FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
Who is a Christian? A Christian may be correctly defined as a baptized person, who is loyal to the Blessed Trinity – to the grace of the Holy Spirit. Divine grace is the foundation of our being and acting as Christians, who are called to a life of grace, virtues, love, prayer and compassion – to holiness. Hereafter, I present basic teachings on divine grace. (Cf. CCC 1996-2095)
For a Christian, grace is the greatest power towards his/her full realization as a human being, a child of God and a brother/sister of all persons. As Christians, we are asked to do good deeds, to acquire by human efforts and’/or receive from God good attitudes or virtues, and to be good in the depth of the soul. The fundamental goodness is given by grace, which elevates the soul to the supernatural level or the level of God as God. Divine grace is always united to love. The New law of the believer is the law of grace and of love.
Grace is the gift of gifts – a totally unmerited, gratuitous gift. Writes Saint Gregory of Nyssa: What words, thoughts of flight of the spirit can praise the superabundance of this grace? Man surpasses his nature: mortal, he becomes immortal; perishable, he becomes imperishable; fleeting, he becomes eternal; human, he becomes divine.
In the present state of our wounded nature, we need grace in two ways: at the natural level, to be able to do all the possible good of nature (healing grace), and absolutely at the supernatural level, that is, to be elevated to the level of God as God (elevating grace). “It is through grace that you have been saved” (Eph 2:5). With the gift of grace comes the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in the depth of the soul (Jn 14:23) is the effect of God’s special love for us.
Grace in the soul is gratia, charis, chesed: gracefulness, charm, graciousness, favor, kindness, piety, gratitude. Grace is a special love of God for all humans. God loves with common love all creation, and with special love humanity. God wants the salvation of all, and Christ died for all. Thus, God has bound himself to give sufficient graces to all. No one will be able to say: “Lord, You did not give me enough graces to reach salvation.” As free human beings, we may say no to God and thus commit sin, which is a betrayal of God’s grace and love. Without grace, moreover, one may – and should – pray always, and rely on God’s infinite mercy.
Grace is a real participation in the very nature of God: “So that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (II Pet 1:4). The consequences of this incredible real and limited share in divine nature are truly awesome: we become children of God, God’s heirs, sisters/brothers of and in Jesus Christ, temples of the Blessed Trinity, new creatures indeed (cf. Rom 8:15-17; I Cor 3:16, Col 3:8-10).
There are different kinds of grace. Grace “gratum faciens” is “grace that makes us pleasing to God by making a person holy (habitual or sanctifying grace) or preparing him for sanctification or preserving him or making him grow in it (actual graces)” (Cf. CCC 1999-2000).
Another distinction of grace: Sanctifying grace, which is mainly ordered to personal sanctification, and freely bestowed graces (gratis datae), which are given for the salvation of others – like the different vocations and special graces. These special graces, or charisms – like the gift of miracles or of tongues – are also “oriented to sanctifying grace, and are intended for the common good of the Church” (CCC 2003).
God is the principal cause of Grace: only He who is divine can make us divine. Christ is the meritorious cause of grace: all graces pass through Christ who redeemed us, satisfied for our sins, and ransomed us. Christ is the only Mediator of all graces. All graces flow from Christ: in particular from His Humanity and also from the Sacraments, in a unique way from the Holy Eucharist. To the end of time, the Holy Spirit will make the grace of Christ flow into the world and in the Church.
The main effects of grace are justification and merit. Justification, which is the principal effect of grace, is the movement of the rational creature from the state of sin to the state of justice/holiness (St. Thomas Aquinas). Justification entails the following elements: forgiveness of sins, renewal and newness of life, and the human person’s free cooperation with grace. “God saving justice given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. No distinction is made: all have sinned and lack of God’s glory, and are justified by the free gift of his grace through being set free in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:23-24).
Merit, which is the secondary effect of grace, is a title to a supernatural reward. An essential point: the first grace cannot be merited. Grace belongs to a higher level to which we cannot go up by ourselves but only with God’s help, with his divine grace. Without grace, we can merit nothing. No one can truly boast of the good labor or deeds he or she has performed: “What have you got that was not given to you?” (I Cor 4:7). Our merits, St. Augustine writes, “are God’s gifts” (CCC 2009). With God’s grace and gifts we can “merit” eternal glory, the increase of grace, and – only if helpful on the way to heaven – temporal goods. There are many texts in the Bible that speak of reward for work well done: “Your labor will have a reward” (Jr 31:16}; “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first” (Mt 20:8; cf. I Cor 3:8). Jesus’ Parables of the Ten Virgins, the Talents and the Last Judgment speak of different rewards or merits from God.
Our baptismal and sacramental grace can grow and develop in a threefold manner: through the worthy reception of the sacraments, the practice of infused virtues – especially the theological virtues of faith, hope and, above all, charity-, and prayer of petition. Grace – always in the company of love – is developed and intensified by growing in charity as love of God and neighbor. St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of the ascending perfection of charity: of the charity of the beginners, of the mature, and of the perfect.
We may also grow in grace by ascending the ladder of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, contemplation, and union. One of the best descriptions of the development of grace is found in the Interior Castle or Las Moradas of St. Teresa of Avila, where she explains the seven mansions of the soul on its way to spiritual marriage and deepest union with God.
Graceful believers are asked by their faith to be faithful to divine grace. Fidelity to grace is “the loyalty or docility in following the inspirations of the Holy Spirit in any form that He shows Himself” (A. Royo-Marin). Fidelity to grace entails fidelity to habitual and actual graces; in particular, to the many actual graces that God gives to all daily. It implies fidelity to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 8:14), to the movements of the Holy Spirit and his Gifts.
With grace, the Holy Spirit enlightens us and moves us to know and do the right thing. He inspires us indirectly, too, through various instruments, such as saints and angels, preachers, good books, friends – and the cross! Our Lady, Mother Mary aids us in a unique way, after Christ: she is the “full of grace.”
Grace is given to us in baptism as God’s powerful gift, which calls for a task – our free cooperation. It is not given to us as a piece for a museum, nor as a light to be hidden under a bushel: “This grace in me has not been fruitless”; “yes, working together with him, we entreat you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (II Cor 6:1). Divine grace is God’s gift to us that requires our free and responsible cooperation. Life is not easy. With God’s grace and love, one can bear any adversity. St. Paul reminds us of God’s words to him: “My grace is sufficient to you” (II Cor 12:9).
Grace is “a divine seed” (I Jn 3:9), which we have to water, nurture, and care for through life. A young man entered a beautifully lighted store, which announced itself thus: “Everything you wish.” He asked the angel managing the store: “I wish the end of all wars; justice for the exploited of the earth, tolerance and generosity towards all foreigners, profound love in the families, decent work for all the unemployed, and… and…” The angel interrupted him kindly: “Excuse me, young man, I think you did not understand me. Here, we do not sell fruits; we only sell seeds.” Only seeds! Grace and graces: divine seeds!
(Published by O Clarim, November 18, 2016)