HOW DO I RECOGNIZE GRACE?
III. HOW DO I RECOGNIZE GRACE?
If grace is, as St. Peter says, a participation in the Divine nature, then it follows that the existence of grace can be recognized in us by coming to appreciate our relationship with the Divine. How do we do that? We start with faith. If we have faith in Our Lord already then we can proceed from there. If we do not as yet have faith then we must PRAY FOR FAITH! Ask Our Lord to come into your heart and dwell there. Ask Him to listen to your concerns and fears, your sorrows and anxieties and then surrender yourself to a sense of peace and let Our Lord speak to your heart. Remember, the Holy Spirit speaks in a whisper and so, in order to hear Him, you must be very still and quiet and open to His voice. You will know it is the Spirit because you will obtain peace and joy, two of the many “fruits” of the Spirit. I have included in the Appendix a prayer to the Holy Spirit that may be helpful for you to meditate upon.
“It is always God who makes the first step towards us, in that initial good will which is the beginning of salvation. For this purpose, by His grace and by the trials to which He subjects the soul, He, as it were, ’tills’ the ground of the soul before sowing the divine seed within it; He drives a first furrow therein, a furrow upon which He will later return, to dig more deeply still and to eradicate the weeds which remain; much as the vine-tender cares for the vine when it has already grown , to free it from all that may retard its development.” THE THREE WAYS OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE (Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange –Chapter 1 “The Importance of True Conversion”)
“In the case of the very young, Original sin , within which they are born, is transmitted to them by way of generation, without any personal culpability on their part. Consequently, God does not require of them any personal act for justification. Their parents, through no act of their own will, give them natural life; baptism, without any act of will of theirs, gives them the life of grace” (THE MEANING OF GRACE – Cardinal Charles Journet – Part I, Section IV).
Remember, if we have received a “Trinitarian” baptism,10 then we have also received promises that confer the supernatural gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love, the three Theological Virtues. By Trinitarian Baptism it is meant that you were baptized using the formula “I baptize thee in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). This is biblical teaching and comes from Matthew 28:19 wherein Jesus Himself declared to the Apostles that they must go into the world and proclaim the Good News (Gospel means Good News). “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” All true followers of Christ have this formulaic Baptism in common. If you are then baptized, even if you are an infant, you already have a participation in the Divine life and are worthy of eternal salvation regardless of whether you are conscious of it or not. However, we must remain a “worthy” participant in the Divine nature by being in a “state of grace.” This means that we make a conscious effort to get to know what God expects of us and how we are in relationship with Him. He expects us to be faithful to His commandments and His teachings as expressed in the Bible and in His Church and he also expects that we live a life in accordance with that teaching. If we make the effort to do these things, then we will be corresponding with grace and it will be abundantly available to us so that we have the strength to persevere. Always remember, without grace we can do nothing. With grace all things are possible!
“God’s grace always comes beforehand to prompt me. How does he knock at the door of my heart? If I am in a state of sin, he starts by trying to move me to an act of faith: I begin to grasp the extent of the gulf between the misery of my state and the holiness of God. That is why we say that faith is the root of justification. Then comes the fear of God: if I were to die now, I would be separated from him forever. This is not mere servile fear, for there is already in it a beginning of hope. Further, in this hope, there is not yet charity, but already a beginning of love. If I do not disrupt these successive movements of God—as the hail destroys the fruit in the flower—one grace calls up another, then another, and so on” (THE MEANING OF GRACE – Cardinal Charles Journet).
This gets into the Christian doctrine of what the Church calls Actual Grace, in which we choose of our own free will to participate in the Divine action in our soul. Saint Augustine referred to Actual Grace as a “light that enlightens and moves the sinner.” Actual graces may be obtained by our willing cooperation with Our Lord’s Will by performance of good works such as praying, fasting, and by giving to the poor our time and money. For a Christian the attendance at Sunday worship and for a Jew at Sabbath services is a sure sign of gracious cooperation. It is evidenced by a change of heart, a metanoia, as we start to change our attitudes toward life and death and on meditating upon our relationship with God and the end of things. It is very dangerous to begin thinking that we can “earn” graces! That is impossible, because otherwise it would not be grace. As Saint Paul says in his letter to Titus in chapter 3 verse 5, God saves us not out of the works we have done but out of His Divine Mercy. Yet the performance of good works is necessary.
The Letter of Saint James, an inspired Book of the New Testament, speaks so powerfully about the importance, and indeed the necessity of, our “work” as cooperation with grace.
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no works? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have works.”
Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without works is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.” (Letter of Saint James 2:14-25).
In fact, the Letter of Saint James was so antithetical to Martin Luther’s “new interpretation” of the meaning of grace that Luther even attempted to go so far as to remove the Letter of James from the Canon of the Bible! Imagine the arrogance of a man who makes himself such an authority that he thinks he has the power to add or remove Biblical Books from a Canon (meaning Collection) that was definitively established and codified since 397 at the Council of Carthage. From the time of the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven until the Councils of Hippo and Carthage at the very end of the fourth century there was no such thing as what we now call the Bible. There were individual books that were in circulation independently of each other, but it wasn’t until the Church Fathers came together in North Africa in 394 and again in 397 that the authentic and 73 truly inspired Books were bound together into one volume. These were the 46 Old Testament Books of the Septuagint and the 27 New Testament Books agreed to as being inspired by the greatest scholars of the Post Apostolic Age. Regardless of what Christian denomination that you belong to, this is why you should thank the Roman Catholic Church for giving you the Bible. One of the great sorrows of the Protestant Reformation is that it cut off so many followers of Christ from the great teachers of the early centuries of the Church and their authentic and inspiring writings. These writers give living witness to the true teaching of the Apostles as given to them from Jesus Himself. For instance, one of the early martyrs, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who was executed by the Romans in 110 A.D. was taught by Saint Polycarp, who in turn was taught by Saint John the Apostle, who in turn was one of the original twelve Apostles taught by Jesus Christ. Aren’t you interested in hearing what someone with such an authentic knowledge of Our Lord’s teaching has to say to us today?
As Saint Augustine, one of the great Fathers of the Church said, “God, who created us without our cooperation will not save us without our cooperation.” We must always remember that grace is always a gift from God and we cannot earn it. However, having said that, I also must insist that we never forget that we have our part to play in this drama of individual salvation. We must respond with our mind, our heart, indeed with our very being to this grace and truly make it our own by acting upon it. This is an exercise of our free will and just as we have on the natural level our rational, thinking nature, on the supernatural level we have the supreme gift to human beings: the gift of free will. Why is this the supreme gift? It is the treasure of our being because free will separates us from all other creatures that dwell upon the Earth. This is the purest evidence of our spiritual nature; it is indeed the crown jewel of human existence. Never forget, ONLY HUMAN BEINGS ARE CREATED IN THE IMAGE OF GOD! His greatest gift to us is the ability to transcend our genetic nature and to will things and circumstances into being. Such power is indeed an act of God and therefore the clearest indication that we share His nature. He is so pleased with our nature, being an image of His, that He actually became a human being! He chose by His Divine Will to share completely in our nature and became a man and dwelt in the physical universe that He created. God became the SON OF MAN and entered into space and time. He was not content to simply communicate through other men who live and die in time, but His desire to communicate Himself was so profound, profound beyond understanding, that He chose to do it Himself. He wanted so much that we get it right. How gracious is Our Lord! If we therefore do the Will of God, as He personally taught it to us, as it is communicated to us through faith, then we will be transformed spiritually and we will be fulfilling our true destiny! When we cooperate with “actual grace,” then we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our soul as evidence of our living relationship and indeed friendship with God.
The indwelling in the soul of the Spirit is called “sanctifying grace” because we have now entered upon the road to sanctity, the road to holiness. It is also very important to realize and meditate upon the fact that when the Holy Spirit dwells within us, then there is present also the Father and the Son. Why? This is the Trinity and the three Divine Persons of the Trinity are always substantially present in unity. That is why Saint Paul could say in his Letter to the Galatians 2:20: “I live, now not I; but Christ lives in me.”
“This beginning of eternal life, as we have called it, is a complete spiritual organism, which has to grow and develop until we enter heaven. The root principle of this undying organism is sanctifying grace, received in the very essence of the soul; and this grace would last forever, were it not that sin, a radical disorder in the soul, sometimes destroys it. From sanctifying grace, which is the germ of glory, proceed the infused virtues. First, the theological virtues, the greatest of which, love, is destined to last for ever- ‘Love never falls away,’ says St. Paul, … ‘Now there remain faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.’ Love will remain for ever, after faith has disappeared to make room for the everlasting possession of God, seen face to face. ‘ Then,’ says the Lord, ‘having recognized the grievousness of its sin and repented of it, the soul begins to weep, for fear of punishment; then it rises to the consideration of my mercy, in which it finds satisfaction and comfort. But it is, I say, still imperfect, and in order to draw it on to perfection… I withdraw from it, not in grace but in feeling. This I do in order to humiliate that soul, and cause it to seek Me in truth… without thought of self and with lively faith and with hatred of its own sensuality.’ And just as Peter compensated for his threefold denial by three acts of pure and devoted love, so the enlightened soul must do in like manner. If we saw the Church as she is in the most generous souls who live most truly the life of the Church, she would appear most beautiful in our sight, despite the human imperfections that are mingled with the activity of her children. We rightly lament certain blots, but let us not forget that if there is sometimes mud in the valley at the foot of the mountains, on the summits there is always snow of dazzling whiteness, air of great purity, and a wonderful view that ever leads the eye to God.”
THE THREE WAYS OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE (Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange –Chapter 1 “The Importance of True Conversion”)
What are the effects of Sanctifying Grace?
First, the most profound effect of the Spirit’s gift of sanctifying grace is to cleanse us of our sins and help us fight against our natural tendency toward sin. Just as metal is melted and molded into a desired image, so are we purified by the fire and molded into the image of God by the Holy Spirit. Our natural tendency toward sin will remain with us until we die, and we must therefore wage “spiritual combat” with the world, the flesh, and the Devil (Satan). As Saint Paul says in his Letter to the Romans 7:18: “I know that there dwells not in me, that is to say, in my flesh, that which is good.”
Second, the Spirit unites us with Christ and we become temples of God. We become the branches of the vine, the true “Vine,” Jesus Christ (John 15:5).11 I like very much the quote from Saint Augustine: “The Holy Spirit dwells primarily in the soul, and gives it true life; and since the soul is in the body, the Holy Spirit dwells therefore in our bodies.” Again, Augustine states a beautiful truth: “Our Father who art in Heaven; the heaven is the just man on earth, because God dwells in him.”
Thirdly, the Spirit illuminates our mind and strengthens our will. The “light of faith and strength of a good will” mentioned by Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:6. We therefore receive the effect of the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love which we were given rights to when we were baptized. The Spirit gives us at this stage the willingness and indeed the ability to cooperate with His gracious virtues.
Let us pause now for a moment and get a sense of what we are talking about. Let us meditate for a bit on what is happening to us when we reach the point in our lives where we begin to “surrender” to the Spirit of God, and we start allowing Him to act within us as our counselor or advocate. Just as a very good lawyer advises his client in regard to a host of legal issues with which he may be confronted during his earthly natural existence, so the Holy Spirit can become, if we allow Him to be, our lawyer, our counselor “par excellence!” Here is what the Spirit can give you in your daily life:
Saint Paul in his letter to the Philippians 4:7 says that through the power of God’s Spirit man acquires the peace “which surpasses all understanding.” Each day this peace allows you to face whatever may come with an inner light and sense of harmony but most especially a confidence and trust that God is with you throughout the day and night. He is guiding you in His ways and advising you in your actions and decisions. There is nothing and there is no one in the entire world who can give you this peace, only God.
Instructor and Guide Along the Way
Remember, you are no longer alone. Now you will receive the teaching, true teaching, which is different from all other knowledge. Instead of some New Age Gnostic heresy composed of so much mumbo jumbo, which can only lead to despair and confusion, this teaching will give you a joy and an exuberance that is beyond understanding. If you live in the grace of God then, as Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives within me.”
We Live a Better Life and Want to Do Good Things
The Holy Spirit is ever active and elevates our human actions from the natural to the supernatural, and consequently we begin to bear fruit on that supernatural level. Everything we do takes on a new meaning, for now we endow our actions with an elemental power that they didn’t have before. Suffering and weakness especially now take on meaning because for the first time suffering and weakness have power, the power of the Cross of Christ. As Saint Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Again, in Colossians 1:24 Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the Church.” Of course, there was nothing lacking or wanting in Jesus Christ’s suffering because we know that He Himself said from the Cross, “It is accomplished”(John 19:30). So what does Paul mean by this mysterious and very misunderstood verse? Paul was referring to the fact that the Church which Jesus founded is His Body on earth and the members of this Body, all true followers of Christ, are called upon to participate in the suffering of Jesus, the Head of the Body. This verse is the foundation stone for the beautiful doctrine of redemptive suffering. We, as human beings, are so loved by God that He became a human being and now has transformed human suffering into a positive manifestation of Himself. Before His coming into the world, suffering was considered to be the plague of existence and the bad fruit of the fall of our original parents. To suffer was to be cursed, and disease was considered to be a judgment of sinfulness. Jesus changed all that, and after His death and Resurrection, the sting of suffering and death would have value; instead of being a curse, it was now an opportunity to participate in the Divine Nature.
We Become the “Children of God”
The Holy Spirit leads us by grace to be the adopted sons and daughters of the Father and we therefore get to call Him “Daddy” (Abba). “Because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:14-17). Isn’t it wonderful to think that we can wake up in the morning and know with certainty that God is at the center of our existence, at the very core of our being? So close is He, in fact, that he dwells within us and considers us to be His own relation. What more could we ask for?
“If God wants you to be as weak and powerless as a child then resign yourself to stumbling at every step. To falling even. Love your powerlessness and your soul will benefit more from it than if, aided by grace, you were to behave with enthusiastic heroism and fill your soul with self satisfaction and pride” (Collected Letters of St. Therese of Lisieux – F.J. Sheed – page 253).
In this state of sanctifying grace, we now are guided by the Spirit to live more and more for God and less for ourselves. We become less ego-driven, selfish, and materialistic, the great evil of our time, and we now want to love God and please Him.
So we begin to grow spiritually, and just as children surrender their toys and games, we as spiritually maturing new “children of God” surrender our ego-driven toys and games and move forward, guided by the Holy Spirit toward our new authentic life of love.
Now that we recognize ourselves as being the “children of grace,” the sons and daughters of Our Father in Heaven, how do we communicate this grace to the people we meet and deal with each day of our lives? Let’s take a look!