Lesson From the Not-so Dumb OxJune 16, 2017
The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
First Reading: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 10:16-17
Sequence: Lauda Sion
Gospel: According to St. John 6:51-58
St. Thomas Aquinas is most famous for his writings on philosophy and theology, specifically his two great ‘summas’ or summaries: Summa contra Gentiles and Summa Theologica. Because of these two works people think of the Angelic Doctor as a great intellect and nothing more. Yet, he was no Spock-like creature living on logic and reason alone. People become saints not because they surpass their contemporaries in the sphere of the intellect, but in the sphere of the fully human, and that means being an example of holiness, and Aquinas, the author of this feast’s Gospel Sequence, was no exception.
His desire to join the Dominicans, a new order that focused on the dual charism of preaching and begging, rather than the more established and more prestigious Benedictines who ran the abbey at Monte Casino where Aquinas was first educated, showed that even from a young age his concern was not for earthly glory, but for union with the Cross of Christ. His family was so distraught that he was turning his back on climbing the ecclesiastical ladder that they had him kidnapped away from the Dominicans and held for almost a year. In the end his family relented and Thomas made his way ultimately to Paris where he studied under St. Albert the Great.
It was at Paris that his fellow students gave him the nickname “Dumb Ox” because of his corpulence and his shy and quiet demeanor, all of which made him appear intellectually challenged. What these students could not see was what was blatantly apparent to Albert – this huge, slow and awkward young man was the greatest mind that the Church, and maybe the world, would ever see.
Despite this brilliance, there was always about Aquinas an innocence and a humility that made him a curiosity to those who did not understand him and a valued helper to those who did. Once, his students tried to play a joke on him by pretending that they saw a witch flying on a broom outside of the classroom. When Aquinas leapt to the window to witness this bizarre event his students began to laugh at his naiveté. Unfazed, Aquinas told them that of course he believed that there was a witch because he knew that his fellow Dominicans would never lie to him.
This combination of intellect and innocence made him a favorite of three popes, including Pope Urban IV – the man who instituted the solemnity that we celebrate this weekend and who commissioned St. Thomas to write liturgical prayers and hymns for the feast. In the Lauda Sion the dogma of the Transubstantiation – that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ – is prominently extolled as we proclaim:
This the truth each Christian learns,
Bread into his flesh he turns,
To his precious blood the wine:
Sight has fail’d, nor thought conceives,
But a dauntless faith believes,
Resting on a pow’r divine.
Fittingly, near the end of his life, Aquinas had a mystical experience in the chapel of the house of the Order of Preachers in Naples. According to the chapel’s sacristan, Brother Dominic, as St. Thomas was alone in prayer the Crucifix spoke to him: “Thomas, you have written well of Me; what reward do you ask for your labor?” Thomas, in his innocence and humility answered: “None other, Lord, but Thyself.” A response that exemplifies the insightfulness of this Dumb Ox, but, more importantly, it reveals his sanctity.