WDTPRS 3rd Sunday after Easter (TLM): Every Catholic is called to evangelize

In the midst of chaos, we need to bring our minds to the work at hand, our work of sacred liturgy, the renewal of which is our only hope for true revitalization of the Church.

This Sunday’s Collect survived the knives of the liturgical experts and was inserted into the 1970 Missale Romanum on the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The redactors who glued the Novus Ordo together, however, removed the word iustitiae, thus returning it to the form it had in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary. Other ancient sacramentaries, such as the Liber sacramentorum Gellonensis as well as the Augustodunensis had the iustitiae. In any event, by the time St. Pius V issued the the Missale Romanum of 1570, which I am sure you have on hand, someone had seen fit to make it read, “in viam possint redire iustitiae”, which endured until the 1970MR and subsequent editions.

COLLECT (1962MR):

Deus, qui errantibus, ut in viam possint redire iustitiae, veritatis tuae lumen ostendis, da cunctis qui christiana professione censentur, et illa respuere, quae huic inimica sunt nomini, et ea quae sunt apta sectari.

Stylistically snappy! It has nice alliteration and a powerful rhythm in the last line.

I think there is a trace here of John 14, which I will show you below. Can we also find a connection between this Collect in a phrase from the Roman statesman Cassiodorus (+c. 585 – consul in 514 and then Boethius’ successor as magister officiorum under the Ostrogothic King Theodoric)? Cassiodorus wrote, “Sed potest aliquis et in via peccatorum esse et ad viam iterum redire iustitiae? … But can someone be both in the way of sins and also return again to the way of justice?” (cf. Exp. Ps. 13).

Is this prayer old enough to have been known by Milan’s mighty Bishop St. Ambrose (+397) or even St. Augustine of Hippo (+430), who use similar patterns of words?

Your thorough Lewis & Short Dictionary says censeo has a special construction: censeo, censeri aliqua re, meaning “to be appreciated, distinguished, celebrated for some quality”, “to be known by something.” This explains the passive form in our Collect with the ablative christiana professione. Getting christiana professio into English requires some fancy footwork. We could say “Christian profession”, but this adjectival construction really means “profession of Christ.” This same thing happens in phrases such as oratio dominica, “the Lordly Prayer”, or more smoothly “the Lord’s Prayer”.

Via means, “a way, method, mode, manner, fashion, etc., of doing any thing, course”. There is a moral content to via as well, “the right way, the true method, mode, or manner”.

Let’s see what people used to hear in church on the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time in the…

OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):

God our Father,
your light of truth
guides us to the way of Christ.
May all who follow him
reject what is contrary to the gospel.

And now, ….

LITERAL RENDERING:

O God, who do show the light of Your truth to the erring so that they might be able to return unto the way of justice, grant to all who are distinguished by their profession of Christ that they may both strongly reject those things which are inimical to this name of Christian and follow eagerly the things which are suited to it.

CURRENT ICEL (2011):

O God, who show the light of your truth
to those who go astray,
so that they may return to the right path,
give all who for the faith they profess
are accounted Christians
the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ
and to strive after all that does it honor.

Ancient philosophers (the word comes from Greek for “lover of wisdom”) would walk about in public in their sandals and draped toga-like robes. Thinkers such as Aristotle were called “Peripatetics” from their practice of walking about (Greek peripatein) under covered walkways of the Lyceum in Athens (Greek peripatos) while teaching. Their disciples would swarm around them, hanging on their words, debating with them, learning how to think and reason. They would discuss the deeper questions the human mind and heart inevitably faces. They were effectively theologians. We must be careful not to impose the modern divorce of philosophy from theology on the ancients. In ancient Christian mosaics Christ is sometimes depicted wearing a philosopher’s robes. But He doesn’t merely love Wisdom, He is Wisdom incarnate, the perfect Teacher!

He is the one from whom we learn about God and about ourselves (cf. Gaudium et spes 22 – which the young Pope John Paul II helped to write during the Council).

The Collect also reminds me of the very first lines of the Divine Comedy by the exiled Florentine poet Dante Alighieri (+1321) who was heavily influenced by Aristotle’s Ethics and the Christianized Platonic philosophy mediated through Boethius (+525) and St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274). The Inferno begins:

Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.
Ah, how hard it is to tell
the nature of that wood, savage, dense, and harsh –
the very thought of it renews my fear!
It is so bitter death is hardly more so.

Dante, the protagonist of his own poem, is describing his fictional self. In his poetic persona, Dante is in the middle of his life (35 years old – half of 70, the number of years mentioned as man’s span in Ps. 90:10). He is mired in sin and irrational behavior, having strayed from the straight path of the life of reason: he is in the “dark wood”.

The life of persistent sin is a life without true reason. Human reason, when left to itself without the light of grace, is crippled.

Dante likens his confused state to death. He must journey through hell and the purification of purgatory in order to come back to the life of virtue and reason. In the course of the three-part Comedy the Poet finds the proper road back to light, Truth and reason through the intercession of Christ-like figures, such as Beatrice, and then through Christ Himself. In the Comedy, Dante recovers the use of reason. His whole person is reintegrated through the light of Truth.

Don’t we often describe people who are ignorant, confused or obtuse as “wandering around in the dark”?

This applies also to persistent sinners. By their choices and resistance to God’s grace they have lost the light of Truth. God’s grace makes it possible for us to find our way back into the right path, no matter how far from it we have strayed in the past. When we sin, we break our relationship with Christ. If in laziness we should refuse to know Him better (every day), we lose sight of ourselves and our neighbor.

Christ, the incarnate Word, gives us consolation:

“‘Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way (via) where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way (via)?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way (via), and the truth (veritas), and the life (vita); no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him…. He who has seen me has seen the Father’” (cf. John 14:1-6 RSV).

We Catholics, who dare – DARE – publicly to take Christ’s name to ourselves, need to stand up and be counted (censentur)!

In what we say and do other people ought to be able to see Christ’s light reflected and focused in the details of our individual vocations. To be good lenses and reflectors of Christ’s light, we must be clean. When we know ourselves not to be so, we are obliged as soon as possible to seek cleansing so that we can be saved and be of benefit for the salvation of others. We must also practice spiritual works of mercy, bringing the light of truth to the ignorant or those who persist in darkness either through their own fault or no fault of their own.

Every Catholic is called to evangelize, if not in an “official” capacity in the Church’s name, at least through the obligation we have as members of Christ’s Body the Church.

Evangelization and the efforts of ecumenism are an obligation for every Catholic.  There are still people living in darkness. We must “preach” always and, as the phrase often – falsely – attributed to St. Francis of Assisi says, sometimes use words.

When people look at us and listen to us, do they see a light-extinguishing black hole where a beautiful image of God should be?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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7 Comments

  1. Semper Gumby says:

    Interesting Fr. Z. The Collect…

    O God, who show the light of your truth
    to those who go astray,
    so that they may return to the right path

    …and the beginning of Dante’s Inferno:

    “Midway in the journey of our life
    I came to myself in a dark wood,
    for the straight way was lost.
    Ah, how hard it is to tell
    the nature of that wood, savage, dense, and harsh.”

    The first rule of wilderness survival- it dates back at least to the Middle Ages when monasteries rang bells late on a gloomy afternoon to signal shelter for lost travelers- is to halt, listen and try to get your bearings.

    Though some travelers were unable to calm themselves. Looking up from a grassy meadow amidst the wilderness they saw a sky filled with great rolling waves of dark clouds. The hills boomed with thunder. Tree branches bent by fierce wind grasped at cloak and horse. Flashes of lightning conjured ghostly shadows, and the frantic travelers plunged ahead and soon found themselves at a roadside inn, a mud-brick caravanserai. The courtyard reeked of intrigue and wet camel, the innkeeper was a bejeweled and beslippered son of the desert. Inside the great hall an unseen hand shuts the door behind the travelers. Over a blazing fire roasts a haunch of strange meat. Then, the travelers glimpse through clouds of hashish smoke cloaked ruffians with daggers in their belts circling like a shoal of sinister jellyfish.

    Fortunately, you and your party remained in the grassy meadow, undaunted. You swiftly erected your Out of Africa Touring Tent while singing Psalms, then inside hung from the poles a Crucifix and Key Largo Hurricane Lanterns, retrieved a half-dozen pheasants and marmots from your 1930s French Hunting and Fishing Bag, kindled a fire in your Klondike Tent Stove and, after bowing your heads in Grace, feasted merrily off china plates from your Bentley Motoring Picnic Set.

    Er, where was I? Ah yes, the Collect…

    “and follow eagerly the things which are suited to it.”

    …and Dante. Dante’s Paradise begins with Dante and Beatrice at the threshold of Heaven. She explains to him that it is the nature of the human soul to rise:

    All natures in this order lean and tend
    each in its distinctive manner to its Source,
    some to approach more near and others less.
    Whence from their various ports all creatures move
    on the great sea of being, with each one
    ferried by instinct given from above.
    This is what makes the fire rise toward the moon

    Often it’s true a form may not accord
    with the intent of Him who works the art
    because the matter’s deaf and won’t respond.
    So, from this course, a creature may depart
    if it should have the power, despite the push,
    to swerve away and veer off from its start.

    But it would be a cause of just surprise
    if, free of every bar, you remain
    like a still flame on earth, and not arise.

  2. Semper: What sort of china? The set with hand decorated Wedgwood Rococo pieces or – you know – that other one?

  3. Semper Gumby says:

    Well, Fr. Z, it was like this. One bright morning on the Yangtze I was in a sampan two days upriver from Shanghai and a pesky bar bill back at the Jockey Club. I was on the trail of the wily and elusive Mongolian Horse-Hair Vest when we rounded a bend and suddenly there it was, the Pearl of the Orient, Charlie Chan’s Porcelain and Kung Pao Chicken Emporium. Naturally, the Vest could wait, so I loaded a fishing trawler and set course for San Francisco. Then I got shipwrecked off the coast of the Phillipines. Went back to Shanghai, found a tramp steamer with a bored captain and made it across the Pacific. I had to pay my bar bill, but I wanted a second helping of Kung Pao anyway.

  4. Semper: Shipwrecks are such a nuisance, especially if there is interest on the bar tab.

  5. Semper Gumby says:

    Yeah, Fr. Z, that shipwreck was kinda my own fault. It was a sunny afternoon off Luzon and some guy in a dugout canoe paddled close to the trawler, raised his coconut shell drink and yelled, “Hey! Yanqui! We got ten seabags of Ferdinand Magellan Canvas Deck Pantalones!” Well, lesson learned, never follow a dugout canoe into a rocky inlet at full speed. Got yelled at, long distance phone call-style, by Lloyd’s of London.

  6. Semper: You fell for that old trick. I mean… the old Megellans? I could see the Marco Polos… but.

    Well, hey. It happens. I’ll tell you sometime about the Río de la Plata-Paraná, the promise of vintage Zippos, and an over-hanging branch. It still smarts.

  7. Semper Gumby says:

    A Zippo lighter? It was a cold and clear night over the North Atlantic. Through the window of the PanAm Clipper the full moon illuminated the chessboard. I was attacking with Capo Ferro, my seatmate, an unstable English ruffian named Eddie Chapman, was naturally using Bonetti’s Defense.

    Suddenly, the woman in the seat ahead leaned around, cigarette in hand. “Hey mister,” she asked me, in a voice not unlike a gun moll’s, “You got a light?”

    I’ve heard this siren song before: my guide Giuseppe and I were interrupted, briefly, by such a tune late one night on the docks in Palermo as we hurriedly loaded barrels of Sicilian Tomato-Garlic Aftershave onto a rusty freighter, while somewhere in the fog the Caruso Family with their itchy trigger-fingers lurked.

    Best to mind one’s own business. But I didn’t. Slowly reaching into the pocket of my Herringbone Wool Vest, I studied her face. A bob of blonde hair, a nose that could probably smell trouble, blue eyes aware of the burden of life. Maybe she was a two-bit floozy on the mend, leaving behind a Paris ginjoint and a job as a Josephine Baker backup singer, deciding life in Smalltown U.S.A. was more her style. Maybe she was an exiled Moravian princess, having fled her family’s mountaintop castle by scrambling down a dry streambed into the woods as a column of Nazi trucks roared up the road, and was now off to her cousin’s place in Poughkeepsie and a job as a schoolmarm. I handed her the lighter.

    She blinked her eyes twice at the Zippo, then lit and exhaled, not much of a smoker was she. With a glance she sized me up like a brisket in a deli window. She turned the Zippo in her hands. Stamped on the case was: Fiat Lux. A flicker of a smile. She looked up and handed it back, “Thank you.”

    “Keep it ma’am. Please. I have five crates of them.”

    She arched an eyebrow.

    “You see, ma’am, it was a warm day, humid but not too bad, near the Zippo factory in Pennsylvania. I was bartering for three wagonloads of Amish Suspenders and Wooden Clogs when, much to my surprise and chagrin…”

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