Friday, January 28, 2011

The Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas: How to Think Like a Grown Up



Today is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, the great doctor of the Church,  writer of the Summa Theologica and composer of the texts of many Eucharistic hymns, including Tantum Ergo, Pange Lingua and Panis Angelicus.

Whenever I think of St. Thomas, I automatically also think of the professor who taught me to think like a grown up, Father Kenneth Slattery, C.M.  Father Slattery, who died two years ago, was the ultimate Thomist.  He walked around the classroom with his tattered copy of the Summa in its original Latin.  He lived and breathed Thomistic theology and was offended when anyone might have the temerity to suggest any competition to the "Angelic doctor."  I remember his being incredulous at reports that Pope Benedict was actually more of an Augustinian than a Thomist.  I don't think that deep down he really believed it.

The beginning of a semester with Father Slattery always included the feeling that your brain was being stretched beyond its capacity.  But, by the end of the term, you couldn't believe how much you had learned.  The old professor and the Angelic doctor had done it again.  Sloppy shallow thinking was banished and you knew you were thinking like a mature adult who could actually use reason. 

In my office, on the side of my desk is a reliquary containing a relic of St. Thomas Aquinas.  He is a constant presence in my day and without a doubt, an inspiration when thought processes come to a dead end and the right words don't seem to come.  He is a reminder that our ability to reason is a gift from God and that all earthly work should be completely directed to fulfilling His will. 

But, above all, whenever I think of St. Thomas, or glance at the reliquary, I can't help but think of the "Old Professor" and imagine the discussion that, God willing, is going on between these two great teachers.  Hopefully, they remember to throw in a prayer for this perpetual student now and then.

Father Slattery, requiescat in pace.

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