August 2nd, 2015
St. Stephen Catholic Church
Dominica XVIII Per Annum, Anno B
The philosophers and scientists of Ancient Greece and Rome had incredible intellects: Socrates, Plato, & Aristotle––to name a few. God gave them their intellect as He gives it to all of us. Man can achieve amazing things through the use of his God-given genius. It might sometimes seem like nothing is beyond what man can achieve through science. We turn to science to unlock the mysteries of creation and to reveal the truth. Science is always progressing. Truth however, does not progress. Truth was truth in the beginning, is now, and it ever shall be truth.
The great men of antiquity discovered and passed on to us the fruits of their inquiry by the natural use of their minds. Yet, as great as they were, these great men of science from pagan antiquity represent the old man, about which St. Paul writes. The old man has much to commend him. The natural state of man is pretty amazing, by God’s design; but it pales in comparison with the supernatural state of man––also by God’s design. Who, then, is the new man? If the old man is one in his natural state, the new man is one in a supernatural state, elevated by God with sanctifying grace. St. Paul teaches us that we are to put off the old man and put on the new man.
St. Thomas writes: “The substance of human nature is not to be rejected or despoiled, but only wicked actions and conduct” (Aquinas. Commentary on Ephesians. C.4 L.7 §241). First, we must be renewed in the spirit of our mind, which refers to our rational spirit. Here is a good example of how pagan antiquity got it right, but not fully. Aristotle observed that human beings are distinguished above all other creatures by their rational intellectual souls. St. Thomas Aquinas is famous for christianizing the philosophy of Aristotle. St. Thomas corrected it based upon his own intellect having been elevated by means of sanctifying grace. Aristotle represents the old man; St. Thomas represents the new man of grace.
The ancient Greek and Roman philosophers sought truth, and by the natural use of their reason, they came close. They discovered some truth, but not the fullness of truth. The fullness of truth cannot be discovered by unaided reason. God assists the new man by elevating his intellect by grace through faith. Faith and reason must accompany one another to arrive at a higher truth which must be revealed by God.
Now, I must clarify something. Earlier I spoke of the old man who is natural and the new man who is supernatural. I need to clarify: The true order of nature is the state of original justice, like Adam and Eve before the fall. What we refer to as nature today is fallen nature. The true natural state is restored in us by God in the sacrament of Baptism. God gives us new life, as the new man, by placing His Holy Spirit within us by means of the sacramental life. He tells us “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven…who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (Jn. 6:34). And then the clincher: “I AM the bread of life.”
The Church takes this literally. I AM is the name of God given to Moses. Jesus not only identifies that He is God––the very same God revealed to Moses––but He also identifies Himself with a bread from heaven that is greater than the miraculous manna given in the desert. The Manna was miraculous. This bread, however, is not just miraculous, it is even more. This bread from heaven is the Holy Eucharist that we celebrate in this and every Mass. The old man cannot understand this by the unaided use of his reason. We must put off the old man and put on the new man in order to understand what Jesus is saying. We must receive it with the help of the Holy Spirit who elevates our intellect to understand it.
But what if I doubt? Am I lacking faith? Is it a sin to doubt? Is it my fault that I doubt? These are good questions. Doubt can be a temptation. What happens when we entertain thoughts that are temptations? We risk giving into the temptation. When that happens, we become like the old man again. Do not despair. Take it to Confession. Confess that you struggle with doubt. Give it over to God. He will renew and refresh each of us as new men, as new women, putting off the old man of doubt. St. Paul says, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” In Confession, the Holy Spirit renews our minds and infuses our souls with the supernatural virtue of faith to combat doubt. God will help us, but we must cooperate with Him.
By our cooperation with Him––as new men, as new women––we can far exceed in faith what the most brilliant men of old acquired by unaided reason. We may not become geniuses in the eyes of the world when it comes to science, but being renewed in the Spirit, we will come to know the mind of God and to share in His knowledge. We will look upon the Sacred Host in adoration, understanding deeply in our souls that the Eucharist is not just a piece of bread, not just a symbol, but in reality, the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ who is the Almighty and Eternal God. That’s pretty incredible! Now, imagine what the most brilliant of scientific minds could achieve in our day in a habitual state of sanctifying grace through regular confession and worthy reception of Holy Communion. Now, imagine what each of us could achieve in our day in a habitual state of sanctifying grace through regular confession and worthy reception of Holy Communion.