Shortly after being ordained a deacon, I was asked by my pastor to put together a presentation on the sacraments. Working my way through the task, I came to a point where I needed to produce a slide on what it is that the sacraments provide. That gift, in special abundance, is of course God’s amazing and life-giving grace.
At that moment, I froze. Had I looked in a mirror, I’m certain I would have seen myself looking like a deer in headlights. Of course, I knew that grace is good. If I were to ask just about anyone if they wanted a bountiful helping of God’s grace, that answer would be in the high affirmative. That said, I found myself at a loss as to how to explain what grace is. Grace seemed to be one of those things that is easier to internalize than it is to explain.
Sure, had I been asked at that time by a parishioner what grace was, I’m confident that I would have been able to tap dance my way to some kind of answer. I likely would’ve responded with something like: It is a gift from God. It is good and will make us better disciples. It will make us happier humans. But I knew that this response was sub-par. There had to be a better way to describe what grace truly is.
Desiring not to ever poorly shuffle my way through an explanation of something so important, I set out on a mission to come up with a succinct and relatable description of God’s grace.
After analyzing the many definitions of the various types of grace, (Sanctifying, Actual, Sacramental, etc), I came up even more deer-dazed than when I started. But then, I found it, a best-in-class explanation of grace. Confidence immediately replaced my grace-related trepidation. Before me was something that I not only understood, but also something that I could easily share with others.
It came from the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 1996, and reads,
Grace is favor, 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.
This short, yet comprehensive definition breaks down into three grace-related truths:
1. Grace is free and undeserved
“Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help God gives us…” Short and sweet, what this tells us is that although we don’t deserve this great gift of grace, God desires to pour it out on us. All we have to do is recognize, accept, and participate within it. Perhaps the greatest example of this is recognizing and believing in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and participating in it at the altar of the Mass.
2. Grace contains a call and a response
Of all three components of this definition, the “help that God gives us to respond to his call” is the one that housed my personal “light-bulb” moment in understanding the gift of grace. Notice that there are two ingredients baked into this part of grace; first there is a call, and then, a response.
The call is God’s and it’s always coming our way. I imagine it sounding something like this, “Learn from me the way to life. I love you, come this way!”
I picture this call as a giant radio signal that God, since the beginning of time, has been diffusing throughout the ends of the earth. Trying to jam this signal, is the world and the elements of evil, and they are good at it.
For many of us, that signal gets increasingly difficult to hear. It becomes replaced by worldly distractions that seek to steal from us God’s intended gift of happiness. For me, the most effective way to blast through the noise that seeks to block God’s call is to attend Mass frequently. There is indeed something happening at the Mass, specifically in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, that keeps me hungering not only for the Mass, but for more time with he who is the Mass.
Grace is the force that helps us to respond to God’s perpetual signal, his loving call. Suddenly, grace makes perfect sense! Grace gives us the ability to hear and then respond to God’s call!
But understand this about grace; it takes two to tango. To receive its maximal benefit, we must be active participants within it. As the Apostle James wrote, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
3. Grace calls us to become partakers of the divine nature and of the eternal life
When we respond to God’s call we become, “adoptive sons, partakers of the Divine Nature and eternal life.” This relates back to the Mass where we “partake” in Christ’s very essence. While God delivers grace in many ways, grace nears its zenith during the Mass, and most essentially within the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Having discovered a definition that helped me put a pin in my presentation on the sacraments was a minor find relative to where it has led me. The understanding of the interrelationship and inseparability of grace and the Eucharist has set me on a mission to share the truth of both. What’s often missing in one’s understanding of the Eucharist is what the gifted benefit of grace really is, and how that grace stands ready to lead us all on a path towards happiness and holiness.