On this feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, instead of a display of the saint’s own wisdom, we’re presented in the Office of Readings with the wisdom of Christ found in the mystery of his cross. That’s as Aquinas would have it, I’m sure.
The reading is from one of Aquinas’ sermons, not from his voluminous theological tracts, and it’s about the great question “Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us?”
The passion of Jesus was necessary, the saint says, for two reasons. First, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.
Interestingly, the saint does not spend much time asking why it’s a remedy for sin. He’s more interested in the passion of Jesus as an example for fashioning our lives. To live perfectly look at Jesus on the cross, an example of every virtue:
“Do you want an example of love? ‘Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That’s what Jesus did on the cross. If he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.
“If you want patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid.
“Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ’s patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame.
“If you want an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.
“If you want an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.
“If you want an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink.
“Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”