Life & Soul

Before God, we are hope-filled beggars

The Collect for the 18th Ordinary Sunday was not in any previous edition of the Missale Romanum. It is a grammatically simplified version of a prayer in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary. Similar vocabulary is found in the works of Cicero (d 43 BC), St Ambrose of Milan (d 397) and St Augustine (d 430). Holy Church and surrounding cultures have interwoven through history. When what the world has to give to the Church is given logical priority, false inculturation produces ruin. When what the Church has to give to the world is prioritised inculturation produces riches:

Adesto, Domine, famulis tuis, et perpetuam benignitatem largire poscentibus, ut his, qui te auctorem et gubernatorem gloriantur habere, et grata restaures, et restaurata conserves.

Adesto is the “future” imperative of adsum, “to be present”. By logical extension adsum means “to be present with one’s aid”. “Adsum!” is the famous response raised during rites ordination to Holy Orders. That’s the true moment of the technical term “vocation”, the calling. It is the affirmation of the ordinands’ inklings, convictions, aspirations.

Speaking of terms, at this time of year technical vocabulary (eg, military, agricultural, judicial) informs our orations. Last week we saw dux (“leader, guide, commander”) and rector (“ruler, leader, governor; helmsman”). This week we see gubernator, “a steersman, pilot” or “a ruler, governor”. Prayers for this time of the year were gleaned from different seasons in ancient sources, and grouped together. This must have been a conscious choice.

Current ICEL translation (2011): “Draw near to your servants, O Lord, and answer their prayers with unceasing kindness, that, for those who glory in you as their Creator and guide, you may restore what you have created and keep safe what you have restored.”

The cold reality of our neediness is today masterfully juxtaposed with the warming, reassuring confidence we find in God’s presence. Note well our unequal statuses in this relationship. On the one hand, God, our eternal and kind Creator, directs our paths and bestows gifts. He can be present to us. On the other hand, we servants are needy seekers. Some of us lose God’s favours by withdrawing from Him. We are incomplete until He restores us.

The humble recognition of our status in this covenant between unequals is the key to everything we receive or regain. We hope-filled beggars are never so authentically who we are than when we are down on our knees.

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