Thomist says 'What?'

Every year on or around the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, my alma mater, The Catholic University of America, has a Mass at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, adjacent to campus. This year, Father Aquinas Guilbeau, O.P., a moral theologian and prior at the Dominican House of Studies across the street, was preaching there about his namesake, causing some of us to want to see “#AquinasonAquinas” trending on Twitter.

“Live tweeting” the homily, at first I was struck by the fact that I was tweeting about monks, as Father Aquinas described the life of prayer and study that made it possible for St. Thomas to be the great doctor of the Church that he was. It seemed to highlight to me the irony of ever considering the existence of something like Twitter in the same realm as contemplation. He talked about how monastic life put St. Thomas in the position where he was asking “What?” a lot — “prob[ing] the things that God has made, coaxing them to reveal their hidden, divinely given essences.”

And then Father Aquinas said something that, as you may expect, I did not tweet in its entirety: “Many of our contemporaries believe that nature irrationally or unjustly places limits on persons. ... Nature conveys to personality a particular kind of identity, oriented to a particular kind of happiness, which initiates the person into a particular kind of participation in God. Nature, therefore, is not the enemy of the person; it is God’s providence for the person’s happiness. Nature reveals the way in which God knows his creatures to be, and it establishes the path according to which God wisely and lovingly draws his creatures — even persons — to himself. To ask not just ‘Who?’ but also ‘What?’ someone is, then, to ask how God knows and loves that person, and how God provides for him.”

I’m not a Thomist, and I gave up pretending I could aspire to playing one on TV a long time ago (I was an undergraduate philosophy major quite a while ago now).

In the world today, when a common starting ground and vocabulary is very far from a given, this “What?” question is so crucial. As Father Aquinas put it: “St. Thomas understood the role that ‘What?’ plays not only in asking ‘Who?’ but also in asking ‘Where?’ and ‘When?’ and especially ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’” It’s a question that leads to seeing and approaching one another differently than we tend to — when we start to understand ourselves not as people with stories but created beings who are loved by the Creator of the universe, adopted as his own children in the greatest love story there ever will be.

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Father Aquinas joined Twitter only fairly recently and has quickly modeled some of the best of the place. He often does it by simply sharing about the saint of the day, or words from the Liturgy of the Hours with an appropriate image, or something about the friars’ lives, to name a few. When you can use social media to draw people into contemplating God, you’re doing some of the work of God. And we can all do it. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or Instagram or even text messaging and email ­— and whatever the latest social-media craze is or may be tomorrow. You, too, can draw people into God’s presence with a few words or an image, born of gratitude to God, keeping a prayer on your heart.

We didn’t get #Aquinas-onAquinas to trend that day. But if anyone on Twitter was thinking about things of God because of a few lines from a homily about what God is and what we are in relation to him, that’s a trend to continue.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review, and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).