Saint Thomas Aquinas and Me

Today is the Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas. I thought I would use this occasion to share how this great man has changed my life. Although he walked this earth during the 13th century, he had a life-changing impact on my life in this 21st century.

As I was studying for my Masters in Pastoral Theology, at Saint Joseph’s College, I needed to take the core course in Moral Theology. It was the last of the core courses to take before embarking on the electives. At this point in the process, I still had no idea what God wanted me to do with my life, after obtaining my degree. I was concerned about what electives to take, without a game plan for my future. Then, within the Moral Theology course, I met Saint Thomas Aquinas, via the study of his masterpiece, Summa Theologica. Saint Thomas Aquinas opened my eyes to see what it truly meant when Christ said that He is the “Way.” You see, Aquinas’ Summa Theologica goes into great depths to explain the various virtues. He devotes an entire subset of the masterpiece to logically explaining why we should embrace virtue. Through reading Aquinas’ masterpiece, I came to understand that by embracing virtue we can live happier lives. It is through the turning away from vice/sin, that we turn toward God and virtue, for they are polar opposites to each other.

I left a 36-year banking career to return to school to obtain my Master’s Degree, because I wanted to connect the dots for people; to show them what they can do that is right, and in the process, live a happier life. Saint Thomas Aquinas provided me with the direction I needed. He gave me the answers on how to connect the dots! With this knowledge, God began to reveal parts of His plan for me. The Holy Spirit inspired me to write a children’s book on the virtue of patience, and to start a blog, writing about virtue. Then He opened the door to teaching at St. Joseph’s College. But He didn’t stop there! He continues to use me to fulfill His plan. Occasionally, He has me speak on the virtues, or other topics, at parishes. Most recently, God asked me to be the RCIA Coordinator at my parish, where I am given the opportunity to share the Catholic “Way” of living with those seeking to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.

I don’t know what else God has in store for me, but I do know this: I owe a great deal of what I have accomplished to studying the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and to receiving the grace of Christ.

The souls of Saints live on for eternity. In the case of Saint Thomas Aquinas, we are also blessed to have his literary works live on as well. What Saint Thomas Aquinas taught in the 13th century was as relevant then as it is now. When a Saint provides timeless, unwavering teaching, aimed at bringing you closer to God, then you know it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. I am grateful for all that Saint Thomas Aquinas has done for me.

May the Lord shine His face on Saint Thomas Aquinas! Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

Virginia Lieto teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. She is the author of children’s book Finding Patience and blogs at www.virginialieto.com.

Book Review – The Story of a Soul, by St Thérése of Lisieux

Today we celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Thérése of Lisieux. So, I thought it appropriate to share a bit of what I learned about this beloved saint by reading her book, The Story of a Soul. From the title alone, we garner a peek at this beloved saint’s humility, as if the story could be about any soul – very non-descript. Yet, Saint Thérése of Lisieux was anything but non-descript!

Thérése will grip your heart from the very beginning, right up to her last breath, as she tells you the story of her life – her “little way.” She lived for only 24 years, but in that time, she accomplished so much. Thérése made the quality of her life, a gift to God; in thanksgiving for His creation of her. Raised in a devout Catholic home, in France, in the late 1800’s, Thérése seemed to intuitively understand, at a very young age, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux’s teaching that we are to love God for God’s sake, not our own. I found this attribute of Thérése to be awe-inspiring. How many of us, today, can say that we truly love God, for God’s sake, and not our own?

As Thérése grew from child to adult, she remained small in stature, and humble in nature. She dreamed of one day becoming a Carmelite nun. Her desire to give back to God, in service to Him, out of love for Him, was born from her sufferings and challenges. She lost her mother to breast cancer at the age of four. Then as her sisters grew to adulthood, each one of them entered the convent, leaving her behind to live without them. So, she suffered much loss, but found great solace in her friendship with Jesus. Even as a child, she was astute enough to know

…that in order to become a Saint, one must suffer much, always seek the most perfect path, and forget oneself (p. 24).

With that in mind, Saint Thérése grew up wanting to enter the convent, like her sisters. She saw that as her perfect path to sainthood. She was so adamant, that she pestered her father and uncle to get the Bishops’ permission for her to enter before the minimum age. When their efforts failed, she took it upon herself to speak to the Pope about it, when her father took her on a trip to Rome. Eventually, Thérése won out, and entered the Discalced Carmelite convent at the young age of 15.

Throughout her life. she never lost her sense of humility; always seeing herself as small. She equated her sense of humility to God’s garden. Thérése saw herself as one of God’s little flowers.

He has been pleased to create great Saints who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets, flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater is their perfection (p. 4).

What a beautiful way to depict our souls – full of color, variety, and size, in God’s garden! Saint Therésé of Lisieux would place herself in the violet category. Yet, we all know that she is one of God’s roses, as she has been declared a Doctor of the Church. She is also considered one of the most beloved saints to modern man. Many people pray to Saint Thérése for her intercession. These same people ask for a sign that she has heard their prayer and will pray for them. That sign is a rose. I know, because it happened to me! One day I prayed, asking Saint Thérése to pray for me, and I asked for a sign. I told no one of this prayer. A few days later, my husband walked in the door with a yellow rose – my favorite! Apparently, the sign on the Florist Shop said that if today your name is Nicholas, you get a free rose. So, he stopped in to get one, and brought it home to me. I knew Saint Thérése was praying for me, and that filled my heart with joy!

As Saint Thérése of Lisieux lay on her death bed, she declared that she felt that her mission was only beginning. She vowed to spend her eternity doing good on earth. Her mission is to help us love God for God’s sake, as Thérése loves God, with complete trust and absolute self-surrender. Oh, what was that prayer I prayed to Saint Thérése for which I received the yellow rose? I asked her to show me how to love God for God’s sake, with complete trust and absolute self-surrender. She has been teaching me every day since. I am seeing my trust in Jesus grow. My self-surrender increases day-by-day.

Saint Thérése, please pray for us! Help us all to love God for God’s sake, to trust in Him completely, and to give all of ourselves, in service to Him, for the love of God. Amen.

If you would like to read The Story of a Soul, and learn how to become a Saint, then click here to get your copy.

Virginia Lieto teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. She is the author of children’s book Finding Patience and blogs at www.virginialieto.com.