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Father Thomas Joseph White, O.P. is one of the youngest professors at the Pontifical Academy of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., the seminary[…]

Dominican Friar Thomas Joseph White talks about two of his heroes: a medieval spiritual pioneer and a modern literary icon

Question: Who are your heroes?

Thomas Joseph White: You know, it's funny when you ask about a hero for a Christian or especially for a religious - you know, of course, that's a word from a Greek pagan background and it suggests a kind of triumph of the human spirit. So I suppose the right answer for me would be to say St. Augustine, because in Augustine there is a great humility about the fact that we really only accomplish great things with God's grace. That's a very fundamental attitude from a point of view of a priest in a religious [calling] - that with God many great things are possible, but without him we can't do very much.

Of course, one can see all of the great triumphs of human spirit in arts or in culture and sports and that kind of thing. But I mean Augustine had the humility; he was the most brilliant man of his generation in the fourth century. He had the humility to turn himself over radically to God and to put his mind and his heart at the service of very simple people in Hippo in North Africa where he was Bishop and to spend his life as a servant. He gave up a great career in law and politics and in Rome to pursue the gift of himself to other people. That was a lowliness he could only acquire by grace.

Question: How did Flannery O’Connor inspire you?

Thomas Joseph White: Oh, I think Flannery O'Connor is a very deeply spiritual theological voice. She said in one of her letters that she's writing stories about how people receive grace who don't have sacraments. And she studies St. Thomas Aquinas' thought and in St. Thomas' sacrament is a sign and instrument of God's grace - a visible sign and agent. So in Flannery O'Connor, what you have is a world people described as grotesque but it's a world in which God's grace is being communicated as almost as if by violence, sometimes through violence, in signs that are instrumental. And the whole world becomes a kind of epiphany of the mystery of human sin but also the human capacity to love transformed by God and really radiant with the glory of Christ.

There is an amazing depth to her fiction. Of course I'm Georgian so I am prejudiced about that, I think.

Recorded on: August 20, 2009