The restless heart and disordered affections (Collect for Lent 3)

For the third Sunday in Lent, Thomas Cranmer assigned a collect from the Sacramentary of Gregory that consisted of a simple yet earnest plea to God for protection against enemies.

We beseech thee, almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy majesty, to be our defense against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

For Anglicans in North America, this remained the collect appointed for Lent 3 until the wholesale revisions of the 1979 Prayer Book. The collect traditionally appointed for Lent 2 was moved to Lent 3 while the remaining traditional collects were replaced with more contemporary prayers.

The 2019 ACNA Prayer Book has taken quite a creative step. It has appointed for Lent 3 a collect that is traditional, in that it restores some of the language of the original, but also introduces new language that directly confronts an egregious societal evil that is directly challenging the contemporary church. The result is a moving prayer, crafted from sources most ancient, yet powerfully relevant for the present day.

Heavenly Father, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you: Look with compassion upon the heartfelt desires of your servants, and purify our disordered affections, that we may behold your eternal glory in the face of Christ Jesus; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The opening ascription is borrowed directly from Augustine’s Confessions. It is an acknowledgement that God, our Heavenly Father, made (created) us for himself, that we might worship and serve him. Until they rest in the unspeakable joy of communion with the Father, our hearts will be restless. Consistent with the language of last week’s collect, this is an acknowledgment “that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” Our loving and merciful heavenly Father who made us for himself also calls us to himself that, in him, we may find rest at last.

The term, “disordered affections,” is borrowed from The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. A simple definition would be any thing or person that becomes the object of our desire, at the expense of our relationship with God. In other words, “disordered affections” is a most grievous form of idolatry. The most obvious example of its manifestation in contemporary society is homosexuality, a subject directly addressed in this week’s Epistle lesson (Romans 1:16-32). Such a coupling of collect and pericope is a bold, but very welcome, move. Here is the church confronting evil in the most appropriate manner, through the Word of God and prayer.

When “disordered affections” pollute our “heartfelt desires,” we have no recourse but to call out to God to “purify” us in order “that we may behold [his] eternal glory in the face of Jesus Christ.”

The original collect asked God to “be our defense against all our enemies,” an apparent plea for protection against outward and visible forces that seek to do us harm. In its new form, the collect appears to expand the idea of “enemies” to include those inward forces, those “disordered affections,” that would lead us down the path of destruction and death, were it not for the gracious intervention of God through his Son Jesus Christ.

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