Sunday, October 16, 2016

Book Review: One Minute Aquinas

About a year or so ago, I became interested in understanding the writings of Thomas Aquinas. I saw that his seminal work Summa Theologica is a 26-volume set which I chose not to purchase. Instead I bought Shorter Summa. I started reading it maybe three or four times, each time getting a little farther, but soon becoming overwhelmed by the depth of St. Thomas's thoughts.

In one of his Word On Fire podcasts, Bishop Robert Barron discusses Thomas Aquinas. Bishop Barron explained the layout of the Summa Theologica, stating that it was composed of written answers to questions that St. Thomas had received in the many question and answer groups in which he participated. The first part of the Summa deals with Sacred Doctrine and God; the second part is concerned with man, sin and grace; the third part with Jesus's Incarnation and life, and the sacraments. The show notes page for Bishop Barron's podcast also contains links to several books that he recommended to assist in understanding the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. I have not yet read any of those books; however, I have read The One-Minute Aquinas, a book that I received as a present.

The One-Minute Aquinas (Kevin Vost, PsyD, Sophia Institute Press) presents an overview and a simplification of the Summa Theologica. Like the Summa, it is broken down into three parts: God, man, and Jesus Christ. However, it it presented in a different order: man is presented first, then God, and finally Jesus Christ. Dr. Vost states early in the book that read the Summa in the order in his book, not the original order of the Summa. In the author's opinion, this order makes for an easier understanding of this great work.

Each section begins with a theme addressed in the Summa, followed by a listing of the original sections in the Summma where the questions which generated the theme were discussed. Each of these mini-chapters, as it were, are short, generally about three pages (hence the name 'one-minute'). The author distills and summarizes Saint Thomas responses, and discusses interpretations of the response to clarify what was being said. Breaking the Summa into these shorter bites allows one to read one or a few in a sitting, then contemplate their meaning.

As an example, the first question is 'What Do We All Want? Happiness'. Here, St. Thomas has explained that we all want happiness, and that there are two kinds of happiness: imperfect happiness here on earth, and perfect happiness consisting of the beatific vision of God in heaven. This part of the book then continues to discuss the soul and its eleven passions, virtue, vice and sin, and grace.

The second part of The One-Minute Aquinas discusses God. The first question in this second part describes what St. Thomas wrote as to how we should think about God. The book proceeds to clarify that God exists, what God is and is not, and the Blessed Trinity. The final part is about 'Who Is Christ?'. It explains why God became man, Christs' life and what made it perfect, and the sacraments.

Scattered throughout the book are 'Dumb Ox' boxes. St. Thomas was a large man, with a quiet demeanor. This caused the other students in the University of Paris to call him the 'dumb ox' from Sicily. The 'Dumb Ox' boxes are St. Thomas's answers to questions that you may have had regarding life, such as 'Is It A Sin To Love Wine?' (Dumb Ox Box #2).

I found the book to be a great resource. I read it twice, in an effort to better understand Saint Thomas's viewpoint. The One-Minute Aquinas has given me the background to be more confident about reading and understanding The Shorter Summa. From there, I may even tackle the Summa Theologia.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Behold! The Lamb Of God!

I have attended Mass in probably 25 to 30 different Catholic churches over the past 35 years, including the Basilica in Rome when the Pope celebrated Mass. The churches have been in several different countries, as well as across the US. I've heard Mass in Spanish, Italian, the Queen's English and, of course, American English. There have been probably 60 different celebrants, with voices that ranged from almost inaudible to booming movie-themed god-like.

Why am I telling you this? Because among all of these celebrants, there is only one that really vocally impressed on me the fact that Jesus Christ is present in the host. What did he do? you ask. Here it is:

When most celebrants of the Mass hold up the host just before Communion, they say "Behold the Lamb of God" in a manner much as they have spoken the rest of the Mass. It is a conversational sentence. It sounds like a standard prayer. However, when this one particular priest (and I'm sorry I don't even remember his name) held up the host, he proclaimed (not said) "BEHOLD!! (pause) THE LAMB OF GOD!" (pause). Take a minute and envision how he said those words. 
The way that he proclaimed the words drew everyone's attention to the altar, whether they were previously paying attention or not. I was half expecting a light to shine down on the host from heaven. It was as if he was a court crier, announcing the entrance of the king – and he was, the King of kings, the Lord of lords. He was declaring, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus Christ was present in the host.

As I reflected on the way he spoke, no declared, those words, I thought that, in some ways, it’s too bad that all celebrants don’t use that type of emphasis on those words. Many of us, occasionally or frequently, attend Mass but don’t attend to Mass. We sit in the pews, absently reciting the prayers, half-listening to the homilies. We forget that we are celebrating Mass. Yes, it is a celebration, not just a requirement to be met or a box to be checked weekly. We don’t enter in to the full meaning of this great celebration: a time to reflect on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Yes, sometimes we have to be shaken out of our stupors and the distractions and problems of our everyday lives. Calling our attention to the fact that The Lamb Of God, Jesus Christ, is present during Mass may just help us to remember the truth.