What is God’s Grace?

“He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion up to the day of Christ Jesus.”   (Phil 1, 3-6).

For, “God wills that all men be saved”[1], and God also wills that all men “come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2,4).  God does not leave us alone to our own devices to acquire salvation and knowledge of the truth, for this would be impossible.  God, through grace, comes to our aid.  Grace is a “participation in the life of God.  It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life.”[2]  Grace is not something which we can tangibly experience, and therefore can only be known by faith.  We see and experience the effects of grace, but only a person of faith will associate these effects with God’s grace.  However “every good in the order of moral activity must be attributed to grace.”[3]  St Augustine made an interesting comparison with food showing how food helps us to live rather than makes us live.  Man retains his free will, “even if food is available, it does not make someone live who wants to die.”[4]  God gives us all we need to flourish, and it is up to us to cooperate with this grace.  We are free to choose.  The importance of God’s grace for man not only affects our finality, but also helps bring the Kingdom here on Earth.  The world is made up of individuals, and “the imbalances in the world are linked to man internal conflict.”[5]  When God’s grace is cooperated with by an individual it spreads beyond him to the wider community, and thus the Kingdom spreads.  Only Christ can offer man the light “to measure up to his destiny.”[6]     

“In falling by his own will man became evil”.[7]  Man has therefore inherited a fallen nature and he has an inclination, or impulse towards evil.  The Lord “helps us to turn away from evil and to do good, something which no one can do without the spirit of grace.”[8]  We cannot persevere in the faith without grace.  Our will has been affected by the fall so we would not desire to persevere in the good without help from God.  Grace helps us but “nobody is restored to the primitive state of innocence.”[9]  The fallen condition which man has inherited, has not only affected him in terms of death, and concupiscence, but man’s will has also been affected.   Man needs help from God to will the good, but remains free in his choice of the good.  Since man was created God has always aided man by the help of his grace, and man has always been totally dependent on God for his existence.  Adam however did not receive perseverance in the good like us.  The grace which Adam had received, prior to the fall was different as he already willed the good and was able to not sin.  Adam did not have the internal struggle which we have inherited.  The grace he received was that “he could be righteous if he willed to”.[10]   Adam did not need a grace to will the good, because he had not lost anything.  We, however, cannot avoid sin, and do not will the good on our own.  We have been justified and been freed from the slavery of sin.  “Faith, love and charity are passed into our hearts with justification and obedience to the divine will is granted us.”[11]  This justification is conferred on us in baptism, and we become children of God, and receive sanctifying grace, which we also receive in the other sacraments.  The Christian therefore through his baptism, “participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body.  As an “adopted son” he can henceforth call God “Father.”[12]

Sanctifying grace restores the supernatural gifts that man lost after the fall, enabling us to better participate in the divine life.  It is an “habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love”. [13]  The Church encourages its members to be habitually healed and strengthened in this grace especially by reception of the Holy Eucharist, and through the sacrament of confession.   Sanctifying grace makes us pleasing to God.  Actual grace is different.  It can be received by one outside of union with God, or in a state of mortal sin.  It refers to intervention or promptings from God, which can be towards conversion, or in aiding the soul in the work of sanctification.  Actual grace can be at work in a non-baptised person, but is more at work in a baptised person, who God will intervene more with.  These are the two main types of graces one receives, but there are also special graces, or charisms, indicating a “special favour, gratuitous gift, or benefit.”[14]  St Paul, in 1 Cor 12, speaks about various different types of charisms, from the power to heal, to preaching, to prophesy, to the ability to speak foreign languages.  Their character can be ordinary, or extraordinary (speaking in tongues) and their purpose is to build up the Church.  They are not ends in themselves, and they serve the people of God.  It is often the case that the recipient is a saint, but this is not absolutely necessary for the charism to bear fruit, as we saw recently with a Central American order in the Church, and some controversy surrounding their founder.  The thousands of vocations the order still receives is testimony to the charism of the founder.  There are also graces of state which “accompany the exercise of the responsibilities of the Christian life and of the ministries within the Church.”[15]

God’s grace demands a response from man in his freedom.  Only in freedom can man respond to God’s grace.  Only in freedom can man show and share his love.  Man can sometimes confuse that freedom with license to do whatever he pleases, even if it is sinful.  “For God has willed that man remain under the control of his own decisions, so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him”.[16]  Man has within him a longing for God.  “He has placed in man a longing for truth and goodness that only He can satisfy.  The promises of “eternal life” respond, beyond all hope, to this desire.”[17]  Man is prepared for the reception of grace in a work of grace itself.  Grace helps to sustain us on our journey of faith, and in sanctifying us through deeds of charity.  The Catechism tells  that Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. [18]  The Church firmly believes that Christ, “who died and was raised up for all, can through His Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny.”[19]

Through an act of great mercy, God became incarnate and has saved us from our sin, we have been justified.  “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.”[20]  It is the good news that Israel waited for.  St Augustine calls it God greatest work and saw it as greater than the act of creation, “because “heaven and earth will pass away but the salvation and justification of the elect . . . will not pass away.”[21]  It is God’s greatest act of mercy.  It shows us who God is.  We can be assured of God’s active support always “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.”  (Lk 22, 32).  Even though the faith and the Church can seem to be disappearing in the Western Nations, there is real hope in God’s grace.  “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Roms 5,20).  This great hope stems from the fact that the vast number of people have been baptised.  God therefore will continue to give them actual grace, and prompt them to come home.  It is up to the shepherds and the church to be available.

[1]    Lumen Gentium No. 127  

[2]    Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1997

[3]    Gaudium et Spes No 10  

[4]    Augustine, “De Correptione et Gratia”, (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p.132  

[5]    Gaudium et Spes No. 10  

[6]    Augustine, “De Correptione et Gratia”, (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p.146  

[7]    Augustine, “De Correptione et Gratia”, (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p.1160  

[8]    Augustine, “De Correptione et Gratia”, (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p.110  

[9]    Henri Cardinal De Lubac S.J, “Note on the De Correptione et Gratia”, (Montreal: Palm Publishers, 1969), p.95

[10]  Augustine, “De Correptione et Gratia”, (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p.132  

[11]  Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1991  

[12]  Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1998  

[13]  Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1993  

[14]  IBID No. 1994  

[15]  IBID 1996  

[16]  Gaudium et Spes No. 16  

[17]  IBID 2002

[18]  IBID 1996  

[19]  Gaudium et Spes No. 17

[20]  IBID

[21]  IBID

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