Lately the Bishops have been involved in various political debates. Yesterday on the blog we discussed how the Bishops have been excessively focused on passing a specific immigration bill. As we said, there is a deep problem here. Which specific plan to enact with regards to immigration is an issue of prudential judgment not intrinsic morality. Because of this, Bishops should emphasize the moral principals involved however when exercising their duties as Bishops, they should remain neutral as to which policy path is chosen. For the whole story, read our blog post from yesterday: Here
Today however I wanted to put forth a suggestion to the Bishops. What should they in fact be talking about? Perhaps they could talk about grace. This word is often used in the context of prayers, readings, and homilies however it is also ill defined in today’s world. Unfortunately, this extremely meaningful and essential term has developed into a sort of throw away word that merely indicates the discussion is related to religion in some way. “God’s grace is with us” or “Let’s say grace” etc. are examples. Some who read this may know, others may not, that grace actually has a deep and significant meaning in Catholicism. Before going on, it is important to note that grace is not just some obscure theological term that only theologians care about. On the contrary, grace is one of the most, if not the most, important Catholic concept for living our daily lives.
So what is grace? Grace is defined by the Baltimore Catechism as “The supernatural gift of God given to man for his salvation through the merits of Jesus Christ.” Let’s dissect a little bit to understand it better.
First, it is a supernatural gift. Supernatural means it comes from God and is above the power of any other. This differentiates grace from something natural. For example, intelligence could be a gift of God but it is not supernatural. Grace is a supernatural gift and therefore is beyond our nature. It is not something we can obtain through any means except by God Himself. Grace is also a gift. This is because it isn’t something we strictly merit or deserve, it’s something God choses to bestow on us.
Second, it is given to man for his salvation. This should be straightforward. Rather than a gift that might make us happy or be of some natural use, it is a gift which leads us to our ultimate destination, that is, eternal life. Grace is the gift that helps us get to heaven, it’s that simple. If we remember one thing about grace, we should remember that it is God’s way of saving our souls. This is the essential point and the reason why we cannot forget what grace is.
Third, grace was earned or merited by Christ. Initially, grace was offered to man freely and simply as a gift unpaid for. However, Adam sinned, thus making man positively unworthy of grace. In order to buy it back (i.e. redeem it), Christ died on the cross. Consequently through his incarnation, life, and death Christ merited from the Father all of the grace necessary for salvation and beyond because Christ’s merit was infinite.
Okay so that is grace in three easy points. The next important element of the theology on grace involves the division of grace into categories; however, in order to understand this, a brief outline of the Church’s teaching on original sin is necessary. We need to start in the beginning with Adam and Eve when God created man. God created us in His image and He created us naturally good. In addition to our natural goodness, God gave us a special gift beyond our natures, that is, the gift of His very own friendship. Through this friendship, Adam and his descendants could become heirs to supernatural happiness in heaven (and it is important to note that Garden of Eden, sometimes called “paradise” is NOT the same thing as heaven. The paradise of Adam and Eve is an earthly bliss not a supernatural bliss which includes the vision of God). In any case, Adam destroyed this friendship with God through a sin of disobedience. Because of this, human nature was wounded. It was wounded first because it was turned away from its final purpose in God and lost His friendship. Second, it was wounded because we now have an inherent desire to sin. Much more could be said but this will suffice to understand the two types of grace.
Man and God were united in a friendship at the beginning through a type of grace. This is called sanctifying grace. It can be thought of as God’s friendship. God’s friendship is His free gift. With it, comes a participation in God’s own life which includes the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Also, when we are friends with God, we become holy and our sins are forgiven, thus being in the state of grace (or having sanctifying grace) means being united to God by charity and consequently free of mortal sin. It is sanctifying grace which makes us adopted children of God. Because of this, we are able to merit when we are in the state of grace. If we die with grace on our souls we are saved, if we die without it, we cannot be saved. The reason is simple: Sanctifying grace makes us pleasing to God. Through sanctifying grace we participate in a life beyond our nature. Heaven is beyond our nature. Therefore, we cannot participate in the joys of heaven without this special gift which complements our nature since our nature alone is not enough to experience the joys of God’s very own presence (which is heaven). Sanctifying grace is the most practically important topic in all of life because it is the one thing we need to change our eternal destination from catastrophic to perfect!
We are not born with sanctifying grace as I said above. Original sin means precisely that, we are not in God’s friendship. That is why the Church baptizes infants. However, I don’t want to get too far afield here into sacramental theology, I’d like to stick to grace. So the second point of interest is the other division of grace called helping grace or actual grace. Actual grace, being the second type of grace, is what enables us to overcome the second effect of original sin, namely, the tendency to sin. Actual grace is God’s assistance in our lives for us to do good and avoid evil. It works in two ways. First, our intellects are enlightened by God and second, our wills are strengthened to do good and avoid evil. Any time we do something morally praiseworthy; know that it is God’s actual grace which led us to that deed. Also know that in the midst of temptation, God offers us His assisting grace in order that we may do what is right and avoid sin.
So why is grace so important? Because with it we are saved and without it we are damned! That leads us to our next question, how do we obtain grace? Stay tuned… In the meantime let’s pray to St. Augustine the doctor on grace for a better understanding of this holy gift!
Beloved Saint of our age, you were at first wholly human-centered and attached to false teachings. Finally converted through God’s grace, you became a praying theologian—God-centered, God-loving, and God-preaching.
Help theologians in their study of revealed truth. Let them always follow the Church Magisterium as they strive to communicate traditional teachings in a new form that will appeal to our contemporaries. Amen.