“O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving have shown us a remedy for sin, look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy.” (Collect prayer of Mass for the Third Sunday of Lent)
Years ago at a writer’s workshop, I learned this dictum: “Writers write, authors get published.” Any good writer will construct a story with a beginning, middle and end, and perhaps with an epilogue. But getting it published so that everyone can read it, now that’s the trick.
In the Collect prayer we’ll hear prayed by the priest this weekend for the Third Sunday of Lent, God is referred to as the author of mercy. He is not called the source or giver of mercy, but the one who writes.
As the prayer continues, it points out why we need divine mercy.
Some friends mentioned the term “Catholic guilt” in a conversation last week. They had no malice, but observed how Catholics traditionally have had what one might call a “heightened sense of conscience.” I wish I had tossed that line into the conversation, but then I am probably a better reflective writer than a quick-thinking debater.
Frequently examining my conscience leads to a healthy sense of sinfulness — both my own sins and the sinful structures present in society. It often has the effect of seeking forgiveness, if not from the wronged party, then at least by God. In the light of my human weaknesses and mistakes, in the things I do and the things I fail to do, I learn humility.
The Collect prayer for Sunday uses contrasts, first with God’s mercy and goodness against sin, to drive home the story’s moral of mercy. Note the three-dosage remedy for sin: fasting, prayer and charitible giving, which is the classic Lenten formula.
As a writer to a reader, I invite you to pick out the prayer’s words of contrasts: goodness and sin; graciousness and lowliness; downward-looking conscience — in other words, guilt — and uplifting mercy.
A good, hard look inward might not be pleasant and it might “bow down” our conscience, but doing so can lead to repentance and that to reconciliation with God and our brothers and sisters. It’s worth taking a guilt trip into our heart.
Fortunately in the prayer, God’s mercy gets the last word. Almost.
Then comes that Trinitarian epilogue, reminding us that we pray this and all prayers to God the Father, through Jesus and in the binding unity of the Holy Spirit.
All this rises to the one almighty God who not only writes but also gets published in the hearts of all who seek him.