05 May 2011

Grace is not rationed

2nd Week of Easter (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

One of the more unfortunate metaphors from understanding our redemption in Christ Jesus comes from the world of economics. Christ's death on the Cross established a “treasury of merits” in heaven that we can tap into when we are “short on grace.” The saints, especially the Blessed Mother, also contribute to this treasury and are able to dole out favors when properly petitioned. As western Christians steeped in the economics of wealth exchange that makes use of money, it is all too easy for us to start thinking of grace as a form of currency between heaven and earth. Since nothing worth having can truly be free of charge, we fall into the trap of believing that even grace comes with a price. Good works, prayers, devotional practices—all these are often seen as ways of earning a little extra grace on the side. Besides the fact that grace cannot be earned or bought, this economic metaphor for redemption creates another problem for our understanding of how we are saved: scarcity in the market. Prices for commodities are influenced by their availability. For example, there are more portabello mushrooms in the world than there are truffles, so truffles are more expensive. Applying the metaphor too literally: grace—God's favor—is very rare, so obtaining it requires extraordinary expense and skillful bargaining with God. Jesus sticks a big fork in this metaphor: “[The Father] does not ration his gift of the Spirit.” No rationing, no scarcity; no scarcity, no expense.

Along with the Blessed Trinity and the Incarnation, one of the great Mysteries of the faith is how grace works to liberate us and perfect us. We have libraries stuffed with books and articles dissecting the concept, and we may even come close on occasion to actually believing that God applies the saving merits of Christ's sacrifice free of charge. However, finding ourselves in spiritual peril, how often do we resort to bargaining with God, making desperate promises, or vowing reform? “Lord, I really messed up this time! Help me and I'll pray the rosary twice a day from now on!” Sound familiar? If it does, you need to hear Jesus say again, “[The Father] does not ration his gift of the Spirit. The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. . .” Daily Mass, praying the rosary, visiting the sick, etc. help you to grow in holiness once you believe, but only believing on the name of Christ saves you. Our Father does not parcel out His grace exclusively to the hardworking, the deserving, the privileged, or the especially favored. His saving grace, like rain and sunshine, fall on saints and sinner alike. Our daily challenge is receive the abundant grace He gives us and use it to produce better versions of ourselves, more perfect images of the divine in human form. In other words, to become more and more like Christ.

As difficult as it is to get under the notion that God has freed from the slavery of sin for no other reason than that He loves us, it is imperative that we come to believe that our redemption through Christ is a holy gift. Freely given, without obligation or exchange. No purchase necessary, no refunds. We are handed our freedom. All we have to do is receive it. And once we've received our freedom from sin, share the Good News of God's mercy through thought, word, and deed. By doing so, we grow closer and closer to God, becoming more and more like Christ. The Father does not ration the gifts of His Spirit. We cannot afford to think, speak, and act as if His grace is a rare, expensive commodity. What is freely given must be freely received and freely shared.

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1 comment:

  1. If I might make one further observation; St. Augustine would never have become a great saint and doctor of the church if he had not first embraced the virtue of chastity.

    There are many ways in which we can block the grace of God. They are called sin. If you want to receive the fullness of grace that God has in store for you, you must first cooperate with the grace that you have already been given.

    "For to everyone who has shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him who does not have, even that which he seems to have shall be taken away." (Matt. 25:29)