The Feast Day of St. Thomas Aquinas

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose name I took on the day I was received into the Catholic Church almost 26 years ago.  

It’s hard for me to speak of the Angelic Doctor without gushing — I feel as if I know him personally, I have spent so many hours and years in the presence of his mind and heart as expressed through the mountain of his writing.  

Those of you who have struggled with the seeming complexity of his thought may chuckle at the suggestion of my being choked with emotion on his feast day, but from the very beginning of my encounter with St. Thomas I experienced, not just mentally but physically, the grace he shared with the Church as the Universal Doctor.

As I wrote in my memoir, An American Conversion, it was my first reading of the Summa Theologica as a first-year philosophy professor at a Southern Baptist college in Atlanta that set me on the road to conversion. It wasn’t the proofs for the existence of God — a horrible place to start teaching St. Thomas, by the way — but his explanation of why everything that exists is good.  

Anything that exists is either God or created by God. Now every creature of God is good, says St. Paul. And God himself is supremely good. So everything that exists is good (Ia, 5, 3, sed contra).

What may seem so obvious, and so abstract to most readers, hit a 30-year old who had been reading existentialism since high school right in the solar plexus and lifted his eyes to a redbird singing over his head.  As I wrote in my memoir:

As I turned that phrase over in my mind, “everything that exists is good,” the redbird began to sing, and somehow that phrase was taken up into the bird’s song, and for a moment (I don’t know how long) the bird was singing the saint’s words, the words and the song were one and the same thing (p. 79).

This was not the only time St. Thomas changed my life — in fact, he saved it once. 

In the fall of 1989, I was driving down the Bronx River Parkway, just north of New York City, to attend a new faculty reception at Fordham University.

It was a beautiful fall afternoon, and the parkway, uncharacteristically, was empty, or at least I thought so. I was driving a beat-up Ford Pinto, and not wearing my seat belt, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a car come flying down the road in the lane to my left.

I was driving the speed limit, 45 mph, but the car was going at least double that as it whizzed by me.  For some reason, the driver decided to cut in front of me clipping the left front of my car.  In an instant my car turned 45 degrees to the right, heading directly toward the guard rail. I looked at the speedometer (45 mph), quickly calculating I could not survive, and said goodbye to my wife and my daughter then only 11 months old.

When I hit the guard rail, my car bounced back into the middle of the parkway.  The top of my head hit hard against the window, my chest against the steering wheel, but I remained conscious.  Stunned, I looked around and saw cars coming towards me, but I was unable to move.  

Then I saw the blood.  The door suddenly opened and a soothing voice said, ‘You have a bad cut on your head — we need to put something on it.” (The mirror had virtually scalped me, as it turned out.) The man explained he was an off-duty fireman and grabbed my brand new navy blue cashmere blazer from the back seat and put it on my head.

I cringed at the thought of that jacket being bloodied, so I asked him if he could find something else.  He laughed and found some old towels on the floor of the back seat.

He left me there after wrapping my head, saying an ambulance was on the way. Suddenly I started to feel very cold and sleepy — I was losing consciousness when I heard the siren.  But I was slipping into the darkness. 

The door opened and I was lifted out of the car and placed on a stretcher. I felt myself hoisted into the back of the EMS vehicle.  Then a voice, female and Irish, yelled at me, “You have to get yourself together, NOW!” It felt like a slap in the face.  

I heard myself saying, “Thomas, Thomas, Thomas,” I don’t know why, the name just came to my lips.  Slowly my mind my began to clear, and I opened my eyes — I saw the smiling face belonging to the Irish voice that brought me out of the darkness.  

At the North Central Bronx Hospital my scalp was sewed back on my head. After a few hours, my wife Theresa and a friend, Dr. Dominic Balestra, picked me up and took me home, my head covered with bandages. 

When Hannah was put in my arms, I’ve never felt sweeter tears of gratitude. I thought, I was certain, I would never see her again. 

The next day Theresa went to the wrecking yard to retrieve my belongings from the car. The man at the counter asked if it was her husband who was driving the car.  When she said, “Yes,” he offered his condolences.  She told him I was alive, but banged up, and he was was surprised, but relieved, explaining that usually when cars are that crumpled and there is so much blood…

She brought home a box of books from the car’s back seat. The only book ruined was the one on top, Jean Paul Sartre’s Essays in Existentialism. The irony of Sartre being so soaked in blood it was unreadable did not occur to me until years later.

St. Thomas brought me back to life, to the existence he had taught me was shot through with the inexhaustible goodness of God.  

 

Deal W. Hudson

By

Deal W. Hudson is president of Catholic Advocate, an organization which engages and encourages faithful Catholics to actively participate in the political process to support elected officials and policies that remain consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Formerly publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine for ten years, his articles and comments have been published widely in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and U.S. News and World Report. He has also appeared on TV and radio news shows such as the O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, NBC News, and All Things Considered on National Public Radio. Hudson worked with Karl Rove in coordinating then-Gov. George W. Bush's outreach to Catholic voters in 2000 and 2004. In October 2003, President Bush appointed him a member of the official delegation from the United States to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of John Paul II's papacy. Hudson, a former professor of philosophy for 15 years, is the editor and author of eight books. He tells the story of his conversion from Southern Baptist to Catholic in An American Conversion (Crossroad, 2003), and his latest, Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, was published in March 2008. He is married to Theresa Carver Hudson, also a Baptist convert, and they have two children, Hannah, 21, and Cyprian, 13, who was adopted from Romania in 2001.

  • georgie-ann

    God is SO Good,…(-:

  • Chris

    I love St. Thomas as well. In fact, I love him so much that I named my first son after him! I don’t know if you say the long novena to St. Thomas, but every time I say it I am reminded why I liked him so much in the first place. I forgot to do it this time, but plan on saying it before his old feast of March 7th.

    http://www.pacifier.com/~belisle/forms/novena.pdf

  • Rickson

    Your life has meaning and hence Sartre’s book was destroyed. God can often show us these subtle things in languages only man understands. Thank you for sharing your story, your life

    St. Thomas, Pray for us.

  • georgie-ann

    …not to attempt to divert any of the much merited “lime-light” from St. Thomas Aquinas and his protegees, but i must confess to having a very similar fondness and devotion for St. George,…i really didn’t go looking for it,…it came after me & i really did earnestly resist it for such a looong time, because it was soooo different from who i thought i was,…but i eventually caved & am pretty much delighted (in the Spirit) to have done so,…(going after those dragons gets to be kind of a fun sport after awhile!),…St. Thomas sounds quite sublime by comparison!,…but i’m sure all the Saints work very well together,…

  • Mother of Two Sons

    I have to admit Deal, when you share so intimately about these special moments in your life… so personal… for your journey…two encounters with St. Thomas Aquinas… it restores my hope that perhaps the Church is not all about the intellect. Perhaps Catholics are simply reticent about talking about their encounters with God and his saints. Thank you for daring to share in this very open space; I hope that it will inspire others to reveal the moments in their lives where they had an encounter with God…. that changed their life forever. I believe that God gave us a mind to ask all the questions in the world…. He loves that we would want to explore and understand Him and the Universe He has created…. How irresistible to God when a soul is brought to see His Goodness in His creation…. He longs to be loved, acknowledged and believed by us….. funny, I guess that proves that we are made in His image!
    Choicest blessings to you and yours; I am sure grateful that God did not choose to take you to Himself at that point in time; for I would have never known you on this side and perhaps, InsideCatholic.com might never have been born? You and your staff and guest writers are really providing a special service to the Church and to our Nation!

  • Ted

    I too have had a rather remarkable accident (car upside down with boulder having crushed hood up and damaged engine) in which surviving was a matter of chance inches …. And U. S. Senator Ted Stevens surviving an airplane crash that took his then wife. We are left to wonder why we were spared, for what purpose we still live. It is good and proper to be thankful to the Almighty for what did not happen; it is risky to believe we know why.

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