A great blessing we have in this Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. And with it a chance to reflect on mercy in the life of St. Thomas.
Who during his life was not especially known for the kind of compassionate works we find in so many of the saints. He wasn’t one to spend time on the streets of Naples or Paris or Rome searching out the poor and the infirm, organizing food and clothing and medical help. He wasn’t a St. Vincent de Paul or a Mother Theresa.
Because of this some might imagine him to have an aloofness to the plight of the poor. That his spending so much time at his desk, or in the library, or in the classroom was an escape from the real works of mercy that needed to be done out in the city. That he is a too much of an intellectual. Not enough out with the poor, rolling up his sleeves and extending himself in direct, hands on contact with human suffering.
But this is where the Church, in canonizing a great teacher like St. Thomas, challenges us to think a little more deeply about human suffering, and about what kinds of remedies are required. If man were only a body, then physical suffering would be the extent of what would cause him harm and need healing. But man is much more, having been blessed by God with an immortal soul. There is a suffering that goes beyond his body to his spirit. There is a poverty that goes beyond a lack of food and clothing, to a lack of understanding, to darkness in the mind, and confusion about how to live and find happiness.
This past weekend when many of us were up at the Walk for Life, and we were looking at the people along the street as we walked, we saw first-hand this suffering of spirit, caused by confusion and intellectual darkness. It was all too evident in the faces of the counter-protesters, deformed by anger and bitterness, signs of a deep spiritual and intellectual wound needing to be healed.
And needing to be healed not with a bodily ointment, but with a spiritual and intellectual ointment. It was not a lack of food, or clothing, or shelter that was at the heart of their suffering. It was a lack of truth. Of knowing what was needed for happiness, of knowing Him who is their happiness.
For those who are not alert to this deeper kind of human suffering, Thomas is going to be misunderstood as being aloof and indifferent to the plight of the poor. And they will fail to see, in fact, how fervent and dedicated a man of mercy St. Thomas actually was. That this deeper kind of human suffering of the soul is what he wanted to engage, and reach out to, and try to alleviate. He saw that truth is an ointment for the confused and darkened mind. Especially the revealed truth of Sacred Doctrine. It heals man. It binds up the wounds of the soul. It restores health not just to the body, but to the spirit.
In fact, St. Thomas will not hesitate to say that this work of mercy he was engage in, what we call the spiritual work of instructing the ignorant—as important and crucial as the corporal works of mercy are—was in fact the much more crucial.
In this may St. Thomas be an inspiration and an encouragement for all the teaching that goes on here at TAC, all the hours spent in the classroom, all the arduous learning that you students are doing, and the labor of you on the faculty and those in administration—there is here a crucial spiritual outreach to our society that takes its rightful place among all the other charitable works going on in the Church in different parts of the world. Let us be confident that the Holy Spirit has been at work here at TAC, Himself distressed at our society so burdened by the deep spiritual suffering of ignorance of truth, and especially of Christ, the true light that enlightens every man.
So may we be sure to allow the Holy Spirit to make us distressed as well, and ready to do all we can to go out to people in our society with the ointment of truth, as did St. Thomas.
The merciful outreach of St. Thomas, teaching, writing, laboring in study, and doing so with complete generosity, not sparing himself in healing man’s deepest suffering with the light of the Gospel.