Grant us, O Lord our Strength, a true love of your holy Name; so that, trusting in your grace, we may fear no earthly evil, nor fix our hearts on earthly goods, but may rejoice in your full salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This prayer contains a number of wise observations. We are reminded that God alone is our strength: our will-power, our resolve, our education, or our self-righteousness will never be enough. We pray for a true love—not an intellectual mastery—of God’s holy Name. That Name is the gateway into a life of being in its fullest sense, serving, loving, and growing. Such a love will confront all that is false and hopeless in our life, and two examples are given here: our fears and greed.
It is increasingly difficult for Americans to have any sort of frank moral honesty. Some hide out in ideology, forcing everything through the filter of some sort of litmus test. Entire congregations are being encouraged to embrace a sterile, like-minded and un-critical “platform,” mouthing some form of party line and never seeing their own hypocrisy. Others become mired in a swamp of relativism, claiming that “all is grey” when clear choices are set before them and drifting further and further from either the saving message of the Gospel or even practical common sense. Neither produce an openness to the truth.
It is very hard for most people to speak frankly of our own fearfulness and greed, rather than pointing the finger at someone else’s. This is one reason why the Christian witness in many part of the Church in the USA has become so weakened, uninspiring, and unable to draw both new and continuing members into a deeper relationship with Christ. This prayer speaks with the frankness and wisdom of the catholic faith rather than the watered-down or brittle banality of so much contemporary American religion.
Lent gives as the opportunity to come back to an open-minded and humble honesty about ourselves. We learn again that pointing the finger in judgment of others or denying the reality of our own failure to “commend the faith that is in us” (as the Ash Wednesday liturgy, following on 1 Peter 3:15, so aptly puts it) is both useless and sinful. It is only when we can speak freely before God of our need, our poverty, our unfaithfulness, that room is made for grace to fill us up and act through us as agents of the Gospel.
Having re-oriented us to reality (the real measure of humility), the above collect’s logic points us to Easter: it is only by calling upon God’s grace to open our eyes to the reality within and without us that we will be able to “rejoice in full salvation” from God. There is no other way. Anything less than this will be a man-made imitation and simply a repetition of all the failed ideologies, programs, “decades of evangelism,” and vain substitutes for the Gospel gone before us. Pray that that we may “embrace and ever hold fast” the vision this simple Lenten collect sets before us. Until we do—both as individuals and as church communities—we will remain locked in fear, greed, and folly.