January 28, 2015

The Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

I would guess that most Catholics look at the sanctity of St. Thomas Aquinas as primarily an intellectual charism, given that he was the greatest Christian intellectual of the Middle Ages, a period of over 800 years.

I had viewed St. Thomas in this way, ever since the first day I read from the Summa Theologica, accelerating my journey into the Catholic Church. The day I “met” Aquinas, so to speak, was in the spring of 1980. In February 1984, I was received into the Church taking the name “Tommaso” in tribute to the saint who had opened my eyes to the truth, and truths, of our faith.

Five years later I would learn that the sanctity of St. Thomas extended far beyond the teaching that designed the architecture of all subsequent Catholic philosophy and theology.

The Bronx River Parkway

The Bronx River Parkway

It was a beautiful September afternoon in 1989, and I was driving south on the Bronx River Parkway to the new faculty reception at Fordham University. Not being in a hurry, I was driving in the middle lane below the speed limit. It was around 3pm, and the traffic was very light.

Out of the corner of my eye, in the side view mirror, I saw a car coming very fast in the lane to my left. Just as the car passed me, it swerved in front of me — I assume the driver was trying to impress me with his driving skill. Well, the driver failed to execute his “manly” maneuver; his car clipped the front left fender of my mine, turning my car 45 degrees to the right and hurtling towards a steel guard rail.

I looked at the rail and my speedometer, which read 40 mph, and said “goodbye” to my wife Theresa and my sixteen-month old daughter Hannah. Since I wasn’t wearing a seat belt, I knew I would not survive the impact.

My car hit the guard rail and bounced backwards into the middle of the parkway. As the car came to rest, I was amazed that I was still conscious, though blood was streaming down my face and onto my (brand new!) sport coat. I sat completely dazed as other cars whizzed around me.

I was starting to lose consciousness when the door opened and a off-duty firefighter started to take care of me, applying pressure to the deep wound in my scalp. He apologized telling me he had to leave but assured me an EMS vehicle was on its way. I was left feeling afraid and vulnerable, but within a minute I heard the sound of an ambulance approaching.

But once again, I was losing consciousness and feeling cold.

The door opened again and I felt myself being lifted out of the car, placed on a stretcher, and put into the back of the vehicle. Everything was going dark when I heard a woman’s voice, with a strong Irish accent yelling in my face, “You’ve got to get yourself together, now!” Her voice brought me back to consciousness. Then, I found myself whispering, “Thomas, Thomas, Thomas…..”

After repeating his name, my mind cleared, my body lost its chill, and I started conversing as if nothing serious had happened.

It was a quick ride to the North Central Bronx Hospital, where after several hours of waiting, a female resident freshly arrived from Mississippi, applied double stitches to my scalp, which was almost removed, and the deep cuts in my forehead. Her Southern accent was reassuring though I was shocked when she told me I was being sent home the same day.

Later that evening Theresa arrived to take me home. When she put baby Hannah was put in my arms I broke down, uncontrollably, remembering I had said “goodbye” to her and her mother only a few hours earlier.

As the days passed and the details of the accident on the Bronx River Parkway became more vivid to me, I realized that I owed my life to Irish lass in the EMS vehicle and the saint whose presence I spontaneously implored. Her’s was the voice that pierced the darkness making way for the Angelic Doctor to shine through.