“Grace” is one of those terms we often use without being quite sure of what it means. As a child, I was taught about being in a “state of grace” which meant that one hadn't committed a mortal (a.k.a. serious) sin. As an adult, I've heard grace described as something we can tap into whenever we need help, a force just waiting for us to align ourselves with it. In the mothers' Bible Study/ Book Club I attend, we are discussing Graced and Gifted: Biblical Wisdom for the Homemaker's Heart by Kimberly Hahn. For the first chapter, Hahn offers the following discussion question: “How can you get the grace to do God's will in his strength? Name practical and spiritual strategies for receiving that grace.”
I admit at times I have had the image of grace as water coming out of a faucet. Turn it on and grace appears. Turn it off and it vanishes and we are once again left to our own devices. Surely, there has to be more to it than that. In search of answers and clarification, I turned to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Second Edition (CCC). The CCC defines “grace” in several ways:
Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. (CCC 2003)
Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God . . .partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. (CCC 1996)
Through baptism, we receive “sanctifying grace” which “enables [the soul] to live with God, to act by his love.” (CCC 1999-2000)
“Sacramental graces” are “gifts proper to the different sacraments. “Special graces” or “charisms” are “intended for the common good of the Church.” (CCC 2003)
Grace . . . cannot be known except by faith . . .reflection on God's blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an even greater faith. (CCC 2005)
What does all this mean for those of us struggling through life? First of all, grace is a gift from God, freely given. We cannot earn grace, although we can certainly pray for it. Through our prayer, we help align ourselves with God's will. God will certainly provide us the help we need to do what He wants us to accomplish. Through the sacraments, God extends His gift of grace in a special way. We have the assistance we need to live out our own vocation and our part in the life of the Church. Grace seems much like the wind – we can't see it, but we can see what it does. We have to trust that it is there, helping us along when we need it most.
The CCC offers a quote by St. Joan of Arc to illustrate what it means to trust in God's providence. Joan was on trial and she was asked if she knew 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.” (CCC 2005) That seems like a good prayer for all of us. May God keep all of us in his grace.