Collect 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Some less than doctrinally-minded Christians are under the false impression that Catholics think we can “earn” our way to heaven by our own good works, as if our good works had their own merit apart from God.

Catholics believe that true good works always have their origin in God, but the works are truly our works as well, since we cooperate with God in performing them.  Therefore, having their origin and purpose in God, they merit the reward of God’s promises.

Whenever we find a reference to works in our liturgical prayers, do not forget the Catholic understanding of good works.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
dirige actus nostros in beneplacito tuo,
ut in nomine dilecti Filii tui
mereamur bonis operibus abundare

This our Sunday Collect was in both the 1962 Missale Romanum and the 8th century Liber sacramentorum Engolismensis for Sunday in the Octave of Christmas.

Beneplacitum means “good pleasure, gracious purpose”.  In the Vulgate beneplacitum translates the original Greek eudokia in, e.g., Eph 1:9; 1 Cor 10:5.  Other phrases are used for eudokia too (e.g., bona voluntas in Luke 2:14, the famous “peace on earth to men of good will” or “peace on earth good will toward men”).  Paul wrote eudokia at the beginning of 2 Thessalonians (1:11-12), rendered as voluntas bonitatis in the Vulgate:

… we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfill every good resolve (omnem voluntatem bonitatis) and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (RSV).

Abundo means, “to overflow with any thing, to have an abundance or superabundance of, to abound in.”  In that preposition in with the ablative indicating place or location in space (in beneplacito tuo) we have an image of our good works originating in God and, coming from Him, overflowing out to and from us.

Almighty eternal God,
direct our actions in your gracious purpose,
so that in the name of Thy beloved Son,
we may merit to abound with good works

All-powerful and ever-living God,
direct your love that is within us,
that our efforts in the name of your Son
may bring mankind to unity and peace

Almighty ever-living God,
direct our actions according to your good pleasure,
that in the name of your beloved Son
we may abound in good works

From before time and the universe were created, God knew each one of us.  Of all the possible universes He could have created, He chose to create this one, into which He fashioned us at the precise moment He foresaw we would be needed in His plan.  Along with existence, He gives us work to do, and offers the graces to do it.  When we cooperate, we “abound” because of God’s action within us through the good works He makes meritorious.  They overflow from us because of His generosity.

St. Augustine of Hippo (d 430), working against the errors of Pelagianism, wrote in a monumentally important letter to the Roman priest Sixtus (later Pope Sixtus in 432):

“What merit, then, does a man have before grace, by which he might receive grace, when our every good merit is produced in us only by grace and when God, crowning our merits, crowns nothing else but his own gifts to us?” (ep. 194, 5, 19).

To abound, we must bow and we must bend.

When we bend our will to God’s will and plan, especially as manifested through the teachings and disciplines of Holy Church, we lose nothing of our selves or our prized “freedom”.  In fact we become freer in our self-fettering to God.

Picking up a theme Pope John Paul II presented from the beginning of his pontificate, “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!”, Pope Benedict said in April 2005 during his homily for the Inaugural Mass of his pontificate:

“Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? …  No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Subdeacon Joseph says:


  2. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    Synergia. I wrote the above in Greek. Will not do that again. [You can post Greek and other language characters using a code converter first.]

  3. Supertradmum says:

    Thank you, Father, for this wonderful meditation. I needed to here this today, as the theme of my prayer is trusting totally in God. Thank you.

  4. NoTambourines says:

    Home run, Fr. Z. That is exactly the struggle I’m trying to work through (and not in the sense of “Well, I’ve struggled with this…”!).

    When I was younger, I was afraid if I listened too hard to God, he might, you know, make me be a nun or something (*insert horror movie music — dum-dum-daaaaaaah!). I had plans, dang it! I don’t see that happening for about 600 reasons (still wouldn’t mind getting married one of these days), but I guess not reacting with horror at the specter of, you know, God’s will, means I’ve grown up a bit since high school.

    The hollowness of earthy success is a wake-up call. After the buzz of finishing school and landing a job wears off, there is the sense of, “great, who and what did I do all this for?” It’s like if the coyote ever caught the roadrunner. Then what? You realize the temporary purpose you’ve taken on isn’t your permanent purpose. And so where Fr. Z says, “To abound, we must bow and we must bend,” that hits home. Even in the best of outcomes (and God has been very kind there), doing things “my way” hasn’t brought peace or security, or even a durable sense of satisfaction.

  5. Girgadis says:

    The problem I struggle with is how to reach those who do not even acknowledge God’s existence but insist they’re on the right path because they perform acts of charity or kindness. Good works by those unwilling to recognize the Creator are empty. It’s like taking a day’s worth of hard-earned wages and throwing them in the fire.

  6. Bea says:

    So true, Girgadis.
    Even Atheists can be charitable.
    Without God there is no merit, only works that profit but one’s own satisfaction and coat us with a sense of “I’m OK” therefore impeding our true search for God and Truth.
    I kind of sense these temptations of “good works” are sent by Satan to impede our search for our True Destiny, which is to do God’s Will even when the world misjudges our intentions and it appears that what we do is wrong.

  7. acardnal says:

    I’m sorry, Fr. Z, but I cannot make out what the photograph is that you have at the top of this blog post????? Help! Anyone. . . .

  8. DLe says:

    acardnal: It appears a glass overflowing with an abundance of water.

    I myself have a question, Father, coming from my very limited understanding of Latin so far: what form of the ablative does “bonis operibus” take? I don’t see a “cum” to correspond for the “with,” so is this a preposition-less indication by the ablative? Thank you in advance!

  9. Um… folks… NOBODY can do good works without receiving, and responding affirmatively to, an impulse from God. Therefore, atheists and jerks who do good works are receiving grace from God and responding by doing the will of God, WHETHER THEY KNOW IT OR NOT.

    (Sorry to shout, but this is very important. And kind of insulting to God and to them, to ignore and denigrate what He’s doing with them.)

    Now, would it be better if they had fuller knowledge and fuller love of God? Of course!

    Is it sad that the Devil or their own pride tricks them into thinking they’re better than they are? Of course!

    But is any teensy-tiny “yes” to God going to go to waste? No, never! God’s infinitely generous in accepting our tiniest yes. He wants more than that, and we should all keep trying to get atheists to want better for themselves. But God can work with very unpromising beginnings, as long as that little itty bitty “yes” is still there.

  10. albinus1 says:

    The celebrant of the EF Mass I attended earlier today linked the leper’s request to Jesus in the Gospel — if you are willing, you can cleanse me — to approaching Jesus for forgiveness in Confession. Just as Jesus cleansed the leper’s body of his affliction, so too will Jesus cleanse our souls of our sins in Confession, if we approach him and ask him. I thought it was a very nice use use of the Gospel reading to encourage frequent Confession.

    DLe: Your question sent me to Allen & Greenough’s New Latin Grammar. It feels like an ablative of means to me, but I wanted to check to be sure. As it turns out, it is indeed an ablative of means: “The ablative of means is used with verbs and adjectives of filling, abounding, and the like.” (AG 409 a)

  11. flyin111rich says:

    Wow, Blessed JPII… How I wish I’d paid attention more when he was alive. It is so close to the bone.

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