Welcome, and Welcome Back
We welcome our 103 Freshmen students to our College, and all our returning students. More than perhaps any other institution of higher learning in this country, Thomas Aquinas is a true Col-ledge, all of us in a common life of study, work, and prayer. “College” means to lodging with, with one another and with God, our only Master. Let us hope we are willing and ready learners. Tomorrow Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange County and our College President, Dr. McLean, will con-voke, that is, call us together, to begin our academic year. May God send his Holy Spirit to inspire and direct us over these next nine months.
Hell exists and we must not go there
Does hell exist, and if so, how many will go there? This is my “leading question” from the Scripture texts this Sunday. (Here at the Thomas Aquinas you must be ready for the “leading question” that begins every class.) Someone asked Jesus: “will only a few be saved?” Some religions declare that only 144,000 will be saved (an interpretation of Revelation 7). Jesus does not give a number or a percentage, but he does say that the gate is narrow. “Many, I tell you, will try to enter and not be strong enough.” We must take seriously these sobering words of the Son of God. Yes, there is a hell, an abyss into which drop—in eternal wails of despair—those who are not “strong enough.” What will you do, Jesus asks, when you see so many others in the Kingdom and “you yourselves cast out”? I can remember getting back from work one night when I was 21 years old only to find that all of my friends had gone to dinner without me. A dreadful darkness overcame me that I can still taste 30 years later. The most dreadful pain is abandonment, because we are essentially relational, with no identity apart from our relationships with others. The absolute abandonment of hell is a real possibility for everyone in this room, and we must not end up there.
Heaven exists and we must get there
How many will end up in hell? In the weak and watery Christianity of our time, very few think that a loving God would send anyone to hell. Everyone goes to heaven, right? Wrong. Jesus says, repeatedly, that the road to hell is broad and easy, and that many go that way. Our Lord doesn’t say how many will be saved or damned; he says only that we must “strive” for heaven. Because if hell exists, heaven exists too, and we must get there. Everything in this life must be focused on attaining heaven; every activity of the Church—all the time, money, and energy the Catholic Church as spent over 2000 years—is all for saving souls. Jesus urges us to “strive” to enter the narrow gate. No one in this chapel is “strong enough” to attain heaven without God’s grace, but he does not hand paradise to us on a silver platter. He wants us to strive, to work for it.
“Whom he loves God disciplines”
Like a good father, God helps us in our striving. He gives us faith and hope and love, “infused” virtues, the exercise of which push us inch by inch toward heaven. But God’s graces are not always pleasant. We also need strong medicine to overcome our damnable frailty caused by original sin. “My son,” God says in the second reading, “do not disdain my disciplines.” He sends us suffering and pain to strengthen us for the life’s contests. The US Marines put it like this: “pain is weakness leaving the body.”
It is true that suffering breaks some people. They allow life’s tragedies to crush them: I have seen many lose their faith, and their joy, over the death of a son, or a divorce, or a bout with cancer. But others grow even stronger, more beautiful and more virtuous, when they undergo adversity. “Strengthen your weak knees” the Bible tells us. “Steady your drooping hands.” When someone or something knocks you down, get up, or crawl if you must, to the chapel. Cast yourself not on the mercy of this world, but throw yourself into the arms of God’s mercy. You will survive the blow, and grow stronger for it. Yes, strong enough, when your time comes, to enter the narrow gate, and to recline at table with God and his friends. We have a seat in that glorious communion of saints, but only we can decide to accept it or not.
That Col-lege of saints in heaven is why we come to this College on earth. Every bit of work or study or prayer we do at Thomas Aquinas should benefit our soul and the souls of others. Let’s work, let’s strive this year, under the special inspiration of Our Lady, to draw that much closer to God and his kingdom.
From the Chaplain’s Laptop: Subsidiarity
November 25, 2012
We are at the end of the liturgical year, having just celebrated the last Feast of the Year, Christ the King. The Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, asks Jesus if he is a “king.” The Messiah replies: “Not a king of this world.” Kings of this world buy political power, and as much as they can get; the King of Heaven testifies to the Truth, and eternal truth. “Truth?” Pilate sneers. “What’s that?” Truth is anything that will get me more power, he thinks. Jesus speaks a language that Pilate cannot or will not understand.
The U.S. Government is growing bigger and more powerful. The bigger it grows, the less it speaks the language of truth. Speaking truth to power in this country will get us thrown in jail before long. But here is a truth that probably won’t get me fined just yet: “The government that governs least governs best.” An American president said that, but he was only reformulating an old Catholic principle, “Subsidiary.” This Principle holds that folks should govern themselves at the most local level possible, beginning with the family, and then the neighborhood, and then the village, and then the county, and then the state. Most decisions can and should be handled on the local level. The State or Federal government should step in only when absolutely necessary, because they will be the least knowledgeable, and the most wasteful, means of governance.
I live at a small Catholic College (Thomas Aquinas College, student population 365). The College governs itself much more effectively than larger institutions. Rather than take certain federal tuition subsidies, for example, Thomas Aquinas College offers an extensive work-study program. With 75% of the student body working on campus, the College hires relatively few outside staff. Students do most of the landscaping, maintenance, janitorial, food service, and even development, admissions, and clerical work. The College runs extraordinarily well, with pristine lawns, spotless bathrooms, and a well-oiled physical plant. Students pay less tuition; the College pays less for staffing; students take pride in their work; the College campus looks beautiful all the time. The principle of Subsidiarity is manifest at Thomas Aquinas.
Earthly rulers want power. In democracies, they promise people an easy life in return for that power. People usually see through this kind of thing, but not in periods of cultural decline. I must say that the students at Thomas Aquinas College are in a cultural incline. They don’t want an easy life. They want the truth, and they want a beautiful College, and they are willing to work for both. With joy they cut the grass, paint the buildings, clean the bathrooms, and spend hours over their books, because it is their College. Life is beautiful in this Village, in this Shire, even without much help from Big Brother. We serve the King of Kings while we work, and we don’t have much need for an earthly king.
In a few weeks I will move to my new home, Thomas Aquinas College (“TAC”). I thought you might like to know a little more about it.
Three professors from St. Mary’s College near Oakland established TAC 40 years ago. They wanted to provide a pure liberal arts curriculum, challenging students to work through the masters of western thought, from Plato to Augustine to Einstein. Every student takes exactly the same courses (a “single, integrated curriculum”), fostering intelligent student discussion outside of class. Students study only original works — 100 “great books” of Western civilization. They don’t study textbooks about geometry or physics or philosophy — they actually read the original works of Euclid, Galileo and Aristotle.
The founders also sought to establish a college of the highest Catholic standards. The $22 million chapel is the center of the campus, and all dorms are named after saints. Three full-time priests provide four Masses and 10 scheduled confession times a day. While most Catholic colleges often promote student life contrary to Catholic morality, and teach courses opposed to Catholic doctrine, TAC is joyously faithful to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.
Currently, 360 students come from 38 states and six foreign countries, and there is one teacher to every 11 students. The campus is situated about a half hour east of Ventura on 131 acres of steeply wooded land. The Princeton Review and US News and World Report both rated TAC “Top Tier” and “Best Value” among American colleges in 2010. I invite you all to send your children to TAC, at least for a visit. You can see the College on its website
and are most welcome to visit me on the campus at any time. It’s one of America’s finest Catholic schools, and I am most privileged to be associated with Thomas Aquinas College