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January 28: The Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

In 1958, when I took my first vows, I was given the religious name Sister Thomas Marie; my patron was St. Thomas Aquinas. All I really knew about St. Thomas was that he was a formidable theologian, author of the Summa Theologica, which I had great difficulty reading and even greater difficulty understanding. At that young age I believed that if I could not understand it then it must really be profound. How naïve!
In the 50 years since I first received that name, I have read and studied Dominican spirituality continuously. While dabbling in Dominican studies, I came to know a Thomas who is as much a mystic as he is theologian, teacher, and someone I can understand. Thomas speaks of a spirituality that is an expansion of the heart, a joy so full that it breaks forth externally from within. For Thomas, joy and happiness and the pursuit of legitimate pleasures are seen as tools provided by God to assist us in our search for authenticity and holiness. Thomas also loved creation, and his writings make it clear that he was on intimate terms with all of creation. A Dominican is a life-long student, and Thomas is the classic Dominican. For him study was not merely a job; it was his passion, a discipline designed to bring us to greater wisdom and to an understanding of God and creation. The better we understand creation, the better we know the Creator; therefore, for Thomas, study was elevated to a form of worship of God. The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena characterizes the holiness of Thomas with a striking phrase: Thomas saw God in his “mind’s eye.’’ For St. Thomas, as for many of the early Dominicans, thinking itself was a sacred activity. His mind was in love with God. Owing to his great intellectual genius, devotion to learning came to be regarded as a distinctive characteristic of Dominicans.
The story is told that Thomas in prayer was asked by Christ, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your efforts?” Thomas replied simply and spontaneously, “Nothing but you, O Lord.” In these words Thomas restates the passion of his heart. His entire life and his voluminous theological work are best represented by this simple yet exquisitely profound expression of desire for union with the Divine.

Sister Honora is the Assistant Director at RENEW and a Dominican Sister of Amityville, NY.

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