Life & Soul

We don’t merit God’s gifts – but we still have a role to play

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In the traditional Roman calendar Pre-Lent is under way. This Sunday is Sexagesima. In the newfangled calendar it is the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The upcoming Collect is founded on a prayer from the 8th-century, Liber sacramentorum Gellonensis:

Deus, qui te in rectis et sinceris manere pectoribus asseris, da nobis tua gratia tales exsistere, in quibus habitare digneris.

Pectus signifies a range of things from “the breast bone, chest”, “stomach” and therefore moral concepts like “courage” and other “feelings, dispositions”. It also refers to the “spirit, soul, mind, understanding”. In the ancient world, the heart was thought to be the seat also of the mind and understanding, not just of feelings and emotions. We can translate rectis et sinceris pectoribus as “upright and pure hearts”. Exsisto, “to step out, emerge”, is also “spring forth, proceed, arise, become”.

It also means “to be visible or manifest in any manner, to exist, to be”.

Literal rendering: “O God, who declared that You remain in upright and pure hearts, grant us to manifest ourselves to be, by Your grace, the sort of people in whom You deign to abide.”

Current full ICEL translation (2011): “O God, who teach us that you abide in hearts that are just and true, grant that we may be so fashioned by your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to you.”

They did a backflip to avoid using the word “deign”. We need more “deigning” in our prayers.

In today’s Collect the distinction between “be” and “show forth” is tissue thin. We must be on the outside what we are inside. Or rather, outwardly pious and practising Christians must be sincerely and truly on the inside what we strive to show on the outside.

Are “inward” and “outward” in harmony? With baptism the Holy Spirit enters our lives in the manner of one coming to dwell in a temple. With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit comes habitual or sanctifying grace and all His gifts and fruits. We manifest His presence outwardly when He is present within. When we don’t see the gifts and fruits outwardly, there is an interior problem. We do not merit the gift of God’s indwelling and yet, mysteriously, we still have a role to play in His deigning to dwell in our souls. We make choices about our lives.

“The sort of people in whom you have deigned to dwell”. Think about that.