Yesterday, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Thomas More College was privileged to host a lecture by Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P, which brought to a close the semester’s Traditio series. Developing out of the Humanities curriculum, the Traditio seminars involve the entire academic community and focus on a common reading with central themes such as Love, War, and Nature. This semester’s series focused on the theme of Justice. Beginning with the College’s patron, students read William Roper’s Life of Sir Thomas More, followed by Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Hilaire Belloc’s Essay on the Distribution of Property. the College turned to a particular form of virtue often overlooked by contemporary society: chastity. In accord with the day’s feast, on December 9th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Fr. Cessario delivered a lecture entitled “The Immaculate Conception and Chastity.”
“According to St. Thomas,” began Fr. Cessario, “chastity brings about the tranquility necessary for the contemplation of truth.” Under six points, he proceeded to explain how the Immaculate Conception relates to justice, original sin, and the Church’s practice of devotion to Mary. “Lust, etymologically speaking, is not in itself a bad thing” he said. The problem, rather, lies in the disordered relations of pleasure and desire caused by a defect in the human will and intellect: in other words, sin. Commenting on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, Fr. Cessario noted that there seems to be an inverse relationship between the degree of sin and the attendant shame. While injustice is graver than, say, having a few drinks too many, most people are willing to admit that they were unjust before they would admit to being intoxicated. The problem of disordered appetites also extends to the intellectual life, because what is desired influences what is thought. As Fr. Cessario went on to say, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary is a bodily prefigurement of the Redemption. Mary’s purity does not place her on a pedestal, but is given for the sake of others—both because she is the Mother of the Savior, and because she is an exemplar of virtue. Devotion to her, Fr. Cessario said, leads to chastity through an adjustment of thinking, and above all through prayer.
Following the lecture, Fr. Cessario joined the faculty and students in the College’s Chapel for a Solemn Vespers service, concluding with a prayer entrusting the College to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Fr. Cessario currently serves as Professor of Systematic Theology at St. John Seminary, Brighton, MA. He also is Senior Editor of Magnificat and Associate Editor of The Thomist. Fr. Cessario holds a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), and has written extensively on St. Thomas Aquinas, theology, and the spiritual life. Suffice it to say, the opportunity to hear from such a redoubtable scholar and priest was eagerly taken up.