By Denise Trull
Some dreams die hard.
I have always secretly longed to be a “soiree lady,” whose home would be a destination for intellectuals to come and discuss, play music, read their poetry aloud, drink tea, sip wine, and expound; you know, the sort of thing that happens in gorgeous Russian novels. It’s a lovely dream, but, alas, I think it is safe to say it is not going to happen. I do not think I was ever in possession of that certain cache needed to be the hostess of the cultural elite. Not for want of wishing but, alas, it seems a dream just out of reach.
It isn’t something I lament on a daily basis, mind you, but today's saint has brought the thought back to the surface of my mind. St. Albert the Great, you see, was always on my dream guest list.
St. Albert was a savant of sorts - like Hildegard. Always thinking, asking, discussing, watching, writing about anything and everything under the sun. He probably had plants in various stages of growth on his windowsills, a frog, bird, or pet fox somewhere in there that he could observe to his heart's content.
He was probably distracted by clouds and weather while someone was trying to talk to him about mundane things like lunch. He was a student first and then a teacher. He designed a whole curriculum for the young men studying to become Dominicans, his own beloved, chosen community. He was a glorious, golden Medieval Man fully alive - to the glory of God, that is. And I wanted him at my soiree.
But Albert was a saint most of all and I don't think he would have been comfortable with a tea cup in hand expounding about anything. I think Albert would have been more comfortable knocking on my back door and sitting at my kitchen table with a large, strong cup of coffee remarking how distinctively the cream curled when you poured it in. And why was that? That is why I love him. He would have come even if I wasn’t a soiree lady.
Albert was someone who did not fit the pseudo-intellectual "mold." He saw truth everywhere. He saw great intellects where there were supposed to be none. When all the young Dominican monks, no doubt filled with some self importance of being in the know, of being the up and coming minds to look out for - laughed at the large, lumbering, silent guy over there in the corner and glibly called him the "Dumb Ox,” Albert recognized a genius there in young, lumbering Friar Thomas. It was to Thomas Aquinas he would entrust his cherished notes and thoughts on Aristotle and Averroes when all the intellectuals of his time were scandalized that he would even entertain the ideas of a pagan Greek or a Muslim.
Albert was no snob. Albert was a searcher of truth. It is what he did day and night. God asked this of him. He bequeathed his legacy to Thomas. Albert is why we even have the philosophy of Aristotle to delight in today - because he saw great intellectual suns everywhere and brought them to shed light in the Church.
He had a short stint as a bishop. His people took to calling him "Boots the Bishop" because he refused to ride around his diocese like a prince on a horse. He walked everywhere. And probably got waylaid by plants, flowers, and other natural wonders on the way.
I think Albert was probably an eccentric delight who shone so brightly people couldn't help but call him great. But never because he was an "intellectual." He had no affectations, no ideas on what intellectuals were supposed to be like, no prejudices. And that is why he was known as a Doctor of the Church. For Wisdom - not preening.
They say he lost his memory toward the end of his life. What a cross to bear for one like him. But bear it he did. And even when he could not remember anything he had taught before, he was loved and cherished by his brother Dominicans nonetheless. For it was love that made him great, humility that they embraced in him.
There is a beautiful science building at my lovely Alma Mater, Thomas Aquinas College, named after St. Albert the Great. His wonderful statue sits out front as if to tell the students entering there: think, ponder, ask, question, never assume you have all the answers, look for them in all the unsuspected places - delight, always delight in knowledge and do not use it as a costume to parade about in. Be humble before your God. And always go where you are invited whether there be a soiree lady or not.
Wonderful St. Albert, pray for us.