Saint Thomas Aquinas is one of the greatest minds Our Lord Jesus gave to the Church. He was a tremendous logician, using an uncanny gift for cutting through jungles of verbiage to come to a simple conclusion, especially about our Faith. This was needed sorely in the Church of his time, and possibly more so in the Church of our time. Most seminaries, following the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church, use Thomas Aquinas' teachings as part of their curriculum.
Thomas' walk to the Lord was not an easy one. Well, let me rephrase. It was never a problem for him. He knew exactly what he wanted, and what the Lord was calling him to do. The problem was his family. They never agreed with Thomas' decision to enter the Order of Preachers. They pictured him as spending the better part of his life as Abbot of Monte Cassino, the famous Benedictine Abbey.
To give his family some credit, they were from the upper class. He came from a long line of counts. Of noble lineage, his father was a knight, and his aspirations for Thomas were to follow in his footsteps. It is believed he was born in the year 1225. When he was a child, lightening struck the house during a violent thunderstorm and his little sister was killed, but Thomas was left unscathed. However, it was a very traumatic experience for the young Thomas, which resulted in his being nervous during thunderstorms. Because he was spared, there is a popular devotion to him as Patron of thunderstorms and sudden death.
His family obsessed on the Benedictine community at Monte Cassino. From the time when he was a young boy, it was pretty well decided this is where he would spend his life, and as we told you before, they had great plans for him to spend his years as Abbott in essence a Bishop. So, when St. Thomas was five years old he was entered as an oblate in the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino, and remained there until he was thirteen. From there, Thomas spent five years studying the arts and sciences at the University of Naples; and it is there he became attracted to the Order of Preachers. Friars watching him highly absorbed in prayer said they could see rays of light shining above his head. One of them told him, "Our Lord has given you to our Order." Thomas expressed his ardent desire to join the Preachers, but as his family would object strenuously, he felt it wiser to wait. Three years passed and at age nineteen Thomas attempted to join the Dominicans.
Thomas had been right. Although they did not mind him becoming a religious, they objected rigorously to his becoming a mendicant friar; the Benedictines were more to their liking. His mother set out to persuade him to leave the Dominicans. But the friars took him away before she could come and spirit him from them. Then his brothers and some soldiers set out to abduct him; and abduct him they did. They caught him resting by the roadside and after failing to rip his habit from his body, brought him to the family's castle. He was refused any visitors except his worldly sister. During his imprisonment St. Thomas studied a book by Peter Lombard, memorized a great part of the Holy Bible, and even wrote a treatise on the errors of Aristotle.
Failing at all their attempts to dissuade him, the family sent a lady of ill repute to seduce him. When he saw her, he brandished a hot iron and chased her out of the room. There is another version, and it is up to you which you believe; but this recounting tells of his sister coming into the room to persuade him to leave and he not only converted her, she not much later joined the Benedictine Order as a Nun and finally became Abbess, which is very possible, because it would have made the family happy, and also would have encouraged them to leave Thomas alone.
He was held captive for two years before his family threw up their hands and gave up. They allowed him to return to the Dominicans. He was sent to study under St. Albert the Great; and because he remained silent during many of the disputations, they conferred on him the nickname, "dumb Sicilian ox." One of the students, feeling pity for him began tutoring him. But one day when his tutor became stumped and could not explain a lesson, St. Thomas elaborated on it so brilliantly the student brought it to St. Albert's attention and the next day he gave Thomas a test in front of the whole student body. His answers were so brilliant, his instructor said, "We call Brother Thomas the dumb ox, but I tell you he will make his lowing heard to the uttermost parts of the earth."
But as brilliant as he was, he was that much more pious. When he celebrated the Mass, during the Consecration, he became so enraptured, he was moved to tears. His biographer, William da Tocco wrote ìwhen consecrating (the bread and wine) at Mass, he would be overcome by such intensity of devotion as to be dissolved in tears, utterly absorbed in its mysteries and nourished with its fruits.î
Although he was sent to Paris where he received his "doctor's chair," they would soon lose him to Rome, where he taught as "preacher general" in the Papal School. His new position took him to many parts of Italy where he imparted his wisdom.
St. Thomas Aquinas was involved in the compelling mandate of the Lord to have a Feast Day instituted in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus dazzled the world of the Thirteenth Century by giving them a Miracle of the Eucharist which began in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and ended in Bolsena, Italy, to focus our attention for His need and desire for a Feast Day in honor of the Blessed Sacrament.
When Pope Urban IV, could not deny the persuasive message of the Lord, through the pleadings of the followers of a simple Belgian nun, Blessed Juliana of Liege, and the undeniable Miracle of the Eucharist in Bolsena/Orvieto, he issued the Papal Bull, Il Transiturus, in 1264, in which he instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. He immediately called on Thomas Aquinas to write the liturgy for that prestigious Feast. Among the beautiful hymns in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, St. Thomas wrote the memorable "Tantum Ergo" and "O Salutaris".
You can see how the Lord works in the lives of His Powerful Men and Women. He doesnít just use them once, and put them away in a closet. St. Thomas is a perfect example of this. He became so well-known, especially in his knowledge of the Eucharist, that St. Louis, King of France, called on the Saint, to come to Paris, to speak to the students of the University of Paris. There was a question on which they were totally divided. It had to do with the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and they asked Thomas Aquinas to settle it for them.
We find from this, that Thomas was not only a brilliant man, but a very humble man. As well known as he was, he knew that nothing he could say to these young minds, astute in their own rights, could convince them of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. So he did the most intelligent thing he possibly could have done. He prayed and fasted! Does that sound familiar? We recall that our Lady has been asking us to do that for as far back as we can remember. Well, St. Thomas Aquinas prayed and fasted for three days. During that time, he wrote a treatise, which he laid on the Altar before he presented it to the students. When he finally did present it to them, it was not only accepted unanimously by the University students, but by the entire Church. Thomas gave all credit to Jesus in the Eucharist.
Miracle of the Cross of St. Thomas Aquinas
Later on, when St. Thomas was in Salerno, finishing the third part of his Summa, which deals with the Passion and the Resurrection, he was kneeling before the Altar in ecstasy. He could feel the overpowering presence of the Lord in the room. He looked up at the Crucifix. It began to glow brightly. Jesus came alive and spoke to Thomas. There is a very special conversation St. Thomas Aquinas had with the Lord, which we have used as a motto for our ministry. He was told ìYou have written well of Me, Thomas. What would you desire as a reward?î Thomas broke into tears, as he replied, ìNothing, Lord. Iím doing it all for you.î At this point, St. Thomas Aquinas went into ecstasy, and levitated. His entire body floated into the air and hovered over the chapel. All the brothers in the convent came into the chapel where he was praying, and beheld him suspended in the air.
Toward the end of his life, he ceased working on the Summa Theologiae, one of the most famous treatises on the existence of God ever written. When the brother who was working with him asked why, he replied "The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as much as straw after the things that have been revealed to me." He had been celebrating the Mass; and went into ecstasy. St. Thomas never divulged what the Lord had revealed to him, but it was enough for this great man to cease working on a treatise he had spent five years developing.
As he lay dying, after he made his last confession and received viaticum, he said,
"I am receiving Thee, Price of my soul's redemption; all my studies, my vigil and my labors have been for love of Thee. I have taught much and written much of the Most Sacred Body of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Roman Church, to whose judgment I offer and submit everything."
Two days later our Angelic Doctor, as he was called, passed to his reward with Jesus His Love. That day, St. Albert, who was in Cologne, cried out, "Brother Thomas Aquinas, my son in Christ, the light of the Church, is dead. God has revealed it to me."