Fr. Z Has It Right

Fr. Z, whose blog I frequent periodically, writes about the Church and politics.  One fantastic series he has in his blog is “What Does The Prayer Really Say?” or “WDTPRS,” in which he attempts a literal translation of the Collect for the day’s mass from latin to English.  

His post for the Collect for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time stood out to me.  Rather, his commentary and translation pointed out to me the beauty of the Sunday’s Collect.  Here is the latin and current translations:

Latin:

Adesto, Domine, famulis tuis, et perpetuam benignitatem largire poscentibus, ut his, qui te auctorem et gubernatorem gloriantur habere, et grata restaures, et restaurata conserves.

Collect:

Draw near to your servants, O Lord, and answer their prayers with unceasing kindness, that, for those who glory in you as their Creator and guide, you may restore what you have created and keep safe what you have restored.

Fr. Z’s literal translation is slightly different, but seems to cover the same ground:

Be present to Your servants, O Lord, and grant Your unending kindness to those seeking it, so that You may restore favors to those who glory in having You as author and guide, and You may preserve them once restored.

This prayer affirms the order of the relationship between Creator and creation, acknowledging us as “servants,” and the Lord and “Creator and guide.”  Fr. Z commented:

Our status as lowly servants is the key to everything we receive or regain.

How infrequently we acknowledge this status!  It is commonly assumed that servitude is the opposite of freedom.  The doubter would assert that being a servant of God means giving up complete freedom, just the opposite of the Church’s teaching.  What are some alternative perspectives on God’s relationship with humanity, and how do they line up?  The question of servitude relates directly to who God is and is not.  

1.  God is a creation of humanity.  In this regard, the relationship is completely opposite of the one offered by the Church.  God is complete servant of humanity inasmuch as God’s existence is fully dependent on those irrational souls who conjure some idea for God to satiate some need or seek extra-ordinary salve for psychic wounds.  God only exists as a nice idea that helps people feel better.  

 Those who have this view typically regard themselves as superior to the God-fearing folks who have not yet found true enlightenment.  People who believe that people created God regard self-sufficiency as one of the highest ideals.  The idea is that if I am self-sufficient, I don’t need a God or higher power.  And conversely, if I claim I need a higher power, I am not self-sufficient.  

This is a common attitude, but while there is some comfort in perceiving ultimate control for our lives, the reality is that we are never in complete control of our lives.  One may make an active choice to accept the vicissitudes of life, but total self-sufficiency robs us of our capacity to fully live, because we can never fully give.  

2.  God is distant from humanity.  God is simply creator and it’s our job to figure the rest out.  This view acknowledges a hierarchy between God and humanity.  At the same time, it presupposes a distance from the lived experience of God and the lived experience of people.  To endorse this view would be to negate the experience of countless mystics throughout history.  Personal relationship with God, in which God is increasingly known and personal details, highs and lows are shared is a common experience among many contemporary believers.  This view also espouses personal self-sufficiency.  While the deist might rely frequently on other people, ultimately, he relies on himself as the source and guide of his existence.  At best, living is an extension of one’s highest ideals, such as justice.  

3.  God is creator and redeemer of humanity.  God’s son redeemed us so that we can be close to God.  It is our gift to be servants of God.  Our service of God rightly orders our humanity such that we learn to be more like God.  Since we are created in God’s image, we actually become more human as we become more like God.  

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches of the order of the universe.  He places humans above animals and below God.  While we are created, living creatures like animals, we have evolved beyond animals.  We have the capacity to become more like God.  However, if we allow our lives to be guided solely by passions, pleasures, and instincts, we are living more like animals.  That is, if our guiding principle is increasing pleasure and avoiding pain, what difference are we from other animals?  

Avoiding pleasure and increasing pain is not the goal; however the Law of Love completes us and gives us ultimate freedom.  This law speaks to us at an even deeper level than the Pleasure Principle since it draws us out of our own baseness, out of our selfishness and vanity and pride.  The Law of Love says to give live freely and accept love freely.  Justice would dictate that the ultimate action is to give love freely to and accept love freely from God.  Secondarily, we should give and accept love freely from other people.  When we are guided solely by our passions, we relinquish the ability to freely choose our destiny.  On the other hand, when we live the Law of Love, we deeply express the freedom which is at the deepest part of our personhood.

The Law of Love is the the law of the Kingdom of God.  Because we are his beloved, and we love in return, our rightful place in the Kingdom is service of God.  But this is only because he served us first.  His incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection is the ultimate sacrifice.  He instructs us to do the same.  

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