Lost in Translation, #5
|The fall of the first rebel.
The Secret for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost is:
Oblatiónibus nostris, quæsúmus, Dómine, placáre suscéptis: et ad te nostras étiam rebélles compélle propítius voluntátes.Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Be pleased, we beseech Thee, O Lord, with our offerings, which have been received [by Thee], and graciously force our wills [back] to Thee, even when they are rebellious.
At this point of the Mass, the priest has more or less completed the Offertory Rite and has offered bread, wine, himself, and all of us as an oblation to God. Understandably, he now implores God to be pleased with these offerings.
There is a subtle word play between rebelles and compelle in the second half of prayer: “even when we rebel, [don’t forget to] compel.” It is a marvelous petition. During every “Our Father” we pray “Thy will be done,” but how often do we mean it without reservation? It is easy to pray: “Thy will be done, as long Thy will doesn’t include for me cancer, bankruptcy, a bad cup of coffee, etc.” It is far more difficult to echo Job’s response to misfortune–“if we have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10)–or to say with Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, Thy will be done” (Matt 26:42).
So even though we are good Christians who go to Mass, such as Mass on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, our wills still recoil at the idea of total acquiescence to the will of God. We continue to rebel even after our baptism. How fitting that this Secret is prayed during the Mass that has as its Gospel Luke 5:1-11, the story of Jesus ordering Peter to “launch out into the deep and let down” his nets. When Peter obeys and takes in an enormous haul of fish, he poignantly says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” To which Our Lord replies, “Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Peter acknowledges Jesus as Lord and yet tells Him to go away! Clearly, he fears that he will not be up to whatever task to which Jesus may call him, for he knows that his will is rebellious. But Jesus instead not only keeps him but makes him a fisher of other rebellious wills, a fisher of men.
The Church Fathers were quick to point out that the great difference between fishing for men and fishing for fish is that when you are fishing for men, you are fishing something out of the sea that does not belong there and will die without being rescued. Even so, drowning victims are infamous for often taking their would-be rescuers down with them: you might say that even though folks who are drowning want nothing more than to be saved, their wills are rebellious, or at least not fully cooperating. It is a terrible and self-destructive reflex, and yet we sinners do it all the time as well.
And so we pray, Almighty God: drag us, kicking and screaming if you have to, into a conformity with Your will while there is still time, for we know that as a Gentleman who respects our final decisions, You drag no one kicking and screaming into Heaven.
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