2010-02-14 - Aquinas said, “Poets and philosophers . . ."

St. Thomas Aquinas was, like all saints, practical about important things. He said that it is “better to illuminate than merely shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.” In 1273, he went back to his native region of Naples and preached to the ordinary people in their local dialect. His subjects were the Creed, the Commandments, and the Our Father. Students, shopkeepers, housewives and children wept at his loving account of the Passion.  Then, on December 6 after an ecstasy at Mass, he said “Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears of little value.” It would be like Mozart, another prolific genius in another milieu, saying that, compared with eternity, all his music was just raw sound. Mozart took the score of his Requiem Mass to bed with him on the day he died. I once did a documentary film at the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova where Aquinas died, remembering how his last words were said to be lines from the “Song of Songs.”

     In the finest minds, hilarity and humility intertwine. All we know  is worthwhile only because God has made it so. There was a real sense of that in the Thomist scholar, Ralph McInerney, who died January 29, after fifty-five years as a professor of philosophy and the Michael P. Grace Professor of Mediaeval Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He was a friend of our parish and attended Mass here when he came to New York, as he was a daily communicant wherever he went and a regular at confession. One of his academic laurels was an invitation to deliver the Gifford Lectures in Scotland. This is to philosophers what the Heisman trophy is to football players, although Professor McInerney, with his Aristotelian sense of right proportion, would have put it the other way around. He did much of his writing after he had put his six children to bed. He helped start the magazine Crisis, contributed to many journals, and wrote over one hundred books. In addition to more than two dozen scholarly books, he wrote eighty novels, many of them detective stories, and some of them became the internationally popular television series, the “Father Dowling Mysteries.”

     As the great minds have taught as they learned, the start of Lent sets us on the road to Easter. There is a faint hint of Alleluia even as the ashes are being given. Aquinas said, “Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.” It is a good phrase, “big with wonder,” and the forty days of prayer and penance should increase the joyful anticipation of “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

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