“‘Thomas! Thomas!’ two snickering friars called, rousing their brother who was bent over his books. ‘Look out the window—there are pigs flying about in the sky!’ Thomas rose at once and bounced to the window incredulously. The friars laughed. Putting the finishing touch on the jest, the saint responded, ‘I would rather believe that pigs can fly than believe that my brethren could lie.’”
—Sean Fitzpatrick, “Thomas Aquinas’s Secret To Sainthood”
“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.”
St. Thomas Aquinas was a most impressive man by all accounts. He is remembered primarily for his intellectual prowess and extensive writings, but one of his greatest qualities was in fact his incredible humility. Even in the midst of theological debate, when others would disagree with him, he was never known to say an unkind word to anyone and was gracious even toward his enemies. He never let pride take root within him, and as a consequence he was sometimes mocked for his innocence and naïveté. The quote above describes an instance where other friars, in a mean-spirited sort of way, tricked him so that they could laugh at his gullibility. Weaker men might have responded in anger, or by despairing in themselves and believing the mockery of others. But Thomas was grounded in the word of God, and therefore he was not inclined to turn to anger or resentment but rather appeal to a sense of brotherhood. God gave Thomas the strength to turn the other cheek, and in his own goodness and innocence he modeled a Christlike attitude toward others.
This lesson can be hard to remember when we find ourselves in situations like the one Thomas was in. What happens when we put our trust in others, when we see them as brothers and sisters in Christ—and they let us down? What happens when they respond to our generosity with greed, to our meekness with arrogance, to our mercy with guile?
While it is difficult and humbling to find that someone else has broken our trust, we cannot let it keep us from trusting anyone again. We can be smart in our interactions with others and we can separate ourselves from people who we know to be negative influences on us, but we don’t need to be hard-hearted, and we cannot dwell on how we have been wronged. If we find ourselves becoming cynical or jaded, we need to turn to Christ for healing, remember that only He can truly read our hearts and those of others, and reclaim a sense of joy. And if we find ourselves discouraged, we must not despair: for even Christ Himself put His trust in a man who ultimately betrayed him. It is not our fault if others choose to take advantage of us in our kindness. The God of Justice oversees all that we keep hidden, and it is not for us to settle the score.
These experiences can make us smarter in dealing with future situations, but they should not scare us away from being charitable, from assuming the best of others and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, we are called to follow the will of God, to love our neighbor, and to make ourselves humble—trusting that whatever the consequences in this life, we are doing what is right. Often, when we show kindness and empathy towards others even in difficult situations, we soften their own hearts. We cannot allow the negative actions of a few to sour us toward everyone—instead, we must embrace the radiant joy of Christ in all circumstances and spread it to all those we meet. Gradually, we will learn to be as shrewd as serpents, but we must take care to maintain the innocence and sincerity of a dove—and we can always remember to pray to the ever-humble St. Thomas Aquinas to guide us along the way.