‘love, real love, divine, unconditional love, actually happens in human lives’

It is true. “Love, real love, divine, unconditional love, actually happens in human lives.” I know this is true, in part, because I had a teacher when I was an undergraduate at the Catholic University of America who radiated it.

He was Fr. Kurt Pritzl, who taught philosophy, generosity, faith, and love. He taught fortitude.

Fr. Pritzl, a Dominican priest from Wisconsin, died of cancer in 2011 and I’ve never seen the crypt church at Mary’s shrine by Catholic U so full — with people — and so full of love and gratitude.

It dawned on me on the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, that there is a homily of his only from this feast day, just the year before he died, in that same crypt church. He talked about the university and the intellectual achievements of this great Dominican saint. And then emphasized the saintliness and our call to the same. Fr. Pritzl said:

Yes–Thomas Aquinas is one of the few thinkers whose intellectual genius is of perennial importance—we can hold a symposium for that. He is something more, something more profound, more worthy, more essential to all that matters. He is a saint.

Thomas Aquinas, in all gentleness and humility, responded fully to the grace of God. He knew and lived what the Book of Wisdom says: “For [God] is the guide of Wisdom and the director of the wise. For both we and our words are in his hand, as well as all prudence and knowledge of crafts.” And whatever Thomas learned was gained as a gift by the prayer and pleading for “prudence” and “the spirit of wisdom” that is preferable to scepter and throne, riches, health and good looks, just as our passage from the Book of Wisdom tells us.

Jesus teaches that all his faithful, listening disciples are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” in imitation of their Lord, who is the salt and the light. Many unlettered followers of the Lord, rather than university professors, have been genuine salt and light in this world of ours. Thomas Aquinas, as an unfailing disciple, is salt and light in this same way, and especially for us in the university. As Saint Thomas Aquinas we know him not just through his writings. We have him as a friend and patron, someone we can count to be with us and guide us, through the communion of saints, where the separations of earthly life and eternal life are transcended.

And so we as a university community celebrate Saint Thomas Aquinas today. We praise and thank God for his sanctity, a sanctity that saturates his learning. We ask Saint Thomas to intercede for us, that we may become disciples, just as he was, so that we might become students, just as he was, whatever and however we seek the truth in our various studies and fields of inquiry.

A university may not be an achievement of civilization as a symphony orchestra is, but then again, maybe it can be. Saint Thomas Aquinas’ thought champions the unity and integration of all truth and shows the way to harmonize the array of learning and to harmonize faith and reason. Saint Thomas Aquinas’ life in its holiness shows us that love, real love, divine, unconditional love, actually happens in human lives. God grant that it happen in our lives, even in our lives here together in this university, for as long as we are granted to stay here.

Dear Fr. Pritzl still teaches us. To live in and give and seek only real, divine love. It actually happens. Christ died to make it so.

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