reads as follows: "The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me." He said this to a friend shortly before his death, after having a mystical experience while saying Mass. After this, he ceased writing, leaving the third part of his Summa Theologiae unfinished. Now, apparently God revealed something to him so marvelous that he, one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church, the Angelic Doctor, was only able to see his writings and teachings as "so much straw"... Why is this? Because Thomas' writing, teaching, and life were first rooted in the search for God, where he found the illumination and grace to pursue his vocation for the glory of God. 

Thomas put first things first. He recognized the necessity that God comes before all, and enables us to do all good. When Thomas would run into particularly intractable problems, he would not cut down on his time of prayer to study more but, rather, would spend more time in prayer before the Lord. Pope Pius XI wrote of him, saying: "The more readily to obtain these illuminations from above, he would often abstain from food, spend whole nights in prayerful vigil, and, surrendering to a holy impulse, would repeatedly lean his head against the tabernacle and would constantly turn his eyes with sorrow and love toward the image of Jesus crucified. To his friend St. Bonaventure he confided that whatever he knew he had for the most part learned from the book of the crucifix." Indeed, even though he was an intellectual giant to be reckoned with through the ages, he acknowledged that the man who works solely for knowledge, not charity, is the man who built his house on the sand. 

This speaks strongly to me, as I'm studying for a bachelor's degree both in philosophy and Theology and hope to go on to study at the graduate level (God willing). The more I delve into learning about the theologians and Saints that I admire so much, the more I am astounded, though not surprised, by the depth of their encounter with the Lord. As we are vessels, He fills us. They recognized this supreme Truth: 'If I am to fill others, I cannot remove myself from the Source of my being and fullness.' The one who attempts to fill up his jar from the Lord, then removes it to fill that of his brother surely is well-intentioned, but runs out of water rapidly. But if this man stays rooted in the Lord who grants the water of eternal life, he becomes, by God's grace, a well for others to draw from as he himself draws deeply from the Lord. So too, for you and I... we must, I must, remember to put first things first. Whatever state of life we are in, whatever vocation we are called to, the subjects we study and the people we meet: we will always need to be rooted in holiness for our efforts elsewhere to be effective and for our lives to be fulfilling. 

"Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." Ephesians 4: 22-24