Few words are so ubiquitous in Christian circles (and even outside them), as the word “grace.” Just from the amount we talk about it, grace seems to occupy a central place in the Christian life. However, if my own experience is anything to go by, even if we grow up hearing about grace, we might have a hard time explaining what it is. This sometimes happens with basic ideas like this when our working sense of them, however vague, seems to get us by from day to day in our spiritual lives. But we shouldn’t settle for vague impressions in something so central! Even if we believe, we should also seek to understand.
So what is grace? Well, in one sense, grace is simply God’s love for us, which He offers apart from any merit of ours. But in another sense, the main one spoken of by St. Thomas Aquinas, grace refers to the gifts placed in us by that unmerited love, the transformed state of goodness that results from the reception of God’s grace in the first sense. This transformation happens not merely at a physical, emotional, or mental level, affecting only particular parts of us. Nor is it simply the restoration of the Edenic integrity of our first parents before they sinned. Grace strikes deeper even than that; grace is a sharing in God’s life, a certain limited communication of God’s own being to ours. By grace, our human nature is elevated above anything we could hope to become with our own powers, and makes us, in the words of St. Peter, “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
Why would God do this? What is the purpose of this apparently profligate gift? The answer lies in the kind of relationship which God desires with us. If God wanted to simply relate to us as Creator to creature, king to subject, or master to servant, then it’s completely unnecessary that we share in the divine nature. But God is not satisfied with any of those relations. Instead, He loves us; and love demands a certain equality. As affectionate and valuable as a man’s bond with a dog can be, there will always be an insurmountable chasm of inequality between them that makes true friendship impossible (despite the cliché). The situation between us and God is similar, except that, while I can never share my human nature with my dog, God, the source of all being, can share His own being with His creatures. We call that sharing “grace,” and when grace lives in us, we become adopted sons of God, capable of true friendship with the Creator Who has now become our Father. To accept this highest of conceivable gifts is the goal of everything we do as Christians – all the more so in Lent, which especially is a time of grace.
May we not refuse the call of God! Rather, let us joyfully welcome the grace which frees us from the chains of sin, and guides us into the eternal love of God’s very life.
Br. Anselm Dominic LeFave, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE