Tuesday, January 28, 2020

(242) St. Thomas Aquinas, the Theologian and His Writings


St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) is the Patron Saint of Universities and Students.  His Feast Day is January 28.  Much is taken from the DVD Series: Catholicism, the Pivotal Players by Bishop Robert Barron.

    St. Thomas Aquinas was a philosopher, theologian, scientist, mystic, and biblical commentator.  There is no sacrifice of the mind to be religious.  He boldly asked all the questions.  Reason poses no threat to religion when both reason and religion are authentically understood.  There is no contradiction between faith and reason.  They go hand in hand.  Truth is truth.  St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict reiterated that.  As a rationalist, Thomas made theology logical and understandable.  His contributions to religion and culture are massive.
       He was a saint deeply in love with Christ.  As a spiritual master, his main purpose in writing was to bring people to Christ.  His theological masterpiece was the “Summa Theologica” that sums up Catholic theological beliefs and teaching.   It includes the doctrine of the Eucharist to which he had a special devotion and love.  It actually consists of several volumes.  It is said that he placed the finished work at the foot of the cross and Christ told him: “Thomas, you have written well on the sacrament of my body.  What would you have as a reward?”   Thomas replied: “I will have nothing except you”.
    Thomas was born in 1225 in aristocracy in Roccasecca, a castle near Aquino between Rome and Naples.  Even as a child, he desired a close friendship with God for his life.  Thomas was from the age of six educated for nine years at near-by Monte Cassino by the Benedictines.  At the age of 15 he entered the University of Naples.  In his efforts to understand God, Thomas agreed with Peter of Ireland in applying the practical view of the pagan Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who was controversial at the time.

       Thomas joined the teaching friars of St. Dominic who preached while practicing poverty with begging, the simple life, and complete trust in God……somewhat similar to St. Francis from the same era.  The Dominicans aspired to revitalize Christianity to return to the radicalism and simplicity of its original message and to renew the Church.  Aren’t we trying to do the same today?  Since they were considered weird, his family did everything possible to prevent him from staying with them, even locking him up.  Thomas used that time of confinement to memorize much of the Bible.

          In 1245 he studied under the best scholars in Paris, the intellectual capital of the Christian world at the time, mainly on the Left Bank of the Seine River, also called the “Latin Quarter” because Latin was the international language of the scholars and students in the Middle Ages.  A question or proposition would be presented followed by debate.  Finally, the professor gave a magisterial resolution and explanation after answering the objections.  The professor would be on the second floor of a building and the students would sit below on bales of hay.

       While studying, Thomas became a protégé or apprentice of the Dominican, St. Albert the Great, a brilliant philosopher and scientist of the time who saw the great potential in his student.  St. Albert also relied on Aristotle as a starting point.  Thomas followed him to Cologne (in Germany today) and was ordained there.  This genius was quiet, humble, and very big; thus he was dubbed the “dumb ox”.  As a baccalaureate (bachelor degree), he returned to Paris in 1252 to become a magister (master’s degree) and then obtain his doctorate.  Notice how customs of Academia date to the Middle Ages.  The cap and gown of graduation go back to this time.

       Scholar and Saint.  In his scholarly career that spanned 25 years, Thomas was a prolific author of over 50 thick volumes or books and wrote commentaries on the Bible.  Even today the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Aquinas Institute has taken on the task of translating  and publishing the works of St. Thomas Aquinas that have not yet been translated into English. 

He was a genius as seen in the detail in his thinking and in the nature of his analysis.  His mind had such order and discipline.  St. Thomas beautifully integrated faith and reason; that was the title of one of St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals.
St. Thomas Aquinas would constantly think (even at dinner and while resting), read, and write.  He would sometimes dictate three different writings of his to three different scribes at the same time, even at times dictating while taking an afternoon nap.  As with many geniuses, he was very absent minded, yet a very balanced and integrated person.  Every day Thomas would say one Mass and assist at a second one.  He once dined with King St. Louis, the patron of our church.
       In 1274, the year of his death, the mystic received a revelation from Christ and exclaimed to his friend, Reginald after 25 years of scholarly work.  “Everything I wrote is straw compared to what has been revealed to me”.  After that, he never wrote again.  He died dictating a commentary of the “Song of Songs” from the Bible.

The Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274)
St. Thomas Aquinas clarified and gave us a deeper understanding of the teachings of the Church.  The relationship of faith and reason is under intense scrutiny in an age beholden to the competing claims of fundamentalism and secularism.  Atheists insist that the claims of religion amount to superstition, a retrograde holdover from centuries past.  Religious fundamentalists adhere to a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible, often independent of logic or rational introspection and development.  St. Thomas Aquinas anticipated these objections and demonstrated that to believe is to think and that the life of the mind is integral to life in Christ.

His Doctrine of God.  Since a child, Thomas asked the question, “What is God?”  It was an obsession that he pursued for the answer the rest of his life.  He proposed that God is not a being, but the sheer act of existence, being itself (Ipsum esse).  There is no distinction between God’s essence and existence without restriction.  It is wrong to imagine God as a supreme version of a creature as do the atheists Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, and Sartre.  He is not a being exalted among many.  The creator of the universe is not an item in the universe.
Therefore, when Moses asked God: “Who are you?”, the Lord answered: “I am who am”.  God is simplicity, yet unconditioned, unrestricted, without limit, eternal, infinite, perfect and fulfilled in His manner of being, immutable, unchangeable.  Thus He is reliable and consistent with mind, will, and freedom.
St. Pope John Paul II putting the words of St. Thomas Aquinas in practice.
God stands outside of time, not restricted to any point in time.  He transcends it without being restricted by it.  Thus He is eternal.  God is present in all moments of time.  Since God is immaterial and not restricted to one place, He is everywhere (omnipresent) and without borders.  Because He transcends the material, Christ was able to appear to the apostles through locked doors and walls.  Because God is already perfect and infinite, He cannot rise to a higher level.
God made all things (ominipotent); they exist because God knows them as good and wills them into being.  God is the condition for all existence.  He is the condition for the possibility of the existence of contingent things.  Everything finds its existence in God.  

God is love which is so great and intense that it overflows and creation is the result. God is all knowing (omniscient).  God is personal; He knows everything about each one of us and loves all who participate in His being.  He is not passive, but creative.  God is one, yet three persons, i.e., the Trinity…….the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Faith (Theology) and Reason (Philosophy) cannot be in conflict (Averoism) because they come from God who is truth itself.  Aquinas brought faith and reason together.  All truth is from God.  Faith stands above and beyond reason which explores the faith without compromising the mind.  There is an integration between faith and reason.  There is no contradiction between faith and reason nor between science and Theology.

The Human Person (Theological Anthropology) is an integration or unity of body and soul.  The body is not a prison for the soul which is in every part of the body just as God is present to the entire universe.  The body should be reverenced, appreciated, and taken care of since it is from God.  It is the energy that makes the body distinctly human.  After the Last Judgment, the body and soul come together.
The human person is made according to the image and likeness of God in regards to the great capacity of the mind to know the truth and the will that desires the good.  Both the mind and the will are ordered to God, i.e., the true, the good, and the beautiful, all of which inspires much literature and poetry.  The human being is made for ecstasy, for the journey into God.  The soul can reason and reaches out for the good.  It is the energy that makes you a person, the real you that really contains the body.

       Christology.  Like all saints Thomas was deeply in love with Jesus Christ as shown in His writings, by his deep devotion to the Eucharist, and in his mystical experiences.  He saw in the Incarnation the supreme goodness of the nature of God in giving Himself away with His infinite love in the fullest possible manner.  He became one with creation, one with us.
God reaches outward and downward to us in love, while we tend outward to others and upward to God.  We can also see God’s supreme goodness in the tremendous variety in His creation.  Since God is being itself, Christ’s divine and human nature are not in competition.  This would not be the case if he were a finite supreme being.  He is truly human and truly divine.  Aquinas uses Philosophy in service to Theology.

Why is Thomas Aquinas a Pivotal Player?  Today he is more relevant than ever.  Thomas showed that Christians can think deeply about any aspect of the faith while blending faith and reason in discussions with non-believers.  

He exemplifies a truly Catholic mind, open to any influence and willing to embrace the truth wherever he found it.  He’s grounded in the Bible and Christian theological tradition while reading Jewish (Maimonides), pagan (Plato, Aristotle, & Cicero), and Muslim (Averroes, Avicenna, & Avicebron) authors with respect even when disagreeing. 

St. Thomas Aquinas is also a great philosopher who uses Philosophy to serve Theology…..to move people to Christ.  He showed that God is non-competitively transcendent, compatible with intellectual freedom and integrity.  God makes the world more beautiful and more radiant without consuming it.  Aquinas is without question, one of the top thinkers (both as a Philosopher and a Theologian) of all time among Plato, Aristotle, Kant, etc.  St. Thomas Aquinas is buried in Toulouse, France.


For many quotes attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas go to

https://www.azquotes.com/author/490-Thomas_Aquinas - 25 top quotes of Thomas Aquinas


Thursday, January 16, 2020

(241) Celebrating 60 Years of Marriage and Achieving the American Dream Together.......Dr. Mel & Lydia Simon


        Their Secrets to a 60 Year Marriage.  Brother Sir Knight Mel Simon (4th Degree) and his wife Lydia recently celebrated their 60th Wedding Anniversary.  In an era when young couples have a hard time keeping their marriage going for five years, they kept it going for 60 years through good times and bad, highs and lows, joys and sorrows.  How did they do it?  What is their secret?  Mel says “Faith, devotion, and trust in God”.  “One may not get what he asks for, but God grants a better way.  God answers prayers for the family not necessarily the way we want, but for our best” (in the long run). 

Lydia says: “It was a partnership; I did everything for him; I did everything he asked me to do.  I took my wedding vows seriously; I honored the man I married by being submissive to him.”  Old fashioned?  Perhaps, but it worked.  Furthermore, it’s Biblical and if the husband has the last word after considerable dialogue, conflict is minimized.

“I attribute all to God.  He was the center of our marriage.  When there was a misunderstanding and I was angry, I prayed and trusted God…….’Let go; let God’……one day at a time.”  Together they tried to maintain a Christ centered home, educating the children in the faith, advising them, praying together and assisting at Mass every Sunday as a family.            

How Mel and Lydia Met. They were both born in the Philippine Islands and survived the Japanese occupation.  As a boy Mel narrowly escaped death when the city hospital was bombed a few minutes after he left.  Once he heard the air raid siren sound, little Mel jumped through the window and rolled down the hill to safety. 

Lydia and Mel were there when their hero, General Douglas MacArthur was forced to escape through a blockade in a PT boat to Corregidor  and Australia to regroup his forces.  Four years later with the approval of U.S. President Harry Truman, he kept his pledge, “I shall return” and landed in Leyte with massive U.S. and allied forces to liberate the Philippines from the yoke of the Japanese occupation.

Mel studied Medicine after high school against the wishes of his father who wanted him to study Agriculture with assurance of a job after graduation because his father was a Division Superintendent of the government school system. Instead, he enrolled at the University of Santo Tomás College of Liberal Arts in Pre-medicine. 

Meanwhile, Lydia studied Pre-Nursing at the same institution in Manila with Mel’s sister Trini.  After both completed their nursing studies, Lydia went to work as a nurse at San Lazaro Hospital.  Trini went to San Juan de Dios Hospital and then to Mary Chiles Hospital prior to furthering her post graduate studies at New York Polyclinic Medical Center.  Meanwhile Lydia was accepted at St. Mary’s Hospital, an affiliate of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

While Mel was doing his internship, his fraternity in medical school was going to hold a Valentine’s Party, at a five star hotel, the Manila Hotel Fiesta Pavilion before graduation.  Since neither Mel nor his fraternity brother William Sales had a date in mind, the latter asked for a suggestion, Mel thought of Lydia who was a close friend of his younger sister Trini.  But the dormitory, where all single nurses live, enforced the dorm policy that no ladies can leave the dorm alone at night without an escort.  Lydia quickly thought of Gerry, her roommate.  The double date was on!  

    This was a stroke of luck for Willie which proved to be the beginning of his lifetime relationship.  It was also providential for Mel because that was the beginning of his romance with Lydia.  Their relationship solidified; they fell in love and now you know the rest of the story.

Before immigrating separately to the United States on June 30, 1959, Mel and Lydia were engaged.  Mel went to the Cook County Hospital for his rotating internship in Chicago and Lydia went to St. Mary’s Hospital and Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Willie and Gerry also got engaged, but they stayed in the Philippines.  After four months of not seeing each other, Mel and Lydia decided that it was time to get married.  On October 24, 1959 their Nuptial Mass was the first Filipino wedding ever at St. John’s Catholic Church in Rochester, Minnesota. 
The Young Immigrants Together Pursue the American Dream. In 1966 Mel completed his two years of surgical residency and four years in Urology.  Dr. Charles Holzer, Jr. and Dr. Charles Holzer, Sr. --medical pioneers in southeastern Ohio and founders of a hospital system that bears their name-- invited Dr. Mel for an interview with all expenses paid.   Recommended by Dr. J. Lester Wilkey, the Chief of Urology at Cook County Hospital, Mel accepted the invitation to join Holzer Clinic and as Chief of the Department of Urology in Gallipolis, Ohio and later at Pleasant Valley Hospital WV.  Dr. Mel passed over five other opportunities in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois.

Through hard work, sheer determination, and Lydia’s help, Dr. Mel became a very successful and eminent urologist --certified by the American Board of Urology and by the American College of Surgeons as well as the International College of Surgeons-- on both banks of the Ohio River, serving the communities of Gallia County, Jackson County, and Meigs Counties in Ohio and Mason County and Jackson County in West Virginia.  Dr. Mel became active in medical societies and was a full Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.

He also founded the first acupuncture practice in the river cities of Gallipolis and Point Pleasant when it was first introduced by the American Medical Association at which time Dr. Simon was accused locally by his peers of practicing “voodoo medicine”.  Dr. Simon stood his ground against all odds and soon other local doctors began to offer acupuncture as an alternative.

Lydia and Mel Simon celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary with the community at the Ariel Theatre, a restored opera house and home of the Ohio Valley Symphony in Gallipolis, Ohio.   

Team Simon. Let us emphasize that Dr. Simon did not do it alone.  There is considerable truth in the saying:  “Behind every successful man there is a woman.”  That’s his help mate, Lydia always at his side as faithful friend, personal financial secretary, and sometimes manager.  Her help, support, and encouragement made it easier for Dr. Mel to spend more time in his professional and community activities.  They achieved the American dream together, working as “Team Simon”. 

While Dr. Mel was more focused on his work, Lydia was more focused on the home.  She was with the three children (Maria Lucrecia, a dentist in Chicago; Sherwyn, a businessman, and Paul, also a businessman and running the Simons’ Old Town Farm), managed the household, paid the bills, took care of the cooking and cleaning, and saw to it that the house was maintained.  A skilled gardener, Lydia not only surrounded the house with beautiful flowers; she had a major role in beautifying the grounds of St. Louis Church.
       Immigrants such as Mel and Lydia Simon made America.  They are the best that their native countries have to offer.  That is their intelligence, ingenuity, self-confidence, courage, resourcefulness, and spirit of adventure to take the risk of leaving their countries of birth and adapting to a new culture and a new system.  The timid, the lazy, and the less able stay home.  Most immigrants are willing to work hard, pursue new paths, and do what it takes to be successful.  They give the country new blood and fresh ideas; they come to America seeking opportunity and freedom.  Then they work hard to achieve the American dream and so often find it.
       Mel has enjoyed the fruits of his success, but is very generous with his time and financial resources in giving back so much to the twin sister communities that gave him the opportunity as well as to his country of birth that raised him.  That's what makes this prominent physician stand out and led to his being chosen for the Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame 
in Columbus.  Lydia was part of it. 

All of that makes them an example to both the very successful as well as to the many unknown people who can only contribute in little yet important ways.......the many little deeds done over many years are also very important and also add to greatness.  Once they had an empty nest Lydia became more involved directly as well as from behind the scenes.

                    Dr. Mel Simon with his wife Lydia, 60 years at his side.

       Dr. Mel and Lydia exemplify Christian stewardship, which recognizes that everything belongs to God and comes from Him....... His providential help, one's endowed talents or gifts, opportunities in life, etc., all of which the individual has little or no control......that God gives us earthly possessions, property, and financial resources in trust as stewards to be used responsibly to provide for our own genuine needs and to serve one's fellow man for the common good of all. 

Greater wealth entails greater responsibility and God will hold us accountable for the use of these gifts.  In other words, the gifted have the responsibility to give something back to the community that was instrumental in their success. 

   Thus Dr. Mel and Lydia Simon have contributed significantly to their parish, St. Louis Church, to the University of Rio Grande, and many other charitable causes.  Dr. Mel has given his time and energy as a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Rio Grande (www.rio.edu) from 1994 to 2014 to assist in its growth and guide it through a severe financial crisis. 

Mel contributed significantly to the restoration of the historic Ariel Theatre (www.arieltheatre.org) in 1990, originally built in 1896 as an opera house in the gas light era for this steamboat stop on the Ohio River.  That led to the birth of the Ohio Valley Symphony Orchestra (http://www.ohiovalleysymphony.org/Board.htm) and his subsequent participation as a member of its Board of Directors.  The current President of the Ohio Valley Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors is his son, Paul Robert Simon.  

In 2009 Dr. Mel and Lydia founded the French 500 Free Clinic to serve uninsured patients of southeastern Ohio.  It was busy, receiving over 1,200 patients until Obamacare filled that slack.

     Operation We Care (http://www.opwecare.org/4.html).  As President of the Society of Philippine Surgeons in America in 1988, he organized an annual medical mission to the Philippines and in 1999 he strengthened the mission by obtaining the sponsorship of the Rotary Club while its District 6690 Governor (www.rotary.org). 

Usually every February for over 33 years (1983 to date), Dr. Simon recruits a team of some 35 doctors and nurses and obtains donations of medical supplies and equipment to do diverse surgeries for a very intense two weeks.......cleft palate, some genetic deformities, tumors, eye surgery, dental surgery, etc.  Each participant in the mission pays his/her own travel expenses.   At the same time the team members train their counterparts in a real people to people outreach.  As a nurse Lydia accompanies Dr. Mel on every mission and has a very important role.  The team members call her “Mission Mama”.  

    Next week they'll be going on another mission trip to the Philippines.  Dr. Simon has backed off a little at his age, but still does minor surgery as part of a team of 50 doctors and nurses.  

       From their own resources, Mel and Lydia furnished a 100 bed surgical ward of the 400 bed Region One Medical Center in Dagupan, Pangasinan in the northern Philippines.   In gratitude for five years of bringing the medical mission and numerous donations, it was officially named as the “Dr. Mel & Lydia Simon Surgical Ward in 2007.
In addition they helped in the construction of a 30 bed community hospital in Mangaldan, Pangasinan, where deep water drinking wells were also constructed in 17 surrounding villages through the generosity of Filipino and American Rotary Clubs.   These wells helped to greatly decrease the incidence of gastro-intestinal diseases and improved the quality of life.  Dr. Mel and Lydia also initiated nutrition and literacy programs for hundreds of undernourished school children.   

Together they achieved the American dream and helped to make America great.  May God grant Team Simon good health and many more years to do His work.


Dr. Mel’s Autobiography
The reader may find the above in much greater detail in Dr. Mel Simon’s autobiography, “Two Rivers: A World Apart”.  It can be obtained from www.amazon.com and Bards & Noble.  The reader may also borrow the book from the Bossard Library of Gallipolis, Ohio or from his local library via inter-library loan.  Mel is now working on a second book.
Articles Involving Dr. Mel Simon
(16) Dr. Mel Simon: A Career Serving God & His People

(90) French 500 Free Clinic (Gallipolis, Ohio) Celebrates Its Third Anniversary of Operations

(91) Description of the French Five Hundred Free Clinic in Gallipolis, Ohio