Hardly any saint or writer fascinated me more during my conversion years than the great Doctor Angelicus, St. Thomas Aquinas. When I first encountered his magnum opus, the Summa Theologica, I was astounded at both its clarity and its breadth.
For many I think, philosophy and theology are difficult to chew on; St. Thomas, however, manages to make even the most difficult concepts somewhat palatable. If G.K. Chesterton is the "Apostle of Common Sense", then St. Thomas is the "Doctor of Common Sense".
One thing that especially hit me about the Summa Theologica in particular was its layout - St. Thomas did not set up straw men objections to the truths taught by the Catholic faith, but actually seemed to really get down to the nitty gritty and challenge himself.
One might think that St. Thomas was an aloof and stoic fellow, and yet he rails against this both in word and in deed. His life was one of pure humility, one where we can see a magnificent and brilliant intellect soaking in and absorbing, refining, and teaching any and all truth wherever he happened to find it. He did not simply read the "approved" works - his teachers were not only St. Augustine and St. Dionysius the Areopagite; no, his school of learning also consisted of such learned pagan philosophers as Plotinus and Aristotle, as well as the great Rabbi Maimonides, and the learned Islamic philosophers Avicenna and Averroes.
Funny enough, St. Thomas was a rebel in his day, and not the Theologian that we view him as now. He was resisted by his own Dominican order, and the Franciscans often fought his views vehemently. To this day, one can see some friendly sparring between Thomists and adherents of the theology and philosophy of Bl. John Duns Scotus, the Franciscan Doctor par excellence (along with St. Bonaventure, one of Aquinas' greatest friends).
But it is Aquinas who seems to have outlasted them all. My respect and admiration for the man soars greater every year, because his entire life was devoted to the climb of the Holy Mountain - by this, I mean that he sought to climb ever upwards towards the highest truth, the Truth - God Himself. When Christ appeared to Him in a vision and asked him what he would have as a reward for his service to Him, he responded, "Only Thyself, O Lord". Humble to the last, St. Thomas' entire life was an act of devotion and consecration of his talents in the service of God.
A few years ago, my confessor and priest at my parish gave as a gift to me, a hardcover three-volume set of the Summa Theologica. To this day, it sits enthroned upon my library desk, the pride and joy of my entire book collection in my humble study.
For me, St. Thomas is the one I go to as a student goes to his master and teacher, when I encounter the hard questions and objections to the Catholic faith. He is always able to set down the faith in a way I can understand, if only in a limited way. He is always able to shine a light on the darkness of my intellect, and able to guide me along in matters of deep theology and apologetics. He has been a great companion during my ascent of Mt. Carmel, which is just my way of talking about my spiritual life.
Every year, on this day, his feast day according to the new calendar, I enjoy a pint of strong and delicious ale, and cook up some hearty chunks of meat or a giant drumstick of some sort, and celebrate his life. Of course, as per tradition, I pound my fist on the table and say, "That will silence the Manichees!" - but that is perhaps revealing too much of my own ridiculousness nature.
Suffice it to say that I am glad to have known St. Thomas in my life - someday, God willing, I hope to embrace him in heaven, and if drumsticks are served, to share one with this great friend and heavenly patron (though somehow I doubt that turkey drumsticks are on the heavenly menu!).
Pray for us St. Thomas, that we may come to know the Truth, Jesus Christ, more and more each day.+
Source: Ascending Mount Carmel (Blogspot)
Used with permission.