What’s in That Prayer? The Collect for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Here is the oration that the Church prays in the Mass and Office for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany:

Deus, qui nos, in tantis perículis constitútos, pro humána scis fragilitáte non posse subsístere: da nobis salútem mentis et córporis; ut ea, quæ pro peccátis nostris pátimur, te adiuvánte vincámus.

Here is my translation:

O God, who knowest us to be placed in so many perils which it is not possible for human frailty to sustain: grant us health of mind and body that we may conquer by Thy help those things which we suffer for our sins.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

O God, You Who know that our human frailty cannot stand fast against the great dangers that beset us, grant us health of mind and body, that with your help we may overcome what we suffer on account of our sins.

Last week’s collect mentioned our “infirmity” for which we sought God’s “protection.” This week, we confess that we cannot sustain the perils in which we find ourselves owing to our human frailty, and we therefore ask for divine help to overcome what we suffer owing to our own sins. The Church does not seem interested in the modern cult of self esteem. She is much more interested in a humble (and therefore truthful) acknowledgment of our actual status before God, which opens us up to treasures much more valuable than self-esteem: divine grace and divine love, which constitute us in that health of mind and body for which we pray here.

As if to drive home the point of our helplessness and need for divine assistance, we have in today’s Gospel (Matt 8:23-27) the account of the sleeping Jesus being aroused by the desperate disciples to calm the storm in which they feared to perish: “And Jesus saith to them: Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith? Then rising up he commanded the winds, and the sea, and there came a great calm.” This true event related in the Gospel gives us great confidence in the power of Christ to command the storms and waves that threaten to engulf us in this world. If this is true of events in our own personal lives, it is also true of what besets families, temporal societies, and the Church herself, Peter’s Bark, which is today not only battered by waves, but also seems to have her own members and sacred hierarchy madly drilling holes in her hull, sawing off her rudder, and shooting holes in her main sail. Today, as in the time of the Gospel, Jesus appears to be asleep. Let us hear in His words — “Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith?” — not so much a rebuke as an encouragement to put our faith and confidence in Him to calm the storm when He deems it appropriate to do so. Meantime, we continue to pray for divine help.

But we are not only the beneficiaries of divine help. We must also act, living the two-fold precept of the Gospel to love God and our neighbor. Saint Paul reminds us of this in today’s Epistle (Rom 13:8-10), in the context of reviewing the second half of the Decalogue. He finishes his exhortation with words that impress upon us that love of neighbor is not merely a nice option, but an obligation: “Love therefore is the fulfilling of the law.” The results of authentic love of God and neighbor must include, as I have recently argued, the authentic evangelism of our neighbor (i.e., striving to make him a Catholic) and the establishment of the Social Reign of Jesus Christ in temporal society.