30 January 2012

Non Nisi Te: None but You, Lord

Solemnity of St. Thomas Aquinas
            St. Thomas Aquinas is known for a great many things.  On the lighter side, it is commonly held that St. Thomas was a very large man.  In fact, he was called the Dumb Ox in school, due to his large size and (ironically) seemingly slow-working intellect.  Stories are also told that at the table at which St. Thomas would usually sit for meals, a crescent had to be cut away so that he could sit close enough to the table to take his food.  On a more serious side, St. Thomas is known for his great writing: Summa Theologica, Summa contra Gentiles, Corpus Christi texts for Mass, the hymns: Tantum Ergo, Pange Lingua, Adoro Te, Devote, and so many more.  His intellectual understanding of the faith is, in my humble estimation, unrivaled by any person before or after him.
            And yet, there have been many smart people who are not saints.  And St. Thomas’ size, no matter whether the stories are true or false, did not create his holiness.  No, there was something else in St. Thomas’ life that was greater even than his love of knowledge.  And that trait is best described by a true story of St. Thomas.
            When St. Thomas was in Naples, celebrating Mass, the crucifix on the altar spoke to him, saying, “You have written well of me, Thomas.  What reward will you have?”  To this grand question from the Lord, St. Thomas answered, “None other than You, Lord.”  Those words in Latin, Non nisi Te, appear on the crest of our great parish school.
            None other than You, Lord.  What profound words from a man who had systematically progressed through the major and minor questions of the faith with stunning accuracy, such that, centuries later, Pope Leo XIII advised that all seminarians be required to study St. Thomas Aquinas (no other saint received such a recommendation, not even St. Augustine), and declared St. Thomas the patron of Catholic universities, schools, and students.  St. Thomas could have answered that he wanted more knowledge to complete his great Summa Theologica.  He could have answered that wanted to be assured of salvation for him and his family.  He could have asked for the flourishing of the order to which St. Thomas dedicated his life, the Order of Preachers or Dominicans.  But he simply said, “None other than You, Lord.”
            What a great question to ask ourselves: if Jesus spoke from this crucifix here in this church, or, indeed, from any crucifix, and asked me what I wanted, what would be my answer?  Would I ask for wisdom, money, power, friends, health, peace, an end to poverty, or assured salvation?  If so, we would not have answered as well as St. Thomas, and would not receive the fullness of the gift that God wants to bestow on us.  Sure, wisdom is good so we can choose to do good and avoid evil.  Money is a fine means of providing for our family, for the Church, and for helping to end poverty.  Power can be used to advance the respect for human dignity and justice.  Peace is the gift of the children of God in the beatitudes.  And who doesn’t want to be in heaven with God forever?  And yet, we should be asking God for the conversion to desire nothing but God alone, because He, as St. Thomas taught, is the greatest good, the good to be desired above all other goods.
            In desiring and receiving the Lord, we find that all those other things which are good and helpful, especially to our salvation, are provided for us anyways.  This is what our Lord means when He said, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”  If we desire the Lord, and we open our hearts to receive Him, then nothing which is truly good will be denied us.
            In this Mass, we have the opportunity to deepen our love for our Lord, and to receive Him, especially through His Word and through His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.  How blest are our ears that they hear God’s Word, our minds that they are taught with heavenly wisdom, and our tongues that the receive the Lord of all creation under the appearance of bread and wine!
            So great was St. Thomas’ love of the Eucharist that, besides penning the texts for the Corpus Christi Mass, texts which we still use today, and writing eloquently about the Sacrament of Sacraments, when Thomas was dying and received the Eucharist for the last time in Viaticum, he said:

I firmly believe and know as certain that Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, is in this Sacrament…I receive Thee, the price of my redemption, for Whose love I have watched, studied, and laboured.  Thee have I preached; Thee have I taught. 

 Knowing that he wanted nothing but the Lord, in his last hours of life, he affirmed that the Eucharist was precisely the great desire of his life, more than knowledge or any other gift.
            St. Thomas provides us with the example of what it means to prefer nothing above God.  It’s a tall order, but something which we are all called to do: whether priest or deacon, religious or consecrated person, married or single, adult or child.  Are we there yet?  Maybe some of you are.  I’m certainly still working on it.  But we know it’s possible because St. Thomas has shown us the way, a way that he did not create, but a way which he pointed out to us in showing us Jesus who is the Way.  As St. Thomas said, “God alone satisfies.”  Help us, O Lord, to purify our desires so that we can say with St. Thomas that we desire “none but You, Lord.”  Non nisi Te.  St Thomas Aquinas: pray for us!