True confessions: I have not, at least historically, been a personal fan of St. Thomas Aquinas. It isn't because I'm not impressed with his holiness -- I am. It isn't because I think his contribution to the Church was lacking or overblown -- I don't. It isn't even that I don't have much of a taste for theology as an intellectual pursuit -- I do. Actually, it's just that he -- or the Catholics who love him most -- have somehow rubbed me the wrong way.
Basically, I consider myself more of an Augustine type. For me, saints like John the Evangelist, Paul the Apostle, Francis of Assisi, Francis de Sales, and Teresa of Avila are the most appealing. They weren't intellectual small fry by any definition. But they were more about the heart than the head. They were people in love.
"In love," however, is what I suspect Thomist and neo-Thomist enthusiasts would say about their beloved Aquinas. And while it may at first seem an ill-suited adjective for the kind of person who analyzes Aristotelian virtues or uses the phrase "misbegotten man," I have to acknowledge that the Summa isn't all there is to St. Thomas. Exhibit A: his hymns to the Eucharist.
The "Pange lingua" and "Tantum ergo," the "O Salutaris" and the "Lauda Zion" -- the greatest hymns to the Most Blessed Sacrament ever written -- flowed from the pen and the heart of St. Thomas Aquinas. Every Corpus Christi I can't avoid having to take another look at a saint I don't spend much time with, and admit that there's more to the Angelic Doctor than the things that don't resonate with me.
"Bring him all the praise you know, He is more than you bestow; never can you reach his due." "Very bread, Good Shepherd, tend us; Jesus of your love befriend us." "Faith will supply us when our senses fail." No one can read words like those or sing them without encountering the deep love with which they were composed. These hymns are Thomas's love songs. They are as deeply personal and impassioned as anything we might expect between a man and woman.
The Eucharist does that to people. It draws them like a magnet, and leaves them breathless. It does so because the Body of Christ is beauty itself, containing all sweetness within it. It is the fulfillment of Jesus's promise to be with us always. The love of the Eucharist is the love of total self-gift. It is both sacrificial and life-giving. Holy Communion is fruitful.
Feeding us here and leading us to heaven, the Eucharist transforms us into the Christ we receive.
No one can come into the presence of Jesus and remain as he was before he did so. But Love never fails. The humility of God amazes and astonishes us. It pulls us to our knees, while at the same time raising us to the heights of joy. Touched by divine love, we fall into his arms.
Many are familiar with the story that when St. Thomas finished his "Summa Theologica" he was given a vision of heaven. Glimpsing the glory of God in all his majesty and love, Aquinas remarked that all he had written about God was worthless in comparison to God as he truly is. Thomas then threw his manuscript into the flames. It was pulled from the hearth by his secretary.
There is something to be said for a man who throws his life's work into the fire without a second thought. Love. No doubt Thomas loved thinking about God. But in the end, he loved God even more. Imagine if we could follow Thomas and let our faith supply what our senses cannot. Perhaps we too might be caught up in that same angelic passion, and throw everything else, everything less, into the ardor of that inextinguishable fire.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.