Thoughts for January 28 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Thomas Aquinas

As to any practice of piety there is a double danger: recommending it as infallible, or condemning it as useless. I always make a point of saying that all things are not for all people. Characters differ so much.

COMMENT: Here we see the wonderful balance of Fr Doyle. He was a man of very definite personal devotion, but he was equally convinced that that his way was not the only way, and that there are many other spiritual paths along which people are called. It is true that there are those who are not attracted by Fr Doyle’s acts of mortification (even though everything Fr Doyle did can be found in the lives of the most popular and beloved of saints). But it is perfectly normal not to feel called to follow in Fr Doyle’s personal footsteps in this regard; as he himself says, characters differ so much. But even if our characters are different, we can still marvel at, and admire, Fr Doyle’s own unique character.

The same extraordinary balance is found in the life and writings of today’s saint, Thomas Aquinas. To take just one example relating to the life of prayer, he tells us in the Summa:

The quantity of anything should be proportioned to the end in view, as the quantity of drink should be proportioned to health. Hence it is fitting that prayer should continue only for so long as is useful to excite the fervour of interior desire. But when prayer goes beyond this measure so that it cannot be continued without weariness, then it should not be further prolonged.

St Thomas was one of the most extraordinary men who ever lived. His learning was vast. He once declared that he never read anything that he didn’t understand – what a great gift this is for any scholar to possess! St Thomas’ learning was aided by his own deep life of prayer and his own purity of life. Towards the end of his life he was granted a vision, after which he declared that all his writing was but straw compared to what God had shown him.

Most people live in ignorance regarding the work of St Thomas. In part this may be due to what might be called chronological snobbery – there is a certain attitude that thinks that only recent thinkers are enlightened and that no intellectual work from other eras is of any value, and especially not if it is Medieval in origin! This attitude is especially acute in Ireland. It is frustrating to hear recent university graduates (most of whom have spent over a decade in Catholic schooling) dismiss the existence of God on the most flimsy basis. I recently witnessed one online debate in which there was general consensus that the existence of evil was a proof of the non-existence of God. As one of the great Catholic apologists of the last century once commented (I think it was Hilaire Belloc, but I cannot find the exact reference), every objection against God and religion has already been considered and fully answered centuries ago.

St Thomas is rightly renowned for his learning. But he was also obviously a man of great holiness. He was especially devoted to the Eucharist, and wrote many hymns and prayers. To conclude on this great feast, here are St Thomas’ prayers for before and after Mass.

Prayer before Mass.

Almighty and ever-lasting God, I approach the sacrament of Thy only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

I come sick to the doctor of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the radiance of eternal light, and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.

Therefore, I implore Thee in Thy great generosity, to heal my sickness, to wash away my defilement, enlighten my blindness, to enrich my poverty, and to clothe my nakedness, so that I may receive the bread of angels, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords with reverence and humility, with contrition and devotion, with purity and faith, and with such purpose and determination that will be expedient to the salvation of my soul.

Grant me, I beseech Thee, that I may not only receive the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord, but also the reality and power of the Sacrament.

O most kind God, grant that I may receive the Body of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, and so received that I may be worthy to be incorporated into His mystical body, and numbered among His members.

O most loving Father, grant me Thy beloved Son, which I now receive under the veil of a sacrament, that I may one day behold Him face to face in glory, Who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever. Amen.

Prayer after Mass.

Lord, Father all-powerful, and ever-living God, I thank Thee, for even though I am a sinner, Thy unprofitable servant, not because of my worth, but in the kindness of Thy mercy, Thou hast fed me with the precious Body and Blood of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that this holy communion may not bring me condemnation and punishment but forgiveness and salvation. May it be a helmet of faith and a shield of good will. May it purify me from evil ways and put an end to my evil passions. May it bring me charity and patience, humility and obedience, and growth in power to do good. May it be my strong defense against all my enemies, visible and invisible, and the perfect calming of all my evil impulses, bodily and spiritual. May it unite me more closely to Thee, the one true God and lead me safely through death to everlasting happiness with Thee. And I pray that Thou willest lead me, a sinner to the banquet where Thou with Thy Son and Holy Spirit, art true and perfect light, total fulfillment, everlasting joy, gladness without end, and perfect happiness to Thy saints. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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