12 Life Lessons from St. Thomas Aquinas

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The Irish have a name for prayers directed only to our own needs — “stingy prayers”! If we are to lift up and to love our neighbors, our prayers to God must keep their needs in mind too. Such prayer is directly opposed both to inordinate self-love and to the vice of envy. When we envy, we are sad for another’s good, a sadness we may come to relish as the next best thing to having what the envied person has. To thank God for the goodness He has bestowed on the person envied and to petition Him to keep that good coming is a pretty direct counterattack on envy and every one of its daughters. Indeed, if you pray for the welfare of the people you envy, you are certainly not envying very well!

We can also ask God to help eradicate any remaining envy within our own hearts, and we can pray for those who might envy us. Further, we can pray for God’s grace and strength for those who feel most burdened and need it the most, asking that we might be given the grace and strength to act toward them as instruments of His love, sharing with Him in some of the heavy lifting.

Of course, the prayer Christ gave us is anything but a “stingy prayer,” as revealed in its first words: “Our Father.” We acknowledge that God is our Father and we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and then after praising God, all of our petitions are asked for one another, giving us, forgiving us, and delivering us.

The Sweet Yoke of the Sacraments

How can the sacraments strengthen our love of neighbor and give us the strength to lift up our brothers and sisters in Christ? Of course, it is the sacrament of Baptism that joins us all together as brothers and sisters in Christ. It bestows on us the sweet yoke of Christ and the graces of the Holy Spirit that make that yoke light. It also allows us to share in the blessings of one another’s merits and virtues. Consider these wise words of Venerable Louis of Granada (1505–1588) on pulverizing envy and practicing charity among those who are baptized:

If you continue in a state of grace, united to your neighbor through charity, you have a share in all his good works, and the more he merits, the richer you become. So far, therefore, from envying his virtue, you should find it a source of consolation. Alas! Because your neighbor is advancing, will you fall back? Ah! If you would love him in the virtues which you do not find in yourself, you would share in them through charity; the profit of his labors would also become yours.

The sacrament of Baptism should remind us that we’re all in this together, this being that race for the eternal prize of bliss in heaven, and we’re all here to help one another to cross God’s finishing line.

Indeed, in the sacrament of Confirmation, God bestows upon us the extra strength we need to cross that goal. In this sacrament, we become soldiers for Christ, mature and confident members of what has long been called the Church Militant of believers on earth. A classic act of military honor is the soldier’s vow to leave no soldiers behind. When ancient Romans proclaimed, “Nemo resideo!” they echoed in their own tongue the principle of even more ancient Greek warriors. As warriors for Christ, we should also strive to leave no one behind, to exert our strength to lift those who need uplifting and to do our best to rescue the bodies and souls of our neighbors who have been captured by the harmful, sinful secular ideologies proclaimed and endorsed in our time.

Of course, the ultimate act of neighborly love is to give one’s life for a friend (John 15:13), and this Christ did for us. Let us recall how He picked up the burden of the physical Cross, knowing the suffering He would endure upon it, so that we could be uplifted and forgiven of our sins. Let us recall how Simon of Cyrene was compelled to help Christ carry that Cross (Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26), and how Christ told us that what we do for the least of our brothers, we do for Him (Matt. 25:40). Will we heed Christ’s example and help our brothers and sisters with their burdens? Will we remember that, like St. Paul, we can do all things in Christ, who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13), and that every time we receive the Eucharist we receive that unlimited source of strength Himself in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity?

Life Lesson 5 Summa

There is no brother or sister so heavy that God cannot give us the strength to strive to help lift him or her up. We were made to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and to strive to pulverize all manner of sins, especially the petty sin of envy, which makes us saddened by our neighbor’s good fortune. Rather, we must fan the flames of our loving charity and try to warm our neighbors with additional spiritual and, when needed, material goods. We must pray every day not only for ourselves, but for all our brothers and sisters in Christ, united as children of God through the sacrament of Baptism and made firm and given the strength we need to lift one another up through the sacrament of Confirmation.

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This article is adapted from a chapter in 12 Life Lessons from St. Thomas Aquinas by Kevin Vost which is available from Sophia Institute Press.

Art for this post on Praying for Our Neighbors: Cover and featured image used with permission.

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