21 September 2012

Grace given according to Christ's gift

St. Matthew
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

How many times have I heard otherwise faithful, intelligent Catholics say something like: “I've been asking God to give me the grace to forgive/forget/move on/stop this sin/grow in purity/etc. And it seems like He just doesn't hear me”? How many times? If I were given a dollar for every time I heard this, I could buy a complete set of Japanese silk, hand-embroidered, jewel-encrusted, air-conditioned vestments and have plenty left over to start my own fried chicken and pecan pie franchise. That's a lot of time, folks. A lot. Despite the frequency of and urgency with which I am asked about the apparent absence of God's favor in someone's life, I always take the time to answer patiently b/c we're not messing around with an abstract philosophical question here. We depend, totally depend, on God's grace to make it day to day. Forget growing in holiness. How about just getting out of bed? How about just making it to work, to school? “Father, I've been asking God to give me the grace but it seems like He just doesn't hear me. What's wrong?” I answer, quoting Paul, “. . .grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.” Was given. That's past tense. You have already been given the grace you need. 

Does knowing this truth solve your problem? Probably not. Why? Because the problem is not a lack of knowledge. The problem is most likely a deficiency in the will. Are you using the grace you've already been given? Are you cooperating with all of God's efforts to get you untangled? Let's go back to Paul. What is he telling the troubled Ephesians to do? “I. . .urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received. . .with all humility and gentleness, with patience.” No small order, and we know that Paul knows he's asking a lot b/c he follows his order with: “BUT grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.” So, using Christ's death and resurrection as the measure for merit, we have been given the grace we need to grow in holiness, and that grace comes to each one of us and takes shape in us according to our individual natures so that we might be made perfect. How do we exercise the will to cooperate with the grace we have been given and received? Grace does not destroy my nature; it perfects my nature. If I live a life worthy of the call I've received, then grace gives me all I need to approach perfect holiness. 

Now, you're probably thinking: but that's the problem, Father, I need grace to live a worthy life! How do I live a worthy life w/o grace? You don't. That you exist in the first place, that you exist at all is a grace, a gift. You live, you move, you breath in the presence of God. To repeat: you already have all the grace you need. Use it. Cooperate with God's gifts and you will approach perfection. Look at Matthew. A lying, cheating, traitorous tax-collector for a heathen empire that's invaded his own country! Jesus looks at him and says, “Follow me.” That's it. What is it in Matthew that helps him to stand up, turn away from his lucrative job, and become a fool for Christ? He sees in Christ his own perfect self; he hears from Christ the word of grace that he already knows will teach him the way to salvation. Something in Matthew assists him in responding to what we sees and hears in Jesus. We call that something “grace.” The next time you find yourself confused by temptation or stuck in sin, don't pretend you are helpless and ask for the grace you already have. Ask for the courage and the strength to use that grace to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Ask for the courage to be Christ for the world. 

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  1. Now that made me smile! And laugh. Though I would add wisdom to "Ask for the courage and the strength to use that grace..." Wisdom is something which routinely escapes me, and seems, at least for me, something needed to fully utilize the grace already given.

    And, I could certainly see you in hand-embroidered Japanese silk vestments ;-).

  2. Anonymous8:53 AM

    You come up with another much welcome Divine Providence-related homily, and just for the Feast of my namesake saint...this way you're gonna spoil me, Fr... :)

    1. Btw you and Shelly I'm going to be a busy preacher. :-)

    2. You're welcome!!

  3. Anonymous11:01 AM

    I'm reminded of St. Philip Neri's prayer for help controlling his temper. He then left the church building and immediately encounter numerous people who strained his temper. He then complains to God along the lines of "I asked for help!". God replies 'You need practice.'

    I get the truth of it. But when I'm asking for grace in a situation with other people, and nothing ever seems to change although AFAICT I have - and even the other people admit they can see some of it, too - I do start wondering if I've missed something God is trying to tell me. Then I tend to say some prayers along the lines, of: if I'm missing something, please get it through to me. And then try to listen.

    It's hard.

    (yes, I pray for the others, too.)

    1. Anon., I always warn people never to pray for patience. . .b/c you will be given many chances to practice!