When things happen unexpectedly, it’s fashionable these days to chalk it up to Karma.
The basic idea is that you reap what you sow. There are different definitions of Karma but many Buddhists believe that nothing happens to a person that they don’t for some reason deserve. Not everything is attributed to Karma but it means you eventually feel the effect of what you’ve done in this life or even a previous life.
I don’t have any doubt that we reap what we sow. Often enough I see the consequences of my good, bad and just plain stupid actions. But Christians don’t consider finding a choice parking spot payback for a good deed done in a past life. We believe all things except sin happen through God’s grace.
Grace: God’s free gift
The Catechism defines grace as free and undeserved help from God to respond to His call to become His adoptive children, partakers of divine nature and eternal life. Grace is a participation in God’s life, an introduction into the intimacy of Trinitarian life. (CCC: 1996-1997)
Besides the fact that it’s a free gift that we don’t deserve, grace is veiled in mystery. What we know about it comes from the way it operates in the soul. The Catechism says it belongs to the supernatural order, and that it escapes our experience and can’t be known except by faith. (CCC:2005)
Knowing this about grace, St. Joan of Arc’s accusers tried to trap her: “Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.'”
Whether we can sense it or not, we need grace for our spiritual life as much as we need oxygen to live. The grace of Christ is infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it and sanctify it. The Catechism identifies two types of grace:
- Sanctifying Grace: Received at baptism. “…a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by His love.”
- Actual Grace: God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification. (CCC:2000)
Effects of Grace
Besides salvation and eternal life, the effects of grace include faith, holiness, contrition, chastity, the building up of the Church, forgiveness of sins, virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
God initiates with grace which “precedes, prepares and elicits” our free response. He gives us the grace to welcome His revelation in faith. The New Law, which is the perfection of the divine law and Christ’s work expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, is the grace of the Holy Spirit given to the faithful through faith in Christ. It is a law of love and freedom–and also of grace because it gives the strength of grace to act by means of faith and the sacraments. (CCC: 35, 1972, 2022)
In other words, grace is a gift but we have to make the effort to receive it. For example, contemplative prayer is a grace received in poverty and humility–a combination of grace and determined response. If we commit grave sin and lose our baptismal grace, we can ask God to help us recover the grace of sanctification by confessing our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation.
While Karma says we get what we deserve, God responds to our sorrow for mistakes by giving us more grace. According to St. Paul: “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” (Rom. 5:20)