Tag Archives: grace

Superabundant Grace for the Married Couple

August 3, 2018

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Wedding at Cana

Jesus attended a wedding feast at Cana at the beginning of his public ministry (Jn 2:1-11). Jesus wanted that couple, as well as every married couple, to have a wonderful life together and to be faithful in their love for each other. The bride and groom had looked forward to their wedding day with eager anticipation, and after exchanging their vows they were jubilant. Their family and friends were together. The festivities were in high gear. There was food and drink, singing and dancing, and smiles on every face. A wedding banquet is the greatest of all feasts.

Jesus knew that their marriage would be tested down the road. Every marriage is tested. The vows say, “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health.” Marriages are tested when one, the other, or both are sick; when faced with economic struggles; or when something else goes wrong. Furthermore, their union will be tested because of their inclination to sin, which leads to “discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation” (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1606). Jesus wants to provide divine assistance to every couple to help them deal with their tests successfully.

There was a signal of the tests looming in the future when the wine ran short. Everything had gone perfectly so far. Then a crisis! Would this misfortune wreck the celebration? Will the misfortunes that are sure to spring up over the coming years wreck the marriage? Can Jesus help? Mary was sure of it. She immediately turned to her son and said, “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3), expecting that he would come up with a solution.

There were six stone water jars near the entrance. They were quite large. Each one held twenty to thirty gallons (Jn 2:6), twenty-five on average. Jesus asked the servers to fill them with water, which they did. It was a lot of hauling. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds, twenty-five gallons weighs 208 pounds. The six stone jars contained one hundred and fifty gallons total.

With the water in place, Jesus asked a server to “Draw some out and take it to the headwaiter” (Jn 2:8). The water had become wine, all one hundred and fifty gallons. That is a huge amount of wine. It would amount to cases and cases of wine by today’s standards.

There are two details that are often overlooked. The average number of guests at a village wedding celebration ranged from one hundred to one hundred fifty, and the guests had been drinking freely all day (see Jn 2:10b). Some of the guests may have been a little tipsy, even though drunkenness was considered a disgrace in Jewish culture. Then Jesus provided an additional one to one and a half gallons of pure choice wine for every single person at the feast. Was Jesus encouraging excessive alcohol use? Did he not care if the party turned raucous? What was the Son of God who embodies virtue doing?

Jesus provided the guests with more wine than they could ever use. It was a superabundant supply that would never run out. The wine represents his grace. On the day the couple was married, Jesus showered them with his divine grace, spiritual blessings and assistance, and it would flow from him to them every day for the rest of their married lives. His grace is superabundant. It never runs out. It is available at all times, particularly when a couple is tested, so they can be faithful in their love for each other for the rest of their married lives.

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A convert faces the confessional

July 6, 2015

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Penitents wait in line to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at Sts. Philip and James Church in St. James, N.Y., March 25, 2013. Sts. Philip and James and all other parishes in the Dioceses of Rockville Centre, N.Y, and Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Archdiocese of New York participate annually in Reconciliation Monday, which falls during Holy Week and offers the opportunity for confession from midafternoon into the evening. CNS

Penitents wait in line to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at Sts. Philip and James Church in St. James, N.Y., March 25, 2013. Sts. Philip and James and all other parishes in the Dioceses of Rockville Centre, N.Y, and Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Archdiocese of New York participate annually in Reconciliation Monday, which falls during Holy Week and offers the opportunity for confession from midafternoon into the evening. CNS

Most converts shrink from the idea of confessing their sins to a priest. Most Catholics, too, I suspect. Who doesn’t shrink from the confessional? A French philosopher once said it would do us all good to go about proclaiming our vices and weaknesses in the same loud voice we use to brag about our accomplishments and our virtues.

Well, here was my opportunity.

I was an odd convert. It was for confession that I had become a Catholic, among other attractions. I knew that the Protestant way was too easy. For me, at least, it was too easy to imagine a God who was not watching me too closely when I sinned or listening too closely when I asked for forgiveness. So, I had the double disadvantage of taking my sins more lightly than I should and not ever being quite sure I had been forgiven.

I was drawn to the idea of confession ever since I read the autobiography of the great psychologist Carl Jung, in which he admits that all he really did for people was to listen to them tell their story. When I thought about that, I realized that we have all experienced the power of someone else’s presence. Think of the times you were quietly depressed, all by yourself, and maybe not even really aware of how sad you were feeling until someone came over to you and asked you how you were doing, and you burst into tears. The presence of a sympathetic human being brings emotions to the surface, and in telling our story our inarticulate, half-understood thoughts and feelings become understandable to us because we are forced to utter them in words.

I knew that Jung was right and that the Catholic practice of confession must be keeping a lot of Catholics off psychiatrists’ couches. The Catholic way offered the sinner accountability, a palpable rite of forgiveness and the healing that comes of utterance.

When the time came for my first confession, I who had longed for the confessional found myself balking in terror. It wasn’t easy, at the age of 60, even to face a lifetime of one’s sins, let alone telling them aloud to a priest. With furious embarrassment I imagined holding up everyone else in line while I took forever to unburden myself, then emerging from the confessional, all eyes on this big sinner who took more than her share of time.

So it was with great relief that I learned I could make an appointment to see a priest in his office. I was more than willing to abandon my romantic image of myself as a mantilla-shrouded penitent kneeling in the cool anonymity of the confessional at dusk. The thought of that anonymity had been comforting, but in my mind, it hadn’t ever been sufficient. Disguise my voice? Go to a different parish to confess, where I am unknown? Best just to face the priest, look him in the eye, and face the humbling reality of my sinful nature.

So I found myself one afternoon sitting before a priest, Kleenex in hand, sobbing my way through my misspent life, while a pair of quiet, gentle, nonjudgmental eyes gazed at me in sympathy.

All of it? Am I truly forgiven for all of it?

There was someone in the room with me to say, yes — all of it. It’s God’s free gift. And, by the way, here’s your penance.

Penance! I had forgotten about that. And I learned about making amends, which would show God and my fellow creatures that I meant business, that I believed however falteringly in the possibility of Christ’s command to “go, and sin no more.”

It wasn’t long before I understood that for continuity I needed a single confessor. I needed someone who would come to know me, know my persistent failures, help me with my struggles, cluck sympathetically, “Yes, that again.” But most importantly, I confess (it becomes a habit), I couldn’t imagine broadcasting my sins among all of our priests. The idea of every resident priest knowing a portion of my depravity was more than I could bear. How this thought exposed and embarrassed my vanity!

I chose a confessor and came to meet with him for reconciliation every month or two. After the first few euphoric visits I began to feel discouraged. I heard myself confessing the same old sins over and over. What was the matter with me? Wasn’t I serious about reforming?

My confessor counseled patience and self-forgiveness. I thought he was being too easy on me. That was the whole thing about this Catholic God. He was too loving! He was a pushover for a penitent tear or two. But over the months, in wrestling with my resurgent demons, I gained insight. The battle lines were mostly drawn, and I was forced to recognize the true power of the old, ingrained habits I was struggling against. I took the measure of my enemy and it soon became apparent I needed to fight harder, and smarter.

It was also discouraging to discover I was more sinful than I thought. In preparation for reconciliation, I used various guides to the examination of conscience, and I discovered the looming reality of sins of omission. Here was a bottomless pit of potential sin. How ever could I do all the things love and conscience told me to do?

Yet, in a small way I began to do some of the things I was now aware I had been neglecting. Sometimes, truly, seeing is doing, and struggle is subverted. I learned that freedom from sin is not just a matter of avoiding doing wrong. It is also filling our lives with right actions.

There have been great benefits to my regular appointments with my dark side. Confession is the mark of my commitment to fearless self-searching, to conscious effort to become the person I want to be and to seeking spiritual guidance in this process of self-transformation.

And it works.

As in any struggle to change, it’s easy to feel I’m not getting anywhere until one day I notice that the view from my window is different, and it’s because I’m standing in a new place.

Each time I go to reconciliation, I am reminded that I have God’s unfailing forgiveness and support, the Church’s unfailing support, and the support of one wonderful holy person whose eyes are love. Once I even blurted out in the midst of my confession, “I can’t believe there’s a person whose job it is to do this — that alone is enough to make me believe in God!”

I have become more forgiving of myself because of confession. After all, I have a priest commanding me in the name of God to forgive myself! This is a sacrament of repeated forgiveness, of palpable, embodied forgiveness. I find myself again and again in the presence of this God who is just love, and whose love is truly unconditional. It makes me want to ease up on myself — and others, too.

I am returned again and again to my community. I am reminded that I am not alone in my troubles, and that my sins do not harm me alone, that reparations are in order, that I am important to the community and my good works are needed. I leave with a lightness of spirit, a feeling of having been released, filled with hope for the future and a sense of my place in the great and interconnected human brotherhood. (I also feel this way when I leave the dentist.)

I’m not much better at resisting sin, but temptation seems to come around less often, probably because I’m much better at throwing myself into the path of grace. As a convert, I am dazzled by the profusion of channels of grace in the Catholic Church. Channels and rivulets and cascades and waterfalls of grace! Of these, reconciliation is a wide river I drink from, an anchor point, a regular return to God embedded in my routine life, and it is one of the greatest gifts of the Catholic tradition. It is God inviting me to turn back toward him again and again, over and over, until one day I never turn my face away at all.

A few centuries again, when every self-respecting Protestant middle-class family had servants, it was well known among these families that if you wanted an honest, hard-working servant, you hired a Catholic.

And people knew why, too: Catholics had to face the confessional.

Virginia Chase Sanderson is a retired college instructor of literature and writing who lives in Minneapolis. The essay is based on a talk she gave at St. Stephen in Anoka.

 

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First Friday devotion–a dialogue between two hearts

September 6, 2013

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Jesus pours out many blessings on those who have devotion to Him in His Most Sacred Heart. Photo/San Antonio Abad Parish Maybunga, Pasig City.  Licensed under Creative Commons.

Jesus pours out many blessings on those who have devotion to Him in His Most Sacred Heart as part of the First Friday devotion. Photo/San Antonio Abad Parish Maybunga, Pasig City. Licensed under Creative Commons.

The Catholic Church has no lack of devotions. We can choose from dozens of novenas, prayers of thanksgiving and prayers for the intercession of the Blessed Mother or almost any saint. But whether we lack devotion–the whole point of praying the prayers—is another question.

For a long time I bypassed the First Friday devotion. When the first Friday of the month came up–like today–It just seemed like another thing to keep track of when I had enough trouble getting to Mass on time (still do) and making time for prayer.

First Friday devotion, I’ve learned, is about Jesus. He should be the main focus of our love, so a devotion that centers on Him and His Sacred Heart is set apart from other devotions, according to the Sacred Heart Legion. First Friday devotion started in the 1600s when Christ began appearing to a French Visitation nun named Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart

So what exactly is the First Friday devotion? Most simply, it calls for receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist on the First Friday of nine consecutive months in honor of His Sacred Heart. That sounds easy enough, but along with that we should have:

  • A true love of Jesus Christ and His Sacred Heart, the source of His excessive mercy, help, graces and blessings.
  • Special respect for, and veneration of, the Blessed Sacrament.
  • A desire to make Reparation for the neglect, indifference and ingratitude of the majority that results in Jesus Christ being left alone, abandoned and forgotten on our altars, never visited to offer consolation for such neglect, though He has given us the miracle of His Divine Presence in the Blessed Sacrament as a supreme gift to us in His desire to be always with us. (Acts of reparation to pray on First Friday are available to download.)

If necessary to receive communion in a state of grace on First Friday (or any day), we should go to confession before Mass.

Many graces available

The Lord offers many graces to those who have devotion to His Sacred Heart. As Pope Pius XII wrote in his encyclical Haurietis Aquas, (On Devotion to the Sacred Heart):

It is altogether impossible to enumerate the heavenly gifts which devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has poured out on the souls of the faithful, purifying them, offering them heavenly strength, rousing them to the attainment of all virtues.

Among these heavenly gifts, the Lord gave St. Margaret Mary 12 promises for those who are faithful to the First Friday devotion:

1.“I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.”
2. “I will establish peace in their homes.”
3. “I will comfort them in their afflictions.”
4. “I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all in death.”
5. “I will bestow a large blessing upon all their undertakings.”
6. “Sinners shall find in My Heart the source and the infinite ocean of mercy.”
7. “Tepid souls shall grow fervent.”
8. “Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.”
9. “I will bless every place where a picture of My Heart shall be set up and honored.”
10. “I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.”
11. “Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be blotted out.”
12. “I promise thee in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate on the First Friday in nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in My disgrace nor without receiving the Sacraments; My Divine heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.”

Evidence the Lord reaches out to us

The point of First Friday devotion is to show real devotion to Jesus and His Sacred Heart but the promises are an added incentive. They are evidence that the Lord is reaching out to us in our busyness and indifference.

Biographer Rt. Rev. Emile Bougaud wrote about this in his “The Life of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque,”

“Every new evidence of coldness on the part of man causes God to descend a degree in order to touch the heart from which He cannot succeed in detaching Himself.”

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Grace vs. Karma

January 18, 2012

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Photo/comedy_nose Licensed under Creative Commons

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)

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God and grace are everywhere in Brian Doyle’s world

October 31, 2011

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It’s 5:59 a.m. on a Wednesday and I’m reading and laughing aloud at one end of the house, trying not to stir Sleeping Beauty at the other end. Five days later, at 6:05 a.m., instant replay. Brian Doyle and “Grace Notes” is to blame.

This is writing to savor in the silence and holiness before the rest of the world wakens.

Goodness the man can write.

Lord he can tell a story.

In “Grace Notes” Doyle tells 37 of them, about himself,  about his family, about people and things you’d never think someone would write about but when you’d finished reading you were glad Brian Doyle became a writer.

There’s a good balance of Doyle stories and other people stories in this 148-page Acta Publications paperback. He goes into tell-all phase about his interior life. He’s an amazingly acute observer of his kids and his wife, who he is quick to admit he doesn’t understand. That’s the laugh-aloud funny stuff.

But he’s at his best giving voice to others, a wonderfully eclectic mix whose lives you’ll be so glad you entered — even if vicariously through ink on paper.

There’s the woman on the bus who talks about wanting to have a child but whose husband is apprehensive, the parents dropping off their daughter for college and crying as they do so, the people behind the stories behind those white crosses we all see on the side of the highway.

Hope is everywhere

Doyle sees the grace in every corner of life. Here’s what I mean — you’ll recognize a key phrase in this quote:

“Look, I know very well that brooding misshapen evil is everywhere, in the brightest houses and the most cheerful denials, in what we do and what we have failed to do, and I know all too well that the story of the world is entropy, things fly apart, we sicken, we fail, we grow weary, we divorce, we are hammered and hounded by loss and accidents and tragedies. But I also know, with all my hoary muddled heart, that we are carved of immense confusing holiness; that the whole point for us is grace under duress; and that you either take a flying leap at nonsensical illogical unreasonable ideas like marriage and marathons and democracy and divinity, or you huddle behind the wall. I believe that the coolest things there are cannot be measured, calibrated, calculated, gauged, weighed, or understood except sometimes by having a child patiently explain it to you, which is another thing that should happen far more often to us all.

“In short, I believe in believing, which doesn’t make sense, which gives me hope.”

My favorite might be the story of the man who, as both a policeman in his town and a soldier, is the one who knocks on doors to tell mothers and father and wives and husbands that their son or daughter or husband or wife is dead.

The holiness pours from this man in his respect for people, his respect for life. Catch this, through Doyle’s writing: “You mostly just listen. People tell stories. Often their first reaction, after the initial shock and grief, is to tell stories….People tell me I should write them down but I feel that they are private stories, you know, stories that only came to me because someone’s heart broke in the kitchen.”

Finally, you won’t want to miss Doyle’s amazing lists of who is going to get into heaven and how they’ll be scrutinized — and by whom — before being allowed in. It’s priceless. Doyle is one of our generation’s great Catholic writers.– bz

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How do we get to heaven?

August 20, 2011

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Heaven?

Tackling this question is a little like trying to transfer the ocean into a small hole on the beach, to borrow an image from St. Augustine.

As Catholics we believe we reach heaven through God’s grace but also that we have to cooperate with that grace.  St. Paul writes that we “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12)  This and other scriptures are interpreted differently, depending on who’s taking up the question.  My goal with this post is simply to present very basic Catholic teaching on the subject.

Getting to heaven is about grace, which we can’t earn and which comes from the love and mercy of God. According to the Catechism, “The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us ‘the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ’ and through Baptism.” (CCC 1987)

Grace makes salvation from sin possible because we believe in God’s revelation and promises, fear God’s judgment, hope in His mercy, trust that God will be merciful to us for Christ’s sake, begin to love God as the source of justice and detest our sins.

The grace to respond

We do have to do something, though. The Catechism says we must give our free response to the gift of grace, even though we need grace just to respond, as the Council of Trent concluded:

“…whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight.”

Along with making a response to grace through faith, Scripture tells us that in order to be saved, we must be baptized (Mk. 16:16), we must receive Christ’s true body and blood (John 6:54) and we must obey the commandments (Matt. 19:17 The sacraments are visible assurances that God is providing us with the grace to keep going.

Our call as Christians is to the “fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness: ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’” (CCC 2013)

Becoming holy

In short, we have to work at becoming holy. The good works that spring from God’s grace are evidence that we’re cooperating with that grace. Faith alone won’t save us; we have to persevere in doing good, as Christ said in his description of final judgment in Matt. 25:31-46.  In this parable, he calls us to charity: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

St. Augustine sums it up well:

Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for His mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without Him we can do nothing. (CCC 2001)

As far as I can tell, there is no stairway to heaven—nor is there an escalator. The Catholic Church teaches that we get there by God’s grace, as well as by the works we do through that grace. Established by Christ, she is our best guide.

Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation. Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith.” (CCC 169)

 

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