January 28, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

Love seeks the other’s good, desires closeness

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Love is a binding force, by which another is joined to me and cherished by myself. … The things that we love tell us what we are.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Friday, Jan. 28, our Church invites us to remember St. Thomas Aquinas, a brilliant thinker and teacher, and a humble, holy man whose teaching has inspired many generations of faithful Christians. It is said that at the end of Thomas’ life, the Lord asked him what he wanted as a reward for his faithful service. “Only you,” was his immediate response.

In making this reply, St. Thomas was practicing what he preached. In his sermons and other writings on the nature of love, Thomas identified two primary characteristics of the virtue of love: First, love always seeks the good of another, what is truly best for the person who is loved. Second, a lover seeks to be united as closely as possible with his or her beloved; a real lover cannot bear to be separated from the one who is loved. These two fundamental characteristics, goodness and unity, define true love. Where one or the other are missing, love is weak or absent.

Nowhere does St. Thomas teach that love is selfish or self-gratifying. The picture often given by our culture distorts the understanding of love that we find in the words and example of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the lives of the holy women and men who share with us their experiences of loving and being loved. We Christians believe that real love involves sacrifice, the willingness to give up our own needs and desires for the good of another. Real love also seeks unity with the beloved.

First and foremost, of course, we long to be united with God, who loved us so much that he sacrificed his only Son, Jesus Christ, for the good of our salvation.

Union with the triune God, and with all our sisters and brothers in Christ, is the ultimate objective of Christian love. As we grow in love, we seek the good of others more intensely, and we gradually draw closer to genuine unity with God and with all humanity.

Jesus Christ is the lover par excellence. His whole life and ministry was dedicated to helping others—the poor, the sick, the suffering in mind and heart, the persecuted, and shunned outcasts. Even the self-deluded “righteous” people find what is truly best for them in Jesus’ preaching and pastoral care. What’s more, the Gospels reveal how deeply our Lord longed for unity with his Father, with his scattered flock, and with the entire human family: “That they may be one, Father, as you and I are one” (Jn 17:21). Jesus always sought the good. He always wanted to be close to us, and to draw us into the loving relationship that he has with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The twin characteristics of love that St. Thomas Aquinas taught—goodness and unity—are a useful guide in our own examination of conscience. In our daily reflections, we should ask ourselves: Do I really seek what is best for my family, setting aside my own needs and desires for the sake of those I love? How effectively do I demonstrate my desire to be close to the people I love? Am I distant, unresponsive or not totally interested in the lives of others?

Once we have looked at the quality of our love for those closest to us, we should ask similar questions about our relationship with those who are outside our inner circle. What about our neighbors, our fellow citizens or strangers? Do we really want what’s best for them—even if it inconveniences us? Do we seek to grow closer to the people who are distant from us culturally, ethnically, politically or religiously?

True love demands that we change our hearts and our actions. It requires us to let the Holy Spirit guide our thoughts and our behavior so that we can “put on Christ” and be women and men for others.

Let’s ask St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, to intercede for us. May the twin characteristics of love be manifest in our daily lives, and may we recognize true love in ourselves and in others as signs of God’s closeness to us and of his desire for what is truly good for us.

And let’s pray together in the words used in today’s Mass from the collect for the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, Jan. 28:

O God, who made Saint Thomas Aquinas outstanding in his zeal for holiness and his study of sacred doctrine, grant us, we pray, that we may understand what he taught and imitate what he accomplished. †

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