Friday, May 31, 2013

A Thought On Saving The World

Saving the world is a tough task.  It is not to be taken lightly, and people of all political/religious persuasions think they are the ones most apt to come up with the cure-all for what afflicts contemporary man...  In whatever way he may be afflicted.

We are presented so often with "snake oil" theories that offer us the crux to the problem, the kernel of truth that we have so far been missing, an equation that will balance all ailments in a sublime equilibrium of values that no one has quite seen or anticipated fully.

As a result, contemporary man has been forced ever deeper into the unforgivably shallow pool of politics, and thereby shifting towards the post-apocalyptic-paradaisical-utopian-doomsday festival of solutions to the culture that do nothing more than treat the externalities of an internal hemorrhaging.  Allegories aside, most politicians nowadays attempt to address serious cultural states-of-affairs with either economic or legislative proposals that in effect deepen any perceived problems, and reinforce a strong and damaging dichotomy between the government and the citizenry.

Therefore, I ask the question: If the state seeks to answer cultural questions with government policies that tend to remain political in origin and scope, how can we effectively escape this downward trend with initiatives that endeavor to a genuine renewal of cultural and political life?

Perhaps the answer is not to be found in politics, per se, but in a wider look at the underpinnings of human happiness, which flourishes in a culture that values the good, the true, and the beautiful.  It may be the case, then, that what we should be doing is supporting the material mechanisms for making beauty ever more present, ever more real, and ever more possible.

To stand behind a politician is to stand behind a special interest group, an agenda, and even propaganda.  The politician can only take us so far, and in today's world, "so far" is much more damaging than we give it credit for.  To stand behind an artist, a writer, a sculptor, or filmmaker, however, may be the best way to authentically save the world.

More on this to come...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A glass of wine (or four) and a little soufflé

Over the Memorial Day weekend this past summer, my wife and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. There was little fanfare, some elegant gifts exchanged, and a spot of delightful weather.

We did, however, manage to make our way to a lovely auberge out in Great Falls -- L'Auberge Chez Francois. It is a well-reputed restaurant, having both food critics and amateurs alike raving over the culinary prowess of its chef, but also the waitstaff and atmosphere in general. Its location is picturesquely situated in the woods in the midst of winding and quaint Virginia roads, and the building itself is a feast for the eyes, reflecting in its own way the Tudor-style of the French/German region of Alsace.

There is a slight sense, indeed it's more than slight, that you have trekked up through the Alsatian countryside and have seemingly come across this gem of culture and exquisiteness wrapped-up in the most inviting of structures. Getting to the locale is, to be clichéd, half the fun. Though, I am of course telling a lie by saying that... merely because I would have a difficult time reducing a miraculously wonderful meal to half of the aggregate fun of a particular adventure, but I digress.

By this point, I've probably made it unapparent that the focus of this essay is food. And by extension, wine.

However, the meal that we shared was something beyond compare. A flight for taste and an expression of the beauty of this world. It accomplished for the senses what daydreaming does for the mind: sets it free. For a brief period of time, our senses were free to roam a new palette of colour, thanks to the art of the kitchen and its deftly baroque performance. Without going into the specifics of the fare that we enjoyed, I will, however, touch on a few notes from that unforgettable luncheon.

A glass of delectably delicate French champagne presented itself as the first obstacle to enjoy. It's flavour was moist and sweet, and the effervescence bubbled the fruity notes through our noses, lingering for a time. Like soft and supple smoke rising from a pipe, the champagne climbed into our heads, percolating poignantly and with a type a seduction that one readily associates with French custom.

Then the food...

A velvety quiche, light and buttery. Freshly baked bread, barely warm to the touch, and soft, sweet butter to spread. My wife ordered the French onion soup -- which smelled strong and rich, everything it should be -- and I a croquette of veal kidneys in a sherry mushroom sauce. Needless to say, both hors d'œuvre were sublime in their own right. The latter had a deep silky texture, composed proportionately with the earthy bites of mushroom and the incomparable yet slightly gamey kidney. It was a more than manageable course.

The wine to go with the main course was a Pouilly-Fuissé -- an appellation for white wine located within Burgundy. It was a light and highly embraceable wine, pale in colour, similar to a Grüner Veltliner in acidity, while being slightly more subtle in its sweetness. When combined with our choices for the entrée, it complemented them splendidly. My wife had a filet of salmon with a refined and full-bodied Bernaise sauce. I decided ultimately -- after much toil and deliberation -- on a platter of sausages, braised fruits, duck confit, over a bed of perfectly cooked and seasoned sauerkraut. It seemed fitting to honour the occasion of our first anniversary with what on the menu is denoted as a "feast," and indeed it was. The duck was more than succulent and nearly buttery, the sausages, full of spice and meaty sweetness, were hot without being over-done, and the fruits lovely in texture as I paired them with different sausages and a spot of sauerkraut.

I nearly felt the inclination to storm off to the kitchen and thank the chef for deigning to give me such a wonderful present, but I resigned myself to finish what was left of the wine -- about which I'm sure one such as Hilaire Belloc would have written a line of verse or two.

Our table was cleared and I asked my wife how she had liked everything thus far. We were in the staunchest of agreements... and so sat, taking the beauty of it all in, waiting contemplatively for our dessert.

As the Baked Alaska was placed before my wife, I excitedly looked upon one of the most treasured dishes in the culinary world: a Gran Marnier soufflé.

There's no real sense in writing something detailed and precise about that dessert. It was, as all well-crafted and prepared soufflés are, a physical instantiation of the beatific tasting.  I have no doubt that Heaven itself is not only constituted by the eternal vision of God in His glory, but also accompanied by a delightfully everlasting cup of Burgundy pinot noir and a generously divine portion of Gran Marnier soufflé.  Ok ... and plenty of those fabulous and God-given Austrian dishes that make up the good part of all civilized food.

The sweet course, as it were, was a tremendous success both on the palate and for the spirit, particularly since it was accompanied by another delicate glass of what was undoubtedly a very well-picked champagne.  It had a slight oaky edge to it that lent it something of a rustic quality without being overbearing.  Concomitantly, it was sweet and also hinted in a not so subtle way at notes of pear and perhaps cider, but after celebrating in such an atmosphere, it's hard to keep all the delicious hymns straight.

Confident in the knowledge that we had celebrated and libate-d in a fashion fit for Bacchus, we took our leave of L'Auberge Chez Francois. And, stumbling happily and contentedly back to our car, I remarked to my beautiful bride: It is always good to share the best food and drink with one's best friend.

And, indeed it is.  To a certain extent, I think people in our culture have lost a true sense of what it means to feast, and feast properly.  Too often, when I say to my friends and family that we need to "feast heartily with food and drink," they seemingly take it as if I'm seeking to get drunk, but this is not true.  For centuries, milennia even, Western man has "partied" so to speak, with a fervor and zealousness that is fitting for kings and paupers -- with gusto, more appropriately.  But with a zealousness and fervor that seeks and fits into the wholeness of life, it aims oddly at moderation and virtue, and ultimately joy.  As manuals built on the theology and philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, rightly point out: Hinc bibere usque ad hilaritatem. Thus, drink unto the point of hilarity.


For those of you who live in the Washington, D.C. area -- or if you are visiting -- please make a point to visit L'Auberge Chez Francois, and please, don't skip the soufflé.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The fickle gift of writing

Becoming, and becoming again.  Searching after perfection is seemingly the most endless road, and it appears even farther when I place before myself the task to write.  It's a constant struggle, an impassioned lust, and, dare I say, an unrequited love.

When I look at the blank page and hold the pen in my hand I can sometimes feel the twinge of inspiration, as if the muse has finally deigned to grace my crestfallen will.  Then, I look back 30 minutes, an hour later, and there's nothing, simply because I've allowed myself to be distracted in the silly and sophomoric hope that "yes, I can think of something better."  It's all folly.  Or vanity?  Probably vanity.

I think constantly about writing style: what form should my prose take?  Should I echo Hemingway or Waugh, Gilson or some abstracted and rarified Shakespearean mode?  The many paths and forms make my head spin around the winding streets of a medieval town.  Except that there's a church in the centre of such a town, so at least I can take solace in that fact.

Writing presents itself, in many ways, as a doubled edged sword: the one side cutting through the overgrowth and unkempt garden that the world can sometimes be; the other slicing through my very heart, piercing at my mind and torturing my body.  Putting words down is often easy enough, it can come naturally with effervescence and a light ebullience that captures the very heart of the subject matter ... but then there are times when it's the very dregs of Hell.  Satan himself seems to be summoned to poison my intellect and stop up my pen.  

But I digress, or do I wax too melodramatic?  My wife would undoubtedly say the latter, but then, that's what wives are for: to hold their men accountable and keep them, in simple and loving terms, realistic.  And mine, I must confess, is fantastic at her job -- read, vocation.

To get back to the unrequited romance that is writing, however, I believe that being able to craft the perfect poem or the unequaled essay is itself an act of love.  It represents an awkward and broken consent -- but a full consent -- to a fickle and yet magnificent gift.  When a good writer writes, he is able to give a part of himself over to the reader, who can then, in his own time, take the writer into his heart, and let those words take residence within, the writer's ideas become those of the reader, and together they share in something intimate, they share in each other in a yet-to-be-metaphysically-understood way.

The danger, obviously, in being a writer -- or at least for one in love with writing, though not necessarily good at it -- is the tendency to go on, and on, and on. Long-windedness and the desire to abscond from brevity are curses of a kind, and I admit that I have succumbed in this instance to the rather unnecessary wordiness for which in my much younger years I was given bad marks.  To you, the reader, I therefore apologise and beg pardon, as the muse has flitted on to another unlucky soul. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Holy Week has approached us with a somewhat lethargic speed.  Lethargic because it is so late in the year... however, speedy, because it is always upon us far too quickly to take stock adequately of our Lenten accomplishments and failures.  But, in some ways, my saying this is rather contrived, cliched, and unexciting.

Yet, there is an element of truth here: we have a hard time keeping our resolve.  Our ability to stand firm to any myriad of resolutions wavers amidst the struggles of our times, the weakness of our frail nature, and the plight of our souls in seeking perfection.  I argue, however, that even in this last week of Lent, there is a practice we can cultivate most readily-- even outside of this penitential time: Silence.

We are all aware of the depths to which our hearts can delve, and we are further aware of the joys and ecstasies, with what can seem almost near exact vividness, that our minds and bodies are subject to.  This is part of the practical life of the person.  Our sorrows and our joys form the substance of our experiences, they serve to define our past and contextualize the future.  Yet, many persons fail to react properly to these joys and sorrows.  We are mentally adrift, floating from one distracting noise to another.  Persons ignore the benefit, and further the necessity, of silence and of inner contemplation.

Think of it,-- even here in the world of the blog-- we are so bombarded by the constant message, the constant urge to be "in-touch," whether through twitter, facebook, or some other channel.  Regardless of where we are or what we are doing, there seems to be the incessant nagging of noise.  Noises, which somehow demand our attention in ways potentially more engrossing than the voice of a loved one, or the needs of a child.  We are distracted from the immediate, displaced mentally and emotionally.  Our focus is more frantic and we become lost in a sea of pithy messages, flashing pictures, and annoying notifications.  There is no rest for the eyes and ears, no solace for the soul. 

This style of interaction leaves us dry, and in a state of constant need.  The interior life-- one of introspection, self-critique, and thoughtfulness-- dissipates, as we are driven to succor in things that provide us with momentary occupation and we seek to be distracted, and never involved.  Our heart remains on the surface of things, never delving into the core of questions, persons, and being.

The bustle of this distracted state of life does no good to the development of a sense of understanding, both of the world and of self.  The light which ought to shine upon our own heart dims, dust collects on our ability to see ourselves clearly, and we lose focus, finding perceptions once sharp to be distorted and distant.  Our internal voice has acquired a type of laryngitis, and our hearing has grown poor.  In a profound way, we forget how to communicate with our own self.

Fostering this then is done best under the mantle of silence.

Silence-- or the ability and the atmosphere to keep still in one's heart and in one's surroundings-- encompasses the person in an awareness of themselves, the movements of the spirit, and the beauty of the world.  It allows for the world to present itself fully, thus engaging the person in a discourse of being, where truth, beauty, and goodness are unfolded.  Silence is best characterized then by a sense of fullness, where the senses take into themselves the grandeur that is there to behold.  Take for example a trek through the mountains: One is still and alone with one's thoughts (if one is without company), the only other company is the spectacle of the world that lays itself at the feet of one perceiving.  This sort of silence fully enables the person to embrace the experience of the created world not merely as one looking out upon it, but also as one observing one's self.  One's sense of who one is as a created and rationally perceptive and spiritual being is magnified, and our thinking grows more acute, more attentive, and more profound.

Another example of silence is that which lovers may be prone to.  As they lose sight of themselves and focus more on the other, they turn themselves into vessels which are filled by the beloved, bringing them to the point at which by merely being in the other's presence, nothing more is needed as they find contentment and solace, soothed by the consolation that they are living out a promise to love eternally with a grateful, giving, and gracious heart.

Silence, furthermore, acts as a barrier against the barrage of contemporary messaging, media, and manipulation, by providing us the framework within which to contemplate and evaluate, so that our minds and hearts remain fresh and awake, rather then busied and bored.  By having a mind and heart that is fresh and awake we more readily engage with the world in an authentic sense-- sincerity of spirit becomes a token of our interactions, and we begin to have hope as we recognize the necessity of the retreat into silence, into contemplation, and into the mystery of being.

Silence, however, is not an escape.  Rather, it is the proper way by which we can more thoroughly understand ourselves and the world.  It is the manner by which God speaks to us in the very midst of our person, and it is the path by which we can strive to find the ways to love more completely, to give more faithfully, and to know more truly.

With this last week, we can certainly resolve to practice silence-- both as a way to meditate upon Our Lord's most dolorous passion, but also as a way to offer up a gift of our time to see the beauty of the world and our souls more perfectly. 

[It may not seem obvious, but my immediate inspirations for this piece come from the variety of Martin Heidegger's works, which focus very much on the phenomenology of the natural world and its ability to teach us manners by which we can come to know things and the world they are part of; and Josef Pieper's The Silence of St. Thomas, which does much to aid the student in recognizing the importance of mystery in God and the created world.]

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On the Nature of Love

While it seems highly possible to go on for tomes in the service of expositing upon the subject of love-- indeed if we think correctly about it, the entirety of all that is written on the Christian God and the world from the perspective of belief in that God is about love-- the object of this essay won't be so much the delving into every aspect of love, but a particular facet: the love that exists between a free man and a free woman.

First, freedom.

Who can truly give their mind, soul, and body when pressured or forced?  A gift of the self must be one that is freely and selflessly given.  It cannot be coerced or manipulated, strangled or cajoled.  The heart and body of a person given are gifted in ecstasy, not in sorrow or pain.  (Granted, however, that love in it's life between two people undergoes its share of pain and turmoil.)  Freedom is essential to the fullness of a gift of self, it is what makes the gift truly a gift.  What we find then within the giving of one person to another in freedom is love.

Now, we can certainly begin to talk about persons who are "free" yet under the constraints of psychological or physical oppressions-- like drug, sex, or alcohol addictions-- which are in themselves constraints to a complete self giving.  However, these are not barring in the way that being under the marriage bond already or in priestly orders are.  The sense of freedom that enables one to give one's self completely must be present in order for love itself to be there.  God accepts our service and faith most ardently when they are freely given, for then they are given by the whole person.

Since there first needs to be freedom, it means that love is then an act of the will: informing our choices and moving us constantly in the direction of the object desired, the beloved.  When I make a cognisant act of the will and choose to love someone, I choose out of my freedom-- to love therefore must be not only something willed, it must be constantly chosen, constantly fought for, constantly born. 

Now is when I run the risk of turning this essay into a dramatically poetic excursion, but I'll keep that for the letters that I write to my future bride.

There is a point, however, when turning to the experience of love, coming to grips with what must be sacrificed and offered, and acknowledging how love ought to grow in its proper way, is the primary starting point in understanding it.  The life of romantic love is such a multi-faceted experience and act that it requires so much in order to come to terms with it and to live it out fully as it should be.

Perhaps a clarification is necessary when I say "romantic love".  Romantic love is a law, a gift, and a right that can only fully exist between one man and one woman.  The complementarity of man to woman is the crux here, as each was made in God's image to reflect an aspect of being that aims toward substantial unity both one in the other and in the God who created them for one another.  The late Pontiff John Paul II did much to aid the Church's people in understanding the nature of this complementarity, but that is not the point here.  Romantic love, being that act and experience that exists between a man and a woman lives and breathes completely and fully in marriage-- as the fulfillment of a vow of exclusivity, fidelity, and fruitfulness. 

Romance is more than flowers and delicate champagne, it's the expression of total self-giving in every way: physically, intellectually, and emotionally at every moment.  It is ever striving to put the other first for their own sake, with no expectation of return, though met with exuberant bliss and gratefulness at its occurrence.  Romance in my mind exists as a way for me to give myself unceasingly to her whom God has given to me.  It's obvious that this notion of gift is spread deeply in the perception of love played out here... and rightly so.  Not only did Pope John Paul II express love as a gift of self, but in my own experience it remains ever clear that the only way to make love grow is to put the other first.  Her wants and her needs must be those ever present on my mind-- if they aren't then I must find a way to put her first.  She comes to me from God as not only a goddess and an angel, but as God's presence in my life: a theophany if you will.  Our love is then an encounter with God, and how can such an encounter be sullied by my selfishness?  She, as God, must come first in my life.  It is the essential gift of self that makes it possible for romance to grow and become the full love that is expressed in body and soul.

The picture at the beginning of this essay is a depiction of the wedding night of Tobias and Sarah.  I offer it as a window into how love ought to be in the life of married people who are deeply in love.  In the account from the book of Tobit, Tobias sets out to find his future wife, Sarah.  Sarah, however, has been married seven times before.  Each time, the husband was found the morning after the wedding, dead.  They had married Sarah out of lust, and so God allowed them to be taken by a demon before they could taint the body and soul of Sarah with their selfish passions.  Tobias, upon meeting Sarah and proposing marriage to her father, did not seek the marriage for the sake of his passions, but rather out of goodness and love.  As such, he made the first three nights of marriage ones dedicated to prayer in order to sanctify their love and wedding bed.  The morning after the wedding, all were surprised and shocked to see Tobias come out of the wedding chamber alive... God had kept him alive for his love for Sarah was pure and selfless.  It put Sarah and a love for her first.

In the painting above, by Dutch Golden Age painter Jan Steen, Tobias and Sarah pray at the foot of their wedding bed, but off to the right, the Archangel Raphael slays a dragon.  The dragon can either represent the demon Asmodeus who had killed Sarah's other husbands, but I think rather that it is the representation of lust.  St. Raphael conquers lust, preventing it from perverting the love that dwells between Tobias and Sarah, keeping it pure and selfless.  (On a side note... purity is not to be confused with prudery.  The two are actually opposites.  Purity rather, is selflessness and an understanding of the dignity of the human person.)

The painting helps us to visualize what ought to be the norm for love between man and wife... that it is constant giving of one to the other.  The gift of one's self is something that is for all eternity; it is exclusive, never to be given to another; it is fruitful-- it is as love itself is: diffusive and without selfishness. 

As we pass out of the week that is marked by the secular world's celebration of Valentine's Day, let us remember that it is actually St. Valentine's Day.  It should be an occasion for us to remember the depth of selflessness that is required to completely love someone.  I will, for my part, make it a time to not only send some chocolates and beautiful flowers, but also move to more truly love the one who is God's presence in my life.  It will also be the chance to be a better man for her who was given to me, that I might more perfectly give myself to her.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Taking the Time

This past weekend I found myself wandering the halls of a much beloved home: The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.  (Now, I should note that while I am glad there are such wide varieties of artistic style as post modernism and abstract expressionism I do not regard myself as a connoisseur of the same for various cultural theory reasons that will come out as the life of this forum grows and evolves.)

I went to the West Gallery of Art-- the more classically built and oriented of the two gallery buildings.  It was the closing day of a special exhibit focusing on pre-Raphaelite photography and painting.  It was fascinating to see-- sometimes side by side-- the old black and white photograph that inspired the marvelously colourful and emotive painting.  It was typical of the pre-Raphaelites to focus on mediaeval and other historical topics; sometimes featuring characters from literature such as Ophelia, the Lady of Shallot, or Proserpine.  The overarching theme, seems to me, to be the sort of idealised beauty and emotion of particular moments.  There is no pointing to a cold form as in the pre-Renaissance masters or Neo-Platonic Christian icons.  Rather, there is a warmth that emanates from an individual person's beauty, the colours are inviting: deep, rich, and vibrant-- not cool and pale or faded.  The features of the face are important as well, conveying the feelings and moods of the subject with an astuteness that wasn't the point for the pre-Renaissance artists. 

Painters such as Millais, Hunt, and Rossetti typify the period-- especially given that there was ample amount of collaboration between them-- with the depth of adoration to psychical experiences in the person and moreover the near deistic devotion to nature.  There are undoubtedly others who can evaluate the technicalities of this particular artistic movement with greater adeptness than I can, yet while I took away much from gazing on the sublime renderings of ideas and loves on canvas (and other materials as well), what I really appreciated was the sense of time.  That is to say, time taken to be.

Our lives are often absorbed by the chores and tasks of everyday life: commuting, buying groceries, cleaning the kitchen, writing emails, etc.  But Josef Pieper, a German philosopher of the 20th century, did wonders to expose us to the necessity of taking time outside of merely work and recreation.

The true intellectual life requires us to not be mired continually in the "work-a-day" world as Pieper called it.  The life of the mind requires us to step out of that routine-- aptly enough, to take time away from it.  The term that Pieper uses to describe this time separate from work and recreation is leisure.  Leisure is a term that Pieper derives from Aristotle who in this way was the originator of Pieper's theory on leisure as expounded upon in Leisure: The Basis of Culture.  (Aristotle's notable treatment on leisure is to be found in the first book of his Metaphysics.)  Leisure in this sense is not at all the idea contemporary culture has.  To our contemporaries, we are at leisure when we "lazy about" watching television, munching on Sun Chips.  Yet, the word leisure in itself comes originally from the Latin word schola (school), which itself relates back to the Greek word schole (σχολείο).  Both words refer in some sense to the modern idea of school... and ultimately to education.

Leisure, therefore, if we are to take it seriously-- at least from its ancient roots-- is to be a time of study, education, and contemplation.  Rather than viewing our week as a mere process of work and rest (the work-a-day world) it should be impacted by time taken to educate: to converse deeply, contemplate a painting by simply being in its presence, or read something perhaps normally beyond our academic purview.  Leisure should be an occasion for the mind to exercise; not solely as an effort to learn, but as an expression of freedom (but this is a political point, and not something entirely suited to the nature of this essay.) 

If we take leisure in this way, we will open ourselves to a world of opportunity: a walk in the forest becomes an outing that absorbs the beauty of the cosmos and man's place within it.  A conversation with a friend need not abide to the confines of banal talk about the weather, but it can drift to the heights of debating the essence of virtue or the meaning of a turn of phrase in G.K. Chesterton's Everlasting Man.  Likewise, a trip to the art museum for the sake of one's romantic interest can fall into the pool of colour and transport us to an understanding of the notions and philosophies of the past-- in this way teaching us how to understand the past and engage with it, not merely on the pages of a written history but also on the living pages of our family and country.

Our leisure time is something precious that we must guard with fidelity and prudence.  It should be a time not only for relaxation, but moreover for educating and nurturing our minds in a love of knowledge and an appreciation of the beauty and goodness of the world.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Festa Dies, Doctor Angelicus

Today, January 28th is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas.  For those of us who have had philosophy as not merely a course of study, but also as a love-- for indeed philosophy literally means a love of wisdom-- today has special meaning as an occasion to celebrate with our bodies and minds one of the most important thinkers not only of mediaeval times, but of all history.

The Dominican friar from Italy was born in 1225 at his family's castle near Aquino.  His life-- spent in service to God through his study of sacred and natural truths-- came to an abrupt end in 1274 when he was en route to the Second Council of Lyon.  Most who would even dare to read the literary and cultural forays on this site no doubt are familiar with the life and virtues of St. Thomas, as such, it seems rather trite for me to go about offering a biography when Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P. has done a finer job than I could ever do.

I suppose then that my task here is to take the great legacy of the Doctor Communis and move forward with it--both in terms of progressing individually in intellect and virtue, and in advancing the greater common good through knowledge of the truth.  Culturally speaking, St. Thomas's philosophy is more than a mere source for metaphysical discussions that have no apparent practical import; rather, his thought is a source of metaphysical principles that help to order the mind and society.  The axiom "good theory begets good practise" comes to mind here.  Though we shouldn't be quick to judge any particular set of principles solely on the practical import it has.  For example, it would be quite incorrect (and hasty) to assert that because person x is a murderer, and person x studied scholastic philosophy that scholastic philosophy leads to the generation of murderers.  There are undoubtedly many facets involved in the generation of a murderer, but we would be false in thinking that scholastic philosophy is necessarily the tipping point.

Good theory is in itself good-- and should be valued precisely because of its goodness.  A holy monk or nun who does God's work by contemplation and prayer with each passing day and night does just as much good work as someone assisting the poor by acts of corporeal service.  Both are different, yet both are good in themselves.  St. Thomas, while known for his practical philosophy (ius naturale, amongst others), is highly regarded for his metaphysical philosophy, which was perhaps largely the result of reconciling St. Augustine's theological system with Aristotle's system of natural philosophy.

Like I said, many reasons to celebrate today.

From a more practical side, however, St. Thomas offers some of the most inspiring thought on the virtues-- in essence his psychological treatises-- which never cease to occupy much of my thought, especially when I consider how I acted in any given moment and how I need to change or do better.  Virtues, as Aristotle said, are habits.  Indeed, when we look at how we act, we can not but help noticing that the good people in our lives are those who often times make it seem easy to be good.  When you think of that Uncle or Grandmother who always seems to be above everything, and always charitable and hopeful, it seems like being good is as easy as simply willing it.  To some extent it is that easy, but we know after reading the Nicomachean Ethics that being good-- or having an excellence about us-- is the repetition of a particular action in tandem with seeing others do the same.  Goodness and virtue can be in born, but for most of us they are the products of hard work, careful introspection...and much criticism.

For the import of culture-- one of the essential matrices-- St. Thomas acts as an underpinning to the co-existence and complementarity between faith and reason.  St. Thomas finds the healthy agreement that exists between a reasonable faith and a believing reason.  Étienne Gilson discussed this fitting together of two supposedly improbable puzzle pieces in his Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages.  While Gilson poses the wide variety of responses to the question of how reason and revelation work together, from Tertullian to St. Bonaventure and Averroes, we are presented ultimately with the figure of St. Thomas who acts as the foundation to a proper understanding of the interrelation between faith and reason. 

Given our contemporaries' fixation on the animosity between the two, St. Thomas is a wonderful source for guidance on the purely Catholic view that reason without faith is hopeless, and faith without reason is dead.  When we abstract faith and act as though reason is an enemy, we are taking away from ourselves an angle and a lens through which we can more clearly see our religion and experience the God Who from the beginning endowed us with the precious ability to think and abstract-- to ponder, wonder, feel, express, and ultimately love.

St. Thomas should be a paragon for our vision of the world: as a place full of wonder and mystery; as an unfolding before our eyes of the Love of God Who not only gave His only Son for our redemption, but the beauty of the cosmos for our enjoyment, for our virtue-- one another for manifestations of His Love-- and all that is for the exhilaration of simple joy that comes from knowing the truth of things.