One of the biggest difficulties about wearing a white habit is that it is absolutely impossible to keep spotless. In a way, being a sinful, concupiscent human person is much the same: it is impossible to avoid the stain of sin. But, if Jesus calls us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), surely, He must give us a way to follow His instruction, right?
The means by which we move towards perfection, which the Church calls grace, is the “free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1996). We cannot earn it or pay it back. He gives it to us only because he loves us, and “it is by this love that God simply wishes the eternal good, which is Himself, for the creature” (Summa Theologica I.II.110.1). In other words, He loves us gratuitously, and thus wants what is best for us. Because He knows that He Himself is our eternal good, and because He knows that we are incapable of achieving it on our own, He gives us everything we need to receive that eternal good. He does not, however, force the gift upon us: “God’s free initiative demands man’s free response, for God has created man in His image by conferring on him, along with freedom, the power to know Him and love Him. The soul only enters freely into the communion of love” (CCC 2002). We can choose to reject God’s free gift, but, like a child rejecting a freely given birthday gift, we would be the ones losing out.
There are many ways of categorizing the ways in which grace works in us. One division is between sanctifying grace, “whereby man himself is united to God,” and gratuitous grace, “whereby one man cooperates with another in leading him to God” (ST I.II.111.1). God works directly in our lives as well as through those around us. Another distinction is between habitual grace, which God places in us as “the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God’s call,” and actual graces, “which refer to God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification” (CCC 2000). Just as I learn over time to pull back the sleeve of my habit before reaching for the sauce, God changes me over time to more readily follow His will. Just as I must spot clean or launder my habit, God acts directly and efficaciously in my life to draw me closer to Himself—through the sacrament of Reconciliation, for example.
So how do we receive and cooperate with God’s awesome beneficence? The most direct, most evident, and easiest fonts of grace are the sacraments. Every single sacrament is guaranteed to convey grace as long as the recipient is properly disposed to them (CCC 1127). However, we receive graces in a myriad of other ways, many of which we never recognize. Let us follow the example of our Mother Mary, who most perfectly cooperated with grace, and humbly request her intercession to more perfectly recognize and cooperate with grace.
Br. Antony Augustine Cherian, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE