This Sunday’s prayer is at least as old as the Gelasian Sacramentary. It has survived the post-Conciliar revisions to live again on the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The version in the Novus Ordo, however, adds a comma after ut.
COLLECT – (1962 Missale Romanum):
Deus, qui diligentibus te bona invisibilia praeparasti, infunde cordibus nostris tui amoris affectum; ut te in omnibus et super omnia diligentes, promissiones tuas, quae omne desiderium superant, consequamur.
The insuperable Lewis & Short Dictionary divulges that affectus means “a state of body, and especially of mind produced in one by some influence, a state or disposition of mind, affection, mood: love, desire, fondness, good-will, compassion, sympathy.” An interesting verb is consequor which means among other things, “pursue, go after, attend, to follow” and also, “to follow a model, copy, obey”. It conveys, “to follow a preceding cause as an effect, to ensue, result, to be the consequence, to arise or proceed from.” I am choosing to say “attain.”
There are many words of loving and longing in today’s prayer. We have diligo, amor, affectus and we have other tangential words like cor, desiderium, promissio. Diligo is marvelous. Initially it means, “to value or esteem highly, to love”. It also carries the impact of “careful, assiduous, attentive, diligent, accurate”, as in our word “diligent”. Desiderium is “a longing, ardent desire or wish, properly for something once possessed; grief, regret for the absence or loss of any thing [or person].”
O God, who prepares unseen goods for those loving You, pour into our hearts the disposition of Your love, so that we, loving You in all things and above all things, may attain Your promises, which surpass every desire.
This Collect pulses with longing. When this prayer is pronounced aloud, in Latin, my ears tune in to the connection between invisibilia at the beginning and promissiones at the end.
The concepts in the prayer are presented in a climactic order.
We have a necessary unspoken starting point, logically before the prayer begins: the ways we love on our own, previous to or apart from the new character of the baptized Christian. This is “natural” love. The first words of the prayer draw us beyond merely human forms of love. Those natural loves are transformed with the help of God’s grace. We ask God to pour into His manner of loving, charity, into our hearts. It is not that we cannot love in a merely natural, human way. We desire that how we love may be transformed, raised up. As we know from our Catholic theological tradition, and it is almost an axiom, “gratia non destruit, sed supponit et perficit naturam… grace does not destroy, but rather supposes and perfects nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh la. 1.8.). Our human nature was terribly wounded in the Fall from grace, but its essential goodness was not lost. We can love in our fallen human way, but our loves can be disordered. Grace builds on our nature, it perfects our way of loving in this life by aligning it with God’s love.
From this building up our our love in this world, then we aim in our prayer at the love awaiting us in heaven, a love beyond anything we experience in this life. Heaven will complete our every hope and desire and surpass them. That is how I connect invisibilia, “invisible things” and promissiones, “promises.” We know they are there for us in heaven, but we cannot attain them yet. We live in a state of “already but not yet” in regard to our participation in the Resurrection. What awaits us after our entrance into the Beatific Vision is unimaginable. We can only gasp and ache after it, long for the completion God promised.
So, I find in this Collect an ascent in and to true Love, indeed to Love personified. But we should be wary of opposing too strongly natural and supernatural loves.
Human love, sometimes called eros, isn’t automatically contrary to “religious love”. We are human beings, not angels. We must avoid on the one hand the extreme of trying to profane what is supernatural by locking it into the finite, and on the other hand desiring only and purely supernatural love in this life, which would render us ineffective and powerless. We find fulfillment of our good earthly loves in the perfect love which is only in God. Grace builds on nature, it doesn’t destroy it.
Pope Benedict, in Deus caritas est … God is love, his first encyclical signed on Christmas Day of 2005, reflects among other things on ancient, technical Greek terms for different kinds of love: eros and agape. Eros and agape have different shades of meaning. Agape is self-giving love. Think of it in terms of “descending”, emptying oneself for the sake of giving to another. Eros (whence the word “erotic”) is a love which seeks to receive, to be filled from another. Think in terms of ascending, seeking to rise to fulfillment.
Both of these loves, eros and agape, are inherently good. However, because of our fallen nature, eros can be corrupted to the disordered love of mere appetite or passion or grasping use, even in the sexual sense. In a way, eros and agape are two dimensions of a complete love, which foresees and both giving and receiving. Eros must be complemented with agape and elevated to the spiritual sense of Christian love, the Catholic sense of charity. The proper integration of the love which is self-emptying and that which is self-fulfilling, which gives and which takes, comes from the infusion of God’s own love in grace. There is a human dimension which is indispensable, but which can be complete only with God’s help. God builds on our love, perfects it.
We therefore long for Love, we reach out to it, thirsting for its fullness, its completing, healing, transforming power. As St. Augustine (+430) wrote in his Confessions, “our hearts are restless” until they come to their proper resting place, their fulfillment in God’s love.
In redeeming us, God does not unmake us. He lifts up who and what we are and makes us whole again. This is the promise which helps us live and hope in this vale of tears. Think of the Preface for the Mass for Christmas, the day Pope Benedict signed Deus caritas est, the celebration of Love Incarnate:
“For through the mystery of the incarnate Word, the new light of Your glory dazzled the eyes of our mind, so that while we know God visibly, through Him we may be snatched up into invisible love… (in invisibilem amorem rapiamur).”
Richard of St. Victor said: “Love is the eye and to love is to see.”
Love is the key to seeing what, rather, the one who, is otherwise unseeable. This kind of love, which seeks to give as well as to receive, which is raised to a new supernatural order by grace, also allows us to see what is loveable in our neighbor, despite our human frailty.