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St Thomas Aquinas
(entered heaven in 1274)
News of your fiery and victorious debates against the Pagan Student Union has reached me even here in my forsaken cubicle. What a grace it is to know that you are valiantly defending Christian truth against the world’s seductive half-truths! The whole event reminds me of today’s saint, who, as I am sure you know, happens to be the patron saint of colleges and universities. I think, however, that he has a lot more to teach you than mere intellectual acumen.
He was from a leading family of Naples, Italy, and as a youth decided to join the newly formed Order of Preachers (also known as the Dominicans). His family was hoping he would join a more “respectable” order and actually had plans of him rising to the influential position of abbot of Monte Casino, the heart of the Benedictine Order. Following his true vocation was his first real trial – he sneaked away with the Dominicans, only to be pursued and taken captive by his brothers, who imprisoned him and did all they could to change his mind (they even sent a famous lady of ill repute into his quarters late at night, whom St Thomas promptly chased out at the tip of a burning branch that he pulled from the fire). Eventually, his parents consented, and the portly young man became a portly young friar, studying first under the genius of St Albert the Great at Cologne, in Germany, and then finishing off his degrees at the side of St Bonaventure at the famed University of Paris, where he became a professor. His teaching and writings soon became the talk of Christendom – to this day they are the primary reference point (besides Scripture and Tradition, of course) of Catholic theology – and he was beset with a steady stream of petitions for advice from kings, nobles, popes, and prelates. He was the wonder of his age, an intellectual force that has never been equaled since, and perhaps had never been equaled before.
But this is not the only reason he was made the patron of colleges and universities, in fact, it is probably not the primary reason. St Thomas was first and foremost a man of prayer and apostolic zeal. His dying words, spoken after saying his last confession and receiving the Blessed Eucharist as viaticum, are a perfect summary of his absolute humility, his completely selfless dedication to the mission God had entrusted to him: “I am receiving you, price of my soul’s redemption: all my studies, my vigils and my labors have been for love of you. I have taught much and written much of the most sacred body of Jesus Christ; I have taught and written in the faith of Jesus Christ and of the holy Roman Church, to whose judgment I offer and submit everything.” It is no wonder that such a soul was gifted with numerous mystical experiences (including one in which while he was praying in front of a crucifix the Lord spoke to him, “You have written well of me Thomas; what reward would you have?” to which he replied, “Nothing but yourself, Lord.” The scene was witnessed by the sacristan) and superhuman energy – he used to dictate five books at a time to five separate secretaries since only one secretary at a time couldn’t keep up with his thoughts.
Much more could be said of this humble and brilliant friar, but I want to be sure that you get the main message here: winning arguments and impressing audiences (or classrooms) is not the point; defending, spreading, and delving into the truth of Jesus Christ, which is the heart of all truth, is. If you keep that in mind, you won’t just win a lot of debates, you’ll also win a lot of souls for heaven.
Sincerely, your uncle, Eddy
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