Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
Grace. God’s gratuitous gift to humanity. Ever undeserved, often un-requested, sometimes unappreciated, but always worth pondering. The Catechism tells us:
“Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an “adopted son” he can henceforth call God “Father,” in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.
“This vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God’s gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself. It surpasses the power of human intellect and will, as that of every other creature.
(CCC #1997, 1998)
I write this reflection on the feast day of Mary, Mother of God, whom the angel Gabriel hailed as “Full of Grace”. We know that every word spoken by an angel comes directly from God, and each word has weight of its own. “Full of Grace”. These three simple words, applied to this simple peasant girl, enraptured all of heaven.
Take the little invisible word, “of”, defined as expressing the relationship between a scale or measure and a value. What was the measure? Full. What was the value? Grace.
How full is full? When something is full, there is no room in it for anything else. Mary had emptied herself of all that was not God, and so made room in her humble heart for all that God wanted to give her, which was everything, including his own Beloved Son. How empty must she have been to make room for the infinite God to dwell in her. What humility! No spec of a space left where her own will reigned, but her Fiat! was unconditional and unlimited. Therefore, the grace she received was unconditional and unlimited. Full measure given, full value received. What can we learn from this as penitents in the world?
Just as salvation history could not proceed without the cooperation of a humble soul—Mary—so too are we called in our own time to cooperate with grace for the salvation of souls. If we take this seriously—and we must—our own wills must be tied, like hers, to the foot of the cross. Our fiat like hers must be unconditional and unlimited. For us this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.
As members of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, the Rule we follow is itself a great grace that helps us to die to self, one desire at a time. The longer we live the rule, the more we empty ourselves, and the more we desire to. This too is grace. Our Lord would not call us to this self-emptying if the world were not in such dire need of the grace that he wishes to pour on it through us, whether we see it or not.
Of course, the principle grace, as St. Paul tells us in the above scripture passage, is Our Lord, Jesus Christ himself, “who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”
January is the time of new beginnings. The world calls them resolutions, but I like the way St. Francis put it. St. Bonaventure tells us that towards the end of his life St. Francis would tell the other friars: “Let us begin again, brothers, for up until now, we have done little or nothing.”
Let us, too, begin anew to empty ourselves, that we may be conduits of as much grace as God desires to pour into the world through us.
Blessed New Year to you and yours in Our Lord, Jesus Christ and his most Immaculate Mother. St. Francis and St. Clare, pray for us!