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Into the deep

by davesandel on January 28th, 2021

Thursday, January 28, 2021               (today’s lectionary)

Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Into the deep

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in idols or swear by false gods. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Three months before he died at the age of 54, Thomas Aquinas suddenly and completely stopped writing the third volume of Summa Theologica (“Summary of Theology”). This was his opus magnum, which he had been working on for nine years after completing several other books. Thoroughly successful as professor, preacher and debater, Thomas’ reputation among both students and scholars was impeccable. They looked to him then (and still now) for persuasive answers to theological puzzles.

But he stopped writing. He did not resume. And moreover, in three months he died.

Thomas said to his friend Reginald, “I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”

There is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.

If his words became “straw,” something far more magisterial and mystical took their place. God seems to have favored Thomas with a vision into depths he had not yet seen. Thomas experienced an unveiling, a “sort of recognition event,” where something we knew reveals itself in a radically new way. Cynthia Bourgeault calls this a “gospel phenomenon” which can take place repeatedly when people are attuned and awake. She quotes Bruno Barnhart:

As we accompany Jesus through the gospels, we are present at one dramatic meeting after another. One person after another experiences a mysterious power in Jesus that, from this moment, changes the course of his or her life. If we are fully present at the moment when we read such a narrative, we ourselves experience the liberating power of this awakening.

This is a remarkably optimistic picture. Open your mind, read the Bible, and be liberated, be awakened. Let the stories of others become your story. Let God in.

Let us approach God’s sanctuary through Jesus’ new and living way, with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water … And let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds, not to give up meeting together but encouraging one another … and all the more and we see the Day approaching.

In his 55th year, God knocked on the door, and Thomas let him in. I think he must have done this many times before, over and over in his amazing life, but this last time … well, how wonderful. How can I seek anything else but that in my own life? Isn’t this the pearl of greatest price?

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Thomas Merton writes of this experience, recognizing that it doesn’t happen everyday. But it doesn’t need to. He says:

A door opens in the center of our being, and we seem to fall through it into immense depths, which although they are infinite – are still accessible to us.  All eternity seems to have become ours in this one placid and breathless contact.  (New Seeds of Contemplation, Chapter 31) … This door needs to open only once in your lifetime, and you will forever know where home base is.

(Hebrews 10, Psalm 24, Psalm 119, Mark 4)

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