Reflection-Week 4

The Primacy of Grace
 
‘By the grace of God, I am able to accomplish the things in my life.’ These familiar words from a believer led me to question the meaning of ‘grace’. What is grace and why is it superior to human effort? 
 
Grace is favour, 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. Grace is a participation in the life of God. (CCC 1996-1997)
 
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. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them (Eph 2:8-10).
 
Christian life is not something purely human, that is, it is not about attaining salvation through one’s own efforts and merits. It is a response of God’s love; He of His own initiative has given us grace, without us meriting it. The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. (CCC- 1999)
 
No one can think that “we save ourselves by our good works; or, if not by our good works, by our faith; one way or another, we save ourselves” - St. Jerome.
 
I was ready to respond to those who asked me not, to be found by those who sought me not. I said: Here I am! Here I am! To a nation that did not call upon my name (Is. 65:1). And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). The richness of His mercy consists in giving to those who have not asked for anything. Such is God’s love for us, what can separate us from His love?
 
The primacy of grace bestowed in our life by our good Lord is not without its demands. The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion. Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. ‘Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.’ (CCC-1989) Justification establishes cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom.On man's part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion. (CCC-1993)
 
‘Conversion’ (metanoia) means: to come out of self-sufficiency to discover and accept our limitations and the limitation of others while receiving God’s forgiveness and friendship. Unconverted life is self-justification (I am not worse than the others); conversion is humility in entrusting oneself to the love of the other, a love that becomes the measure and criteria of my own life.
 
We find the same awareness in the following prayer of Saint Ambrose of Milan: “What then is man, if you do not visit him? Remember, Lord, that you have made me as one who is weak, that you formed me from dust. How can I stand, if you do not constantly look upon me, to strengthen this clay, so that my strength may proceed from your face? When you hide your face, all grows weak(Ps 104:29): if you turn to look at me, woe is me! You have nothing to see in me but the stain of my crimes; there is no gain either in being abandoned or in being seen, because when we are seen, we offend you. Still, we can imagine that God does not reject those he sees, because he purifies those upon whom he gazes. Before him burns a fire capable of consuming our guilt (cf. Joel 2:3).”
 
The reality is this - Christ has redeemed us! This means he has given us the possibility of realising the entire truth of our being. He has set our freedom free from the dominion of concupiscence. And if a man sins again, it is not due to the imperfection of Christ’s act, but to man’s will which does not avail the grace flowing from that act. (JP II Veritatis Splendor 103)
 
It is in this love that we must build up our ministry. We must stop comparing our prayer styles and works (Parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector - Lk.18:9-14) with our brothers and recognise the beauty of His creation in others’ lives. We must attempt to grow from the ‘self-satisfied’ conscience of the Pharisee to the repentant conscience of the tax collector. This journey is one from the adaptation of moral norm, with self capabilities and personal interests, to desire for primacy of grace in life. This attitude is perfected in the response of Our Mother from “How can this be?” to “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your Word” (Lk. 1:38).
 
All you who are thirsty come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! (Is 55:1)
 
Let us sing songs of praise and thanksgiving and travel to the great well of mercy offered in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Here the rich and poor are seated together; no degrees and honour are considered as worthiness to receive His body and blood. Let us pause for a moment and reflect on what merited us to be seated here to receive the true body, blood, soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. The one who called us to the feast says, “This is my body, which will be given for you” (Lk. 22:19). It is in this invitation that we find what we are and what we are called to become.
 
The Jesus Youth movement is a mustard seed and a tree at the same time. We need to have the humility to leave up to God the when and how the seed will grow into a large tree where different birds may find a place among its branches (Mark 4:26-29). When we become all too conscious of our own weakness, the reply from God to St. Paul “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9) will lead us to have absolute trust in the primacy of grace in our lives and in the movement.
 
It is in the school of Mary that we learn to pray. “They have no wine” (John 2:4). Mary brings the shortcoming to the attention of the Divine Master with full confidence that He is able to intervene there. She tells us “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:5), putting trust in Him who is able to turn ordinary human effort at His will to divine abundance. The overshadowing of the Holy Spirit enables us to be the ‘mystical bodies of Christ’ through whom His kingdom is brought to fruition.
 
Lord, teach us to pray:
 
Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
 
Let us stand beneath the cross of Jesus with Mary and look at His pierced side from where grace flew as water and blood.

  • Leave up to God in prayer our growth of holiness and desire His continual grace in the ordinary situations of life.
  • Offer fasting and penance for the conversion of a person close to us with the Marian prayer “They have no wine”.
  • Reflect on the primacy of work vs. grace. Bring everything that we do and intend to do under the dominion of God by offering it up to His will.
  • Consider singing “Amazing Grace” this week in family/personal prayer.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
 
’Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace my fears relieved,
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.
 
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come,
’Tis Grace hath brought me safe thus far
And Grace will lead me home.
 
The Lord has promised good to me
His Word my hope secures,
He will my Shield and Portion be
As long as life endures.
 
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil
A life of joy and peace.
 
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine,
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
 
When we've been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.
 
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

 
(Words by John Newton, 1779)
 
Sunil Nadarajan
Chicago, USA  

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