What is 'Grace'?

Catherine Fournier

I remember sitting in my in-laws kitchen one afternoon, shortly after Peter and I were married. My mother-in-law - an vocal and opinionated, Ukrainian, deeply religious with a simple faith, and her own particular ideas of 'practicality' - was expounding on how 'grace' had helped some family member survive a crisis, how 'grace' carried everyone through their day, how 'grace' gave her the energy to raise her children.

Eventually I - with all the arrogance of a young person, committed to intellect and the scientific method- impatiently demanded to know what 'grace' was and why did she keep referring to it?

Without a word, which was unusual for Baba, she leapt up, hurried into the dining room where all the precious things were kept and returned with a heavy book. She thumped it down on my lap and opened to a page. 'Grace' it read.

Unfortunately, I can't remember what book it was - and since her illnesses and a move, neither can our Baba - nor can I remember what the definition said. I do remember that it made sense, that it explained grace clearly and precisely. I remember reading that while intangible, grace was real and present. I remember thinking 'Well, why didn't somebody just say so?'

There are many incidents that led to my eventual conversion. I realise now that God 'set me up' for about ten years before he came knocking. A normal Saturday afternoon that I'm sure no-one else remembers, was one of those incidents. While it's not the mysterious book from my mother-in-law's house, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the book I turn to when one of our children asks a question about our faith.

As a matter of fact, when our son Andrew was 15 he wanted to read Nietchze. We knew we couldn't forbid it, because then he'd read it behind our backs without supervision, so we said that he had to read the Catechism first. It took him about a month. Then he moved on to Nietchze, proud that he had 'earned' this privilege.

Within a week, he came into the kitchen while I was making dinner and said 'I'm giving up on Nietchze.' When I asked why, he answered 'Because I've decided that either the guy is trying to be stupid, or he's crazy and I don't want to waste any more time on him.'

Graces. Graces of Matrimony, baptismal and sacramental graces, graces from parental prayer and parental authority.

1996. Our justification comes from the grace of God. 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.

2000. Sanctifying grace is a habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love. Habitual grace, the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God's interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification.

2003. Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. There are sacramental graces, gifts proper to the different sacraments. There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by Saint Paul and meaning 'favour', 'gratuitous gift,' 'benefit.' Whatever their character - sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues - charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church.

2005. Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord's word - 'Thus you will know them by their fruits' - reflection on God's blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.

This final item in particular, raises an important point. You can't use feelings to determine the existence of any element of the spiritual world.

Feelings come and go. This is normal, right, and necessary. Think of it, if we were bursting with joy all the time, how much would any of us get done in our day? That's why Love isn't a feeling, it's an act, and a commitment. So are faith, Providence and grace.

Like faith, and Providence, grace is not detectable by any ordinary means. It is discerned or deduced from events in our lives, and though feelings fluctuate, it persists. I'm glad it does, it's influence on Andrew in the instance I related above is only the tiniest of examples of our reliance on graces in our daily living out of our vocation.

If you have any stories of the action of grace in your life, please tell us about it. It is by sharing these stories, that we strengthen each other's faith.

Excerpts taken from Cathechism of the Catholic ChurchCopyright © Concacan Inc. - LIBRERIA EDITRICE VATICANA, 1994, for the English translation in Canada. All rights reserved.

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