In the traditional Roman calendar this Sunday is called Sexagesima, Latin for the “Sixtieth” day before Easter. These three purple-draped Sundays of pre-Lent encourage us to prepare for the discipline to come. In the Novus Ordo of Paul VI there is no more pre-Lent, a real loss. The Roman Station is the Major Basilica of St Paul “Outside the Walls”.
Collect: “Deus, qui conspicis, quia ex nulla nostra actione confidimus: concede propitius; ut, contra adversa omnia, Doctoris gentium protectione muniamur.”
Literal translation: “O God, You who perceive that we confide in no action of our own, propitiously grant: that we may be fortified against every adverse thing by the protection of the Doctor of the Gentiles.”
This ancient prayer explicitly refers to St Paul, the Doctor of the Gentiles. Few orations display such an intimate connection with where the day’s Mass was celebrated in Rome. The Epistle from Mass is from 2 Corinthians 11 and 12. Paul presents a portrait of how we must live, the challenge we face as Christians. The sufferings and the “thorn” God gave Paul in his flesh helped him to humility, self-emptying, reliance on His Lord. Here is a dose of reality about who we are and who we are not.
Sunday’s Gospel is Christ’s parable about the sower of seeds. Again, we have a reality check. Some seeds make it. Many do not. It is our own disposition that makes the difference, not the seed that the Sower sows in us. “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur … Whatever is received is received according to the mode of receiver.” The Host we dare to receive at Mass is the seed which Christ the High Priest endeavours to sow in us. St Paul teaches us in stern terms about the reception of the Eucharist by the worthy and the unworthy. We are in control of our disposition to receive what God offers.
But wait. What did we pray in our Collect? We put no trust in anything we do. Paul recounted the highlights of his journeys, but in the end he is left with humility and complete reliance on God. St Thérèse of Lisieux puts it this way: “When comes the evening of life, I shall stand before Thee with empty hands, because I do not ask Thee, my God, to take account of my works. All our works of justice are blemished in Thine Eyes.”