Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost—16 October A.D. 2011

“I give thanks ... for the grace of God that is given you in Christ Jesus....”[1]

Ordinary of the Mass
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    What is this thing that we call “grace”?  Catholics use the word rather freely, so it would do us well to be able to explain what it is.  Donald Attwater’s excellent A Catholic Dictionary indicates that the word comes from the Latin gratia, meaning “favor” and defines it as “Strictly, a supernatural (q.v.) gift of God to an intellectual creature, bestowed with a view to eternal life.”[2]   The word “supernatural” indicates that it is something above or beyond our natural attributes—in the strict sense, given by Attwater, physical strength, great memory, or musical talent would not be considered graces because they are attributes of our natural human nature.  Attwater further states that this “gift of God” is given “to an intellectual creature,” which is to say, only to men, women, and angels.  And, finally, he says that it “is bestowed with a view to eternal life,” which suggests that it does not have an effect in the here and now, unless such an effect might better prepare us for eternity.  Attwater lists fifteen different kinds of grace, from “actual grace” to “substantial grace.”

    To the skepticism of the modern world, grace must seem to be an imaginary concept—it is supernatural, undetectable, and directed to an afterlife about which modern science has no data.  The modern philosophy which preoccupies even the minds of many Churchmen today, holds that nothing is real if it cannot be detected by some experimental means.  The Modernist would claim that grace is not real because it cannot be seen or touched, nor detected with the most sensitive microscope, nor weighed in the most delicate balance.  The Modernist is wrong because his conception of reality is limited to physical reality—without any evidence he has simply denied the reality of everything spiritual—indeed, he denies the reality of spiritual things contrary to nearly universal human experience.

    Nearly every human being has experienced spiritual things which cannot be measured or touched or tested or weighed.  Men and women man are much more than just their material parts.  Man—like God and the angels—has both intellect and will;  that is to say that man is capable of both thinking and of loving.  These powers of the spirit transcend the limits of material being.  Man seems to be unique in this among his fellow creatures.  We do see something that resembles intellect in the higher animals;  we do see something that resembles love—but it is difficult to distinguish these qualities apart from animal instinct.

    Man, on the other hand, plans, and designs, and builds.  He makes tools which give him far more strength and speed than the animals—tools which today even help him to think faster.  He protects himself from the elements:  the heat, the cold, the rain, and the wind.  He protects himself from predators, both the four-footed and two-footed varieties.  His intellect leads him to society with others, joining their strength and their minds to his own so that everyone can be better off.  Man is a builder of magnificent bridges and skyscrapers, he forms symphony orchestras—and he is capable of using all of these things for the good of humankind.

    Man’s intellect allows him introspection.  He knows his own existence, and the part he plays in his society and in his world.  He can look down into his own heart, where his conscience dwells, and where he knows the Holy Ghost to reside.  He can also look above on a clear winter night, and recognize in that order and beauty the handiwork of God.  Man alone among his fellow material creatures is endowed with these gifts of God.

    Man is uniquely capable of abstraction.  That is to say that his soul can draw concepts out of the material things around him.  He can contemplate concepts like truth and justice and freedom, compassion and love.  He can contemplate these things, and he can desire them, and he can strive to make the concepts into realities.  Something far more than just his material being is capable of going out from him to the poor and the sick and the confused.  His love for his family and friends is above and beyond his material being.

    But, still, even if we admit the concept of spirit, how do we know that God gives us His free gift of supernatural grace?  Since these graces are “bestowed with a view to eternal life” they might be difficult to discern in the here and now.  We might say that we have received graces from the reception of the various Sacraments—and we have—but our experience is somewhat subjective—can I say with certainty, for example, that the grace of Holy Communion kept me from committing some particular sin, that I would have committed without It?

    However, we do know of grace—with certainty—because God has revealed its existence to us, and demonstrated its reality.  We have a good example in today’s Gospel.[3]  What did Jesus say to the paralyzed man?  “Be of good heart, son, thy sins are forgiven thee.”  Certainly that would qualify as a grace, given our definition—a supernatural gift of God who alone can forgive sins, to a man who possessed an intellect, and which would bring him closer to eternal life.  But our Lord did more than just claim to forgive the man’s sins—He demonstrated His divine authority by working a miraculous cure of the man’s paralysis.  Only God can forgive sins—but equally, only God can heal the sick by the word of His mouth.  If His word did the latter, it must have also done the former.

    But we also have our Lord’s word that these graces would not cease when He returned to the Father in Heaven.  He promised that “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.”[4]  And then, at the Last Supper, He gave His apostles the power to give us His body and blood in Holy Communion.[5]  On the night of His Resurrection, He gave them the power to forgive or not forgive our sins:  “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.  Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.[6]  He gave them the power to Baptize:  “Those who believe and are baptized shall be saved.”[7]  In Saint Mark’s Gospel we read that He gave them the power to anoint with oil and cast out evil spirits, what today we would call Extreme Unction or the Anointing of the Sick.[8]

    Finally, we also observe that God’s grace comes to many, even before they begin to receive it in the Sacraments.  We speak of “prevenient grace,” the grace which prepares a person to accept what God has revealed by faith in what He has revealed to us, and then, because of faith in God’s revealed word, to receive Baptism and the other Sacraments.

    So today we rejoice with the paralytic man that our sins can be forgiven, by Jesus Christ, through the action of His ordained priests.  Today we ought to resolve to make frequent use of that Sacrament so that grace may abound in us.

    Today we can rejoice with Saint Paul’s Corinthians, to whom he wrote today’s Epistle, “for God’s grace” by which we have been “enriched in Him, in all utterance and in all knowledge.”

    “I give thanks ... for the grace of God that is given you in Christ Jesus....”



[1]   Epistle:  1 Corinthians i: 4-8

[2]   Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary (New York: McMillan, third edition 1958, page 216.

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