Let’s look at this week’s Collect, a prayer having a precedent in the 1962MR as the Collect for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost. It was also in the Veronese and Gelasian, ancient sacramentaries both.
COLLECT – (2002MR):
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
da nobis fidei spei et caritatis augmentum,
et ut mereamur assequi quod promittis,
fac nos amare quod praecipis.
LAME-DUCK ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Almighty and ever-living God,
strengthen our faith, hope, and love.
May we do with loving hearts
what you ask of us
and come to share the life you promise.
Almighty eternal God,
grant us an increase of faith, hope and charity,
and cause us to love what You command
so that we may merit to obtain what You promise,
Today we pray to God the Father for an increase of the theological virtues: faith, hope and charity.
First, we have some knowledge of God surpassing what we can know about Him naturally because He reveals it to us (faith). Second, we live by the patient expectation that what we learn and believe God promises will indeed be fulfilled (hope). Third is an affirmative response of love of God, whom we have come to know by faith, and also love of our neighbor (charity).
While natural human virtues are acquired through education and discipline, the three theological virtues faith, hope and charity are given to us by God. They are fused into us with grace at baptism.
Looking at the positive development of the theological virtues, we can say that faith logically precedes hope and charity, and hope precedes charity. From the negative point of view, considering their unraveling and loss, we lose charity first of all, and then hope and, last of all, our faith. Charity is the greatest of the three, followed by hope and then faith.
The theological virtues perfect and elevate everything virtuous thing man can do naturally. They can be considered logically, one at a time, but are all three intimately woven together. St. Augustine (+430) says, “There is no love without hope, no hope without love, and neither love nor hope without faith” (enchir 8). The goal of the virtuous life, as we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1803), is to become like God. Living the theological virtues concretely reveals image of God in us as well as the grace He gives to His adopted children. Today we pray for their increase.
Faith is the starting point for all salvation and meritorious actions. “The righteous shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38). Living faith works through charity. Furthermore, ““faith apart from works is dead” (cf. James 2:14-26). “When faith is deprived of hope and love, it does not fully unite the believer to Christ and does not make him a living member of his Body (CCC 1814).” “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity (CCC 1818).” “The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’” (CCC 1827).
This Sunday we also pray to love what God commands.
Doing what another commands is not always very pleasant. Our wills and passions rebel and we prefer to command rather than be commanded.
It is easy, from the worldly point of view, to think that by being the commander, rather than the commanded, we can find peace. Surely each one of us desires peace and happiness and we seek after the means to attain them. If we attach our hopes to the created, passing things of this world to find peace and happiness we are inevitably disappointed.
All created things, including people, can be lost. They cannot be the foundation of lasting peace. Even the fear of their loss lessens our peace in this world. God alone gives the peace and happiness we seek. He alone is eternal, unchanging, forever trustworthy. We cannot lose God unless we ourselves reject Him. And, in the end, God, the source of peace, remains in command.
In Canto III of the Paradiso of the Divine Comedy the poet Dante is in the Heaven of the Moon. He encounters the soul of Piccarda. Dante queries her about the happiness of the blessed in heaven wondering if somehow, even in heaven, souls might be disappointed that they do not have a higher place in celestial realm.
In response Piccarda utters one of the greatest phrases ever penned and or recited (l. 85):
In His will is our peace. / It is that sea to which all things move, / both what it creates and what nature makes…
We are all made in God’s image and likeness, made to act as God acts. He reveals something of His will to us. When we obey Him we act in accordance with the way He made us and what He intended for us. In obedience we find happiness and peace, even amidst the vicissitudes of this troubling and passing world.
Our Collect prays that we “love what you command”. This is a prayer for happiness. The theological virtues provide the key.
E ‘n la sua volontade è nostra pace. In His will is our peace.