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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.
This collect has been part of the season of Lent since the eighth century Gelasian Sacramentary, reminding us of the meaning and purpose of this Holy Season.
On this Third Sunday of Lent, we all might be in need of a reminder that the purpose of Lent is to repent of our sins and receive the mercy of God. If you've been to confession already, you know the unimaginable feeling of having your sins forgiven. When the priest says, "I absolve you" in the name of the Blessed Trinity, we know our sins are forgiven by the one who said to his apostles, "what you loose on earth is loosed in heaven!"
Confession is the only remedy for sin, but it is humbling. It is, in the words of today's prayer, being 'bowed down by our conscience.'
For when we truly listen to our conscience and realize how petty and small our selfish little hearts can be, and how infinite is God's love for us, we cannot help but be lifted up by his mercy. We are little and God is big. We are weighed down with our sins, and he is ever lifting us up with his mercy.
Do you remember the words we pray in dialogue with the priest before the great Eucharistic Prayer? "Sursum corda," he says to us. "Lift up your hearts!" But we cannot lift up our hearts by ourselves, we need the power of God, the power of his infinite mercy to pick us up from the dunghill of our selfishness and sin.
Confession, then, is the way to be raised up from our sins, but what can lead us to such confession? God, who is the "author of every mercy and of all goodness" gives us three helps, three remedies to get us to confession: fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Remember when Jesus drove the devil out of the epileptic demoniac? He said that this "sort of demon is driven out only by both prayer and fasting." (Mark 9:27). Or that great admonition of St. Augustine: "Do you wish your prayer to fly toward God? Make for it two wings: fasting and almsgiving" (En. ps. 42, 8).
This is the kind of fasting that lets go of everything, so that we might cling only to God. The kind of prayer that reminds us of the love we have abandoned. And the kind of almsgiving which causes us to love as Christ first loved us: it tears us away from our selfish pity parties, and recreates us in the image of the Lord who loved us unto death.
So, bow down to the Lord! Confess your sins! And this Lent the Lord will reach down from heaven and raise you up with his mercy!
Msgr. James P. Moroney, presently professor of liturgy at St. John's Seminary, Brighton becomes the 20th rector there on July 1, 2012. This is the third of a series of reflections on the collects of the Lenten season which continues throughout this holy season.