"The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ... be with you" . . . . But what is grace? "Hail Mary, full of grace". . . But what is grace? Let’s say "grace" before meals. . . But what is grace? "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!" Yes, as amazing as it is, what exactly is grace?
St. Paul tells us that we have been saved by grace so that “in the ages to come He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.”
During this season of Lent I am teaching as well as preaching, so let me share what the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines grace to be:
Grace is “the free and undeserved gift that God gives us to become his adopted children. As sanctifying grace, God shares his divine life and friendship with us in a habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that enables the soul to act by [God’s] love.” There’s more to it, but let’s just digest this much.
Grace is being in a relationship with God, such a close relationship that it’s like a parent and child relationship. A trusting relationship, such that we know we are loved and protected and guided and yes, sometimes disciplined. In grace we know God as a loving Father.
But notice: this relationship is a free and undeserved gift. We have done nothing to earn this relationship with God. If I am a good person, a faithful person, a person of deep faith, all of this is a gift from God. Even my desire to respond to God’s love, by returning the love, is a gift from God. It’s all a gift from God. Everything is gift. My very existence is a gift. My abilities and talents are gifts. My upbringing, my educational opportunities, all my successes are gifts from a God of love. If I am married, the marriage is a gift. If I am single, my singleness if a gift. If I have children, they are gifts. If I parent them well, then that good parenting is a gift.
My brothers and sisters, all is gift! We can claim nothing as our own, except our sins! Our sins are events of refusing God’s grace, of breaking out of the relationship with God so as to act as if I were not in a relationship with God. And if we break out of this filial relationship with God grievously, we will be inclined to continue breaking this relationship with God. This is what we call mortal sin. Mortal sin kills our relationship with God. And when mortal sin is done repeatedly, as described in our first reading from Second Chronicles, we lose our way, we die spiritually, and chaos comes upon us.
We heard in this reading that the Israelites were going over to something other than their relationship with God, and they, the leaders, the priests and the people “added infidelity to infidelity” and “practiced all the abominations of the nations.” The result of this straying out of grace, out of being in relationship with God, was all of the destruction that came their way: the destruction of the temple, the experience not only of war but losing the war and being carried off into exile.
Isn’t it interesting that only after all the calamity came was the writer able to say why it had come upon them: that they had been unfaithful to God, that they had followed other gods, that they had broken their relationship with God. In other words, they fell away from grace. Why couldn’t they see it while it was happening? Ah, the prophets could see, “But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets.”
There is always hope, for when we are in a state of sin, in a broken relationship with God, when we have lost sanctifying grace, God still gives is what is called “actual grace.” You may ask: what is actual grace? Actual grace is God’s giving us the help we need to conform our wills to his. So, let’s say we are in a state of sin, alienated from God; well, God never stops loving us. He is like “the Hound of Heaven,” forever going after us, with actual grace, to help us come to our senses so that we may regain our relationship with God, re-enter into the life of the sacraments, return to the Lord.
The Gospel says it this way: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
If you are not, right now, in the state of sanctifying grace, then please, by all means, come to our penance service Monday evening, here in the church at 7 pm. And get right with God.