Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Robbing the saints

Today I ran across one of the most powerful quotes from today's saint, Thomas Aquinas. In response to the question about what he needed, he is said to have said, "Naught but thee, O Lord."

The quote incapsulates where we should all strive to be in life, to reach the point where all we truly long for is oneness with God,

What I found disturbing was the translation. Naught but thee, O Lord. Who talks like that? Certainly never Thomas Aquinas. He was born in the 13th century Kingdom of Sicily. Italy and the Italian language wouldn't exist for another 500 years. He would have spoken Sicilian, heavily influenced by Arabs, the French, the Germans who ruled in his youth, and then the Catalan of Aragon. While he would have been well educated in Latin, and the vernacular spoken in Paris where he went to school, his mother tongue would have remained Sicilian.

I say all this because the tendency to translate the saints into an antiquated and pretentious sounding English is one more way we rob them of their humanity. We lift them so high that they hardly seem like us at all. We forget that Mary is the only saint preserved from original sin. The rest are all ordinary people like us who had to grow in fits and starts, struggle and learn, sin and ask forgiveness. They all failed. Many faced extreme rejection. Some went through profoundly dark periods in their lives.

What made them saints was not the perfect quality of their lives but the fact that through it all, the clung to the Lord. In the face of adversity instead of abandoning their faith they held on even tighter.

We think of St. Thomas Aquinas and we think of great theology. But he himself described that as "so much straw" in comparison to what he knew God to really be.

Was St. Thomas smart? Yes. But I think if he were with us today he would want to be remembered not for his intellect but for his faith, and the deep personal relationship he developed with Jesus.

And to all the Sicilians, Happy feast day. I would say it in your language but

Iu unn parru sicilianu. (I don't speak Sicilian)