17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 24, 2016
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.
O God, protector of those who hope in you, … bestow in abundance your mercy upon us” (Collect).
You know, of course, that about 5 years ago we started using a new form of the Roman Missal at Mass, with a heavily revised translation of all the prayers, a translation that’s more literal, more formal, and—truth be told—more accurate than what we had in the Sacramentary of 1970. This new translation’s also harder to follow, often harder for priests to proclaim, and harder to understand at times.
The collects, which we used to call the “opening prayers,” are particularly challenging. Take for example the one we prayed today.
Like all the collects, it has 3 parts: a statement of some attribute of God, a petition, and an intercessory conclusion—the part that usually begins, “Thru our Lord Jesus Christ….”
In the 1st part of today’s prayer, we call God the “protector of those who hope in you.” We all want protection, of course. We want national security. We want safe highways. We have government rules to protect us like building codes and food inspection. In this part of the country, we’re likely to have a tornado shelter; that’s a new one to me—where I grew up, we needed hurricane shelters. But the collect isn’t looking to God in the sense of physical safety, but rather in the sense of the next line: “without [you] nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy.”
We look to God, we trust in God, we hope in God (as the prayer indicates) as the foundation of our lives. We need to be grounded in God, to base our lives on God: on his 10 commandments, the beatitudes, a warm and loving relationship with him who loves us more than we can imagine—so much that he became our flesh and blood and lived among us, and left us his flesh and blood to nourish us and transform us into his flesh and blood.
Nothing is holy without God. No one is holy without him. The goal of our entire existence is holiness, i.e., life with God, eternal life. As Jesus asks, “What does it profit someone to gain the entire world but to forfeit himself?” (Luke 9:25). Only God can protect us from what threatens our holiness, which is temptation and sin. In the last line of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, we pray to be delivered “from the final test”; that’s a prayer for protection. Only he can extend to us the mercy that restores us to holiness when we do sin.
And in fact, that’s the 1st gift we pray for from God today as we come to the 2d part of the collect, the petition: “bestow in abundance your mercy upon us.” We need forgiveness and guidance and strength to walk with Jesus in this earthly life with all its distractions and falsehoods. We depend on God’s mercy and not on our own wisdom or power to live virtuously or to return to the right path after we’ve strayed from it. Jesus himself is our assurance that the merciful Father truly desires this. Defending his decision to stay at the home of the tax collector Zacchaeus, he explains, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
|By Gunnar Bach Pedersen - Own work (Own photo)(Randers Museum of Art, Randers, Denmark), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1428023|
We will find a firm foundation for our lives and holiness in him who created us in his own image; who put into our hearts an unquenchable thirst for himself: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions.
In today’s gospel (Luke 11:1-13), Jesus teaches his disciples to pray—Luke’s version of the Our Father, just a little different from Matthew’s (6:9-13), which is the version we’re more familiar with. When we pray that God’s kingdom may come (Luke 11:2), aren’t we praying that he be our ruler and guide? We want to be citizens of his kingdom in this life and, of course, in the future life; and we hope, we pray, that every single person will be part of that great kingdom, the new Jerusalem that Revelation 21 speaks of so glowingly.
We need God’s guidance on our way to the heavenly city; guidance in making choices that honor God as our ruler. So our collect asks God our protector to help us “use the good things that pass in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that endure.”
The created world is full of good things! On the 6th day, God reviewed all that he had made and found it “very good” (Gen 1:31). Family life is one of the greatest blessings of this life. Food and drink are good. One’s native country is good. Self-esteem is good. The woods and the fields, the mountains and the lakes are good. Air conditioning is very good! Recreation is good. The arts and sciences are good. This list could get really long!
Lake Skenonto, Harriman State Park, N.Y.
August 31, 2008
Rather, we strive to use God’s good gifts for good purposes: to honor him, to assist our brothers and sisters, to keep our lives in harmony; e.g., to enjoy recreation without neglecting our responsibilities as parents, students, or workers; to celebrate our sexuality within the context of hetero marriage; to spend money on what we need while sharing our surplus with the poor; to use our artistic or scientific talents in ways that respect human life and dignity; and so on.
In short, we strive to use God’s good but passing things “in such a way as to hold fast even now to those [good things] that ever endure.” St. Paul tells us there are 3 things that last: faith, hope, and charity (1 Cor 13:13). Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Store up treasures in heaven, whether neither moth nor decay destroy, nor thieves break in and steal” (Matt 6:20)—the treasure of our relationship with God (remember last week how Mary chose the better part by sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him? [Luke 10:42]); the treasure of our care for one another (2 weeks ago we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan with its command to go and do likewise [Luke 10:29-37]). For the honor that we give to God and the good that we do to our sisters and brothers will endure into eternity.
May God in his abundant mercy guide us in our choices and our doings.