Eleventh Sunday - C
ELEVENTH SUNDAY – C
Paul’s concerns about the “works of the Law” and being “justified” might seem remote to people of the twenty-first century. However, Paul’s underlying principles may speak to our lives more than we expect.
The “Law,” of course, is the Mosaic Law. As Christianity grew out of Judaism, the early Christians were challenged whether the traditions of Judaism should continue.
Paul was insistent that, while the Law, had its value in guiding the People of God, the Law was replaced by faith in Jesus. For this reason, Paul describes the Law as “dead.” Thomas Aquinas explains that the Law was written down because “we were weak and unable to approach God.” But we don’t need the written Law when we are in the presence of the lawgiver: “After we have access to the Father through Christ… we are not instructed about the commands of God through the Law, but by God Himself.”
Does this mean that the moral prescriptions of the Law, most especially the Ten Commandments, have ceased to be important?
Thomas explains that Paul is not disregarding the moral teachings. According to Thomas, the moral teachings are so basic that their foundation is not just in the Law but in human nature. They are, according to Thomas, “induced to them by natural instinct and by the natural law,” the inborn moral sense.
Thomas maintains that the ceremonial actions, such as circumcision and the various rites of purification, are no longer are necessary. These are human actions. Thomas explains that these actions “neither confer grace nor contain grace in themselves.” It is what we do.
With the coming of Christ, we have other actions, the Sacraments. In themselves, the sacraments are material things, e.g. water, bread and wine, but their power is not from themselves or from us. They are instruments. Thomas explains that an instrument, such as a stick, can be separate from a person or it can be united with a person as a hand. Thomas states:
Now the principle efficient cause of grace is God Himself, in comparison with Whom Christ’s humanity is as a united instrument, whereas the sacrament is as a separate instrument. Consequently, the saving power must needs be derived by the sacraments from Christ’s Godhead through His humanity (3a. 62, 5).
While the Sacraments derive their power from Christ, they still are not effective unless there is a response from the receiver, by faith in Christ. Thomas says in the Summa Theologiae, “… by faith Christ’s power is united to us… Therefore the power of the sacraments which is ordained to the remission of sins is derived principally from faith in Christ’s Passion” (3a. 62, 5 ad 2).
Are Paul’s concerns and language outmoded? It doesn’t seem that contemporary people have discussions about “being just” or “being justified. Paul’s issue is whether we justify ourselves by the “works of the Law” or by faith in Jesus? While some people follow the Mosaic observances today, many of us find ways to “justify” ourselves, even very good ways. The difficulty is that we rely on these actions to justify us rather than giving ourselves to Jesus.
If we watch ourselves carefully, we might notice that, in fact, we and those with whom we interact often “justify” whatever we do or say. We may keep such opinions to ourselves or even, at times, we say as much.
For Paul, the observances of the Law were ways of justifying ourselves. Paul is trying to break out of that bind of looking to ourselves and our good intentions as the source of our own justice. We can argue endlessly that what we did and what we said were the absolutely right things to do and say.
Thomas points to the two senses of “being justified,” “doing what is just and being made just.” Thomas notices that those who recognize their weaknesses have a greater appreciation of being just than those who can “justify” themselves: “For it is plain that anyone who seeks to be made just does not profess himself to be just but a sinner.”
Thomas reminds us of Jerome’s opinion “legal justifications were deadly immediately after the Passion of Christ.” In other words, we don’t need to prove our own integrity. We can let Christ justify us.
Thomas affirms: “The oldness of sin is removed by the Cross of Christ, and the newness of spiritual life is conferred. Therefore the Apostle says, ‘With Christ I am nailed to the Cross,’ i.e. … the inclination to sin, and all such have been put to death in me through the Cross of Christ.”
Thomas comments that a person is said “to live” in his or her greatest pleasure, which, for many of us is our “own private interest” by which we seek what is ours and thus live for ourselves. When we live for the good of others, we live in them. Thomas remarks that Paul has put aside “his own love of self through the Cross of Christ.” His own love of self has been removed: “I have Christ alone in my affection and Christ Himself is my life.”
Thomas attests: “Because the love of Christ, which He showed to me in dying on the Cross for me, brings it about that I am always nailed with Him. And this is what he says, ‘who loved me’: ‘He first loved us’ (1 Jn 4:10). He loved me to the extent of giving Himself.”
Thomas notes that the Father gave up His Son “for us” (Rom 8:32). The Son ‘delivered Himself’ (Eph 5:25). Judas also delivered Him up (Mt 26:48). Tomas reflects: “It is all one event, but the intention is not the same.” The Father acted out of love, the Son out of obedience and Judas out of avarice.
The Father offers Paul and us the grace of receiving justification through the Son. Thomas explains Paul’s fear of being ungrateful: “Because I have received from God so great a grace that He delivered Himself and I live in the faith of the Son of God…”
The Son offered Himself to the Father and gives Himself to us to justify us. Thomas says “… if the works of the Law suffice to justify a man, Christ died to no purpose, and in vain, because He died in order to make us just.”
Tenth Sunday - C
Tenth Sunday – C
St. Thomas analyzes today’s second reading, which is from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Thomas paraphrases Paul’s conviction that his conversion did not have a human origin: “This, indeed, is obvious from my actions at that time and from the hatred I bore toward the faith.” Paul was zealous to live out the traditions of his ancestors and saw “the Church of God” as undermining these traditions.
Paul’s conversion was not only entirely due to God but God had called him from his birth: God “set me apart before I was born and called me by His favor” (Gal 1:15). Thomas describes this as “divine election.” This reminds Thomas of Paul’s words: “For it is God who works in us, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will” (Phil 2:13).
Galatians 1:15 is usually translated, “when He who set me apart before I was born.” Thomas goes back to the literal wording: “…the One who separated me from the womb of my mother.” For Thomas, childbirth is an example of the way that human action depends on divine action:
It is indeed true to say that God separates one form the womb, even though it is the work of nature, which is, as it were, an instrument of God because even our own works are attributed to God as their principal author: ‘For You have wrought all our works for us’ (Is 26:12), as any effect is attributed to the principal agent; hence Job: ‘You clothed me with skin and flesh’ (Jb 10:11).
Thomas reminds us that every birth is not only the work of the mother and child but also of God. For Thomas, God’s presence with us in all of our actions is an important principle.
The Greek word charis meant “favor” but the New Testament chose it to mean God’s “grace.” The Lectionary of the New American Bible uses “favor” in 1:15 but the Revised Standard uses “grace,” as does the New Jerusalem Bible. Either translation brings out that God’s call is His free gift.
Thomas, following the Latin, “called me by His grace,” explains:
There are two kinds of call. One is exterior [as Paul received and the other apostles did as well]… The other call is interior, and in this way He calls through a certain interior instinct, whereby God touches the heart to be turned to Him, as when He calls one from the path of evil to good; and this by His grace and not our own merits.
Most of us do not experience exterior calls. However, each of us is familiar with the “certain interior instinct,” by which God touches our hearts to turn them to Him. For Thomas, every time we turn to God, God is turning us.
Paul affirms that God chose him “to reveal His Son through me” (1:16). Thomas notes that Paul’s conversion itself is a demonstration of God’s mercy, as First Timothy declares: “But I obtained the mercy of God… Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the chief” (1 Tim 1:13). Thomas reflects: “… in his [Paul’s] conversion he revealed His Son in the sense that the Son is called the grace of God.”
Thomas remarks that Paul also revealed the Son by his actions: “For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me…by word and by deed, by the power of signs and wonders” (Rom 15:18-19). Thomas observes that this is because “Christ is the power of God.”
Thomas asserts that Paul also revealed the Son by his preaching: “We preach Christ crucified; for the Jews a stumbling block and for the Gentiles foolishness, but for those who are called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23).
By our Baptism, each one of us can say that God called me “to reveal His Son through me.” God’s grace and mercy has been with us even in the very act of birth itself. God’s grace and mercy has been present in our lives, protecting us and healing us from the effects of our own choices in our ongoing conversions. The evidence of God’s grace and mercy in our lives is itself a witness to Christ.
Likewise the actions we do in Christ’s name and the words we speak about Him reveal Christ to others.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from Thomas Aquinas are from Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, translated by F. R. Larcher, O.P., (Albany, NY: Magi Books Inc., 1965), pp. 18-31.
Immaculate Heart of Mary
St. Thomas writes: “Mary was full of grace not only in the performance of all good, but also in the avoidance of all evil. Again, the Blessed Virgin was full of grace in the overflowing effect of this grace upon her flesh or body… Moreover, the soul of the holy Virgin was so filled with grace that from her soul grace poured into her flesh from which was conceived the Son of God. Hugh of Saint Victor says of this: ‘Because the love of the Holy Spirit so inflamed her soul. He worked a wonder in her flesh, in that from it was born God made Man.’”
St. Thomas Aquinas, “Explanation of the Angelic Salutation,” in The Catechetical Instructions of St. Thomas Aquinas (Manila, Sinag-Tala Publishing Co.), 206-207.
“The Eternal Word was given to us through the hands of Mary. And He was clothed with our nature with the substance of Mary.” St. Catherine of Siena, Letter 16
Trinity Sunday - C: May 26, 2013
Karl Rahner, among others, has pointed out that, in general, Christians recognize that the Three Persons of the Trinity acted in individual ways in the history of salvation. However, Rahner felt that we Christians do not recognize that that each of the Three Persons continues to have a unique role in our own lives today.
St. Thomas offers us some idea of the way the Son and the Spirit come from the Father. Although we cannot actually know how the Word comes forth from the Father, we can see some resemblance to the way that a word is in us and is then expressed. Why did we speak that word? Because we loved the word. When we give that word to others, we reveal ourselves and others know us.
The Word of God eternally comes forth from the Father and the Father loves the Word. We are human because our rational souls not only have knowledge but we are also able to choose by our will, and the basic choice is to love. The Father not only brings forth a Word but the Father also loves through His Spirit of Love.
According to St. Thomas, the Father creates us through His Word and through His Love:
God is the cause of things through His mind and will, like an artist of works of art. An artist works through an idea conceived in His mind and through love in His will bent on something. In like manner, God the Father wrought the creature through His Word, the Son, and through His Love, the Holy Ghost. And from this point of view, keeping in mind the essential attributes of knowing and willing, the comings forth of the divine Persons can be seen as the types [models] for the coming forth of creatures.
Our coming to exist is modeled after the way that the Father brings forth the Son and the Spirit. We come forth from God through His Son, His Word, and through His Spirit, His Love.
Thomas explains that we not only come forth from the Father through the Son and the Spirit but we go back to the Father through the Son and the Spirit:
Just as we have been created by the Son and the Holy Spirit, so are we united by them to our final end. This was already Augustine’s thinking when he evoked the Beginning to which we return, which is to say the Father; the Model which we follow, namely the Son; and the Grace that reconciles us [the Holy Spirit].
How does the Father bring us to Him by His Word and His Spirit? God communicates His truth to us through His Word. He also gives us His Spirit, who enlightens us and stirs up love within us.
The Opening Prayer for the Solemnity of Trinity Sunday thanks the Father “for sending us the Word of Truth and the Spirit of Sanctification.” The first reading from the Book of Proverbs recalls the Jewish personification of Wisdom: “Thus says the Wisdom of God: The Lord possessed me, the beginning of His ways…” In the light of the revelation in Jesus, we know that the Son is not only the personification of God’s wisdom but actually is God’s wisdom, God’s Word.
The second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans asserts that “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith.” Jesus by dying for us gives us access to the Father, now. The reading concludes: “The love of God has been poured into our heart through the Holy Spirit that has been given us.” The Father continues to give us His love through the Spirit.
In the Gospel, as Jesus prepares the apostles for His departure, He tells them that the Spirit will bring them understanding of what He has taught them: “The Spirit if Truth… will lead you to all truth”
Today, Jesus, the Word teaches us and the Spirit moves our hearts to understand what the Son reveals and the Spirit helps us to love.
For instance, when the Scriptures are read, the Word speaks to us, the Spirit moves our minds to understand what is being showed to us and also moves our hearts to love what we understand. In the Eucharistic Prayer, we ask the Father to send the Spirit to sanctify the gifts of bread and wine so that they may become the Body and Blood of the Son. Not only does the Spirit transform the gifts but He also moves our hearts to receive the Son with love.
This is the pattern of our day, as the Father gives us His Son as our Way to Him and the Father gives us His Spirit that we might perceive and love the father through the Son.
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a. 45, 6, in Summa Theologiae, vol. 8, trans. Thomas Gilby, O.P., (London: Blackfriars, 1967), 53.
 1 Sent. d. 14, q. 2 a. 2 in Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., Saint Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, trans. Robert Royal (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 60.
Solemnity of the Sacred Heart
St. Thomas comments on Jesus’ words: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).
“The import of the commandment is mutual love; thus He says, ‘that you love one another.’ It is of the very nature of friendship that it is not imperceptible; otherwise it would not be friendship, but merely good-will. For a true and firm friendship the friends need a mutual love for each other; for this duplication makes it true and firm. Our Lord, wanting there to be perfect friendship among His faithful and disciples, gave them this commandment of mutual love: ‘Whoever fears the Lord directs His friendship aright’ (Sir 6:17)” (1837).
“The standard for this mutual love is given when He says, “as I have loved you.” Now Christ loved us three ways: gratuitously, effectively and rightly. He loved us gratuitously because He began to love us and did not wait for us to begin to love Him: ‘Not that we loved God but because He first loved us’ (1 Jn 4:10). In the same way we should first love our neighbors and not wait to be loved by them or for them to do us a favor.”
“Christ loved us effectively, which is obvious from what He did; for love is proven to exist from what one does. The greatest thing a person can do for a friend is to give Himself for that friend. This is what Christ did: ‘Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us’ (Eph 5:2). So we read: ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn 15:13). We also should be led by this example and love one another effectively and fruitfully: ‘Let us not love in word and speech but in deed and in truth’ (1 Jn 3:18).”
“Christ also loved us rightly. Since all friendship is based on some kind of sharing (for similarity is a cause of love), that friendship is right which is based on a similarity or sharing in some good. Now Christ loved us as similar to Himself by the grace of adoption, loving us in the light of this similarity in order to draw us to God. ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; and so, taking pity on you, I have drawn you’ (Jer 31:3). We also, in the one we love, should love what pertains to God and not so much the pleasure or benefits the loved one gives to us. In this kind of love for our neighbor, even the love of God is included” (1838).
“Then when He says, ‘By this all men will know that you are My disciples,’ He gives the reason for following this command. Here we should note that one who is in the army of a king should wear his emblem. The emblem of Christ is the emblem of charity. So anyone who wants to be in the army of Christ should be stamped with the emblem of charity. This is what He is saying here: ‘By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’ I mean a holy love: ‘I am the mother of beautiful love and of fear and of knowledge and of holy hope’ (Sir 24:24).”
“Although the disciples received many gifts from Christ, such as life, intelligence and good health, as well as spiritual goods, such as the ability to perform miracles – ‘I will give you a mouth and wisdom’ (Lk 21:15) – none of these are the emblem of a disciple of Christ, since they can be possessed both by the good and the bad. Rather, the special sign of a disciple of Christ is charity and mutual love; ‘He has put His seal upon us and given us His Spirit’ (2 Cor 1:22) (1839).
St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, trans. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. and Fabian Larcher, O.P. (Petersham, MA: St. Bede Publications), 319-320.
St. Catherine writes: “Therefore, I wish that you may be enclosed in the opened side of the Son of God, which is an opened store, full of fragrance, in so much that the sin becomes odorous. There the gentle spouse reposes on the bed of fire and of blood. There she sees and is shown the secret of the heart of the Son of God.”
St. Catherine of Siena, Letter 112.