Tuesday of the First Week of Lent: The Collect
Réspice, Dómine, famíliam tuam:
et præsta; ut apud te mens nostra tuo desidério fúlgeat,
quæ se carnis maceratióne castígat.
The Marquess of Bute translates:
Look down, O Lord, on this thy family,
and grant that our minds, which, by the chastening of the body, we seek to purify,
may ever more and more shine in thy sight by desire of thee.
The pew edition of the Old English Missal gives:
O Lord, look down upon thy family: and vouchsafe;
that whereas our minds are now chastened by the mortifying of the flesh,
they may shine in thy sight with longing after thee.
And this is how I, with a certain liberty, paraphrase the text for personal prayer:
Turn thy gaze, O Lord, upon thy family,
and grant that we, with chastened minds and hearts of flesh,
may be as lamps set ablaze in Thy sight
both by the flame of Thy desire for us and by the desire for Thee
that Thou hast Thyself enkindled in our hearts.
We ask in today’s Collect that our inward selves (mens nostra), being chastened (i.e., made chaste) by the maceration of the flesh, may glow with desire for God. Maceration is a word that conjures up all sorts of unsavoury images; one thinks of half–starved cave dwellers flagellating themselves or rolling in briars. Maceration is, in fact, that by which something is tenderised or softened. While we may think of our “flesh” as soft and yielding, it is, in fact, hard and resistant to the grace of Christ. The hard, stony heart must become a heart of flesh. It must be tenderized by compunction and penitence, that is, by immersion in the Word of God, and in the Blood and the Water that ever flow from the pierced Heart of Jesus.
When Hearts Grow Hard in Sin
Habitual sin or vice makes one hard — not strong, not resilient — but hard and brittle. There is nearly always a hardness in the gaze of those in the grip of vice. The cold, stony–eyed gaze of hardened sinners is a terrible thing to see. There is a deadness in the eyes of people inured to habitual sin. This is the portrait of sin: deadness in the eyes, hardness in the heart.
The Tenderised Hearts of the Saints
The saints are those who have macerated, that is, tenderised their hearts by steeping in the merciful love of God. Nothing more effectively macerates the heart than long hours of adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. A heart steeped in the love of God is more easily inclined to choose what Saint Benedict calls (in Chapter IV of the Holy Rule) the instruments of good works. Whereas the heart grown hard in sin becomes ever more bent earthward in its desires, the heart made tender by immersion in the love of Christ rises more and more easily upward, towards the things of heaven.
You must be heavenly-minded, not earthly-minded; you have undergone death, and your life is hidden away now with Christ in God. Christ is your life, and when he is made manifest, you too will be made manifest in glory with him. You must deaden, then, those passions in you which belong to earth, fornication and impurity, lust and evil desire, and that love of money which is an idolatry. These are what bring down God’s vengeance on the unbelievers, and such was your own behaviour, too, while you lived among them. Now it is your turn to have done with it all, resentment, anger, spite, insults, foul-mouthed utterance; 9 and do not tell lies at one another’s expense. You must be quit of the old self, and the habits that went with it; you must be clothed in the new self, that is being refitted all the time for closer knowledge, so that the image of the God who created it is its pattern. (Colossians 3:2–10).
Aglow with Desire
The macerated heart becomes tender to the touch of God, and is easily moved by the Holy Ghost. In this way, the heart begins — as the Collect says — to glow with the desire of God. There is a richness in the Latin text that is not readily apparent in English. Ut apud te mens nostra tuo desiderio fulgeat. The heart begins to glow, first of all, with the flame of God’s desire for man. This is the great life–changing realisation that makes saints of sinners: God desires me, God desires to unite Himself to my lowliness. Out of this realisation of God’s desire for union with the soul, the soul, brought near to God, begins to burn and to glow with desire for Him.
O God, thou art my God;
how eager my quest for thee, body athirst and soul longing for thee,
like some parched wilderness, where stream is none!
So in the holy place, I contemplate thee,
ready for the revelation of thy greatness, thy glory. (Psalm 62:2–3)
The Monastery: A Lighthouse
A monastery is a kind of lighthouse glowing in the dark of night; separated from the world. It points to heaven, and beams its brightness to souls adrift on stormy seas. Should its monks become hard–hearted and resistant to the flames of Divine Love, a monastery becomes a narrow prison, cold, forbidding, dark, and useless to Christ and to the Church. Come, Holy Ghost! Come, living Flame of Love! Rekindle the lights that have gone out. Make strong and clear those that are flickering. As for those that are burning brightly, cause them to send out beams holy desire, so that many souls may find a safe harbour in Thy presence.
You are the light of the world; a city cannot be hidden if it is built on a mountain-top. A lamp is not lighted to be put away under a bushel measure; it is put on the lamp-stand, to give light to all the people of the house; and your light must shine so brightly before men that they can see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16)