Sunday, March 7th, 2021

‘Locutus est mutus’: a Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent

He had just cast out a devil, which was dumb; and no sooner had the devil gone out than the dumb man found speech. The multitudes were filled with amazement (Luke 11, 14).

One liturgical scholar whom I often quote observes the following:

It is, above all, through the blindness of ignorance that the devil is able to destroy so many souls. Qui ignorant et errant.[1] 

Indeed, the one who does not know, goes astray. We see this demonstrated to us by the speechless demoniac of today’s Gospel. One who cannot speak suffers a certain isolation; he cannot fully communicate the content of his interior life to those around him. He may be able to communicate his basic needs, but he cannot say how he feels or what he thinks—he may exchange no ideas or higher thoughts. All of which is to say, the highest human aspects of his life are severely impaired.   

Contrast the dumb demoniac with what we pray at the end of each Holy Mass: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Man’s ability to speak demonstrates that he is a rational creature; and therefore, a creature open to the truth—indeed, not only open to the truth, but one who cannot live without it. And indeed once again, not only one who is open to the truth, but oriented toward God himself, who is the truth. 

This is why the intellect is the highest, most dignified aspect of human nature; and why, furthermore, there must always been an intellectual component to a mature spiritual life. We must ever be learning, thinking, pondering the works of God that we see all around us. We mustn’t forget that knowledge and understanding are two of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost.   

And if that sounds uncontroversial enough, think again. Or rather, ask yourself what the prevailing opinion of our culture thinks a human being is. Does it prize the things of the intellect above all else?—Rather, we live in a culture that seems to think that the titillation of sense is the highest good of man. Anyone who has spent time on a university campus in the past four decades knows this: most of our centers of higher learning are hardly worth the name.

So no, it is not the spontaneous disposition of our times to cherish the things of the intellect.

Today is the feast of St Thomas Aquinas; and it is false to portray the Doctor of the Schools as a portrait of dry intellectualism. I suspect that is one of the slanders produced by the Protestant revolts of the sixteenth century. He is a mystic; and his life and teaching are rightfully proposed to us as an immense gift to the Church Universal. We know this, among other reasons if nonetheless supremely, because of his ardent love of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

But, given this Sunday’s Gospel, we ought to look at the wordless demoniac as St Thomas might. If being without speech is connected to a profound short-circuiting of the intellectual powers of man, the demoniac is a kind of warning. Willful ignorance speaks for itself as the profound danger it is. We return to our dictum at the beginning of the homily: Qui ignorant, errant. Correctness of thought is not simply an expression of niceness of ideas; it is not meant to give us self-satisfaction or, still less, to give us power over another. Rather, correct perceiving of truth determines everything. After all, it is first with the mind that we apprehend the Credo, which in turn we learn to love. All of this is why St Thomas deserve the high praise and prominence that he receives.

After Our Blessed Lord cast out the dumb spirit, the crowds marveled. And so should we. The good God has done much to banish the darkness of mind which was occasioned by the fall of our first parents, and in which we all here have suffered, one way or another. Image what a truly wonderful thing it is that God is knowable by us.—And which, furthermore, makes this sacred liturgy the wonderful thing that it is. Holy Mass is surely not a scholastic disputation; but it does work on the intellect, and forms the heart—and it is out of this process that we live, just as the liberated demoniac began to live again.

Take these two examples from today’s liturgy. In view of the impending sacrifice, the secret asks that body and mind be sanctified. Moreover, the Lenten preface declares that among the various effects of fasting, the mind is elevated by Christ: ‘Qui corporali ieiunio . . . mentem elevas.’ 

In one of his treatises—On the Two Precepts of Charity—St Thomas has this to say; we give the last word of proof to him:  

Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe, to know what he ought to desire, and to know what he ought to do.[2]


[1] Schuster, The Sacramentary, vol IV, p 40.

[2] The Human Wisdom of St Thomas: a Breviary of Philosophy, arranged by Joseph Pieper, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002; p 55, n 247; cf De duobus præceptis caritatis.

{Art Credit: Illustration from painting by Louis Roux (1877). De Agostini; Biblioteca Ambrosiana; Getty Images.} 

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