“Remaining in God’s Good Graces” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, March 10, 2024

Note how many times the word “grace” appears in our second reading from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “it is by GRACE you have been saved”, “the immeasurable riches of God’s GRACE  in kindness towards us”, and “for by GRACE you have been saved”. 

There is a tendency to think of grace as some kind of spiritual currency. This attitude is, perhaps, more prevalent among Catholics as our tradition has used phrases like “storing up grace”, as though putting money in a bank account. In seminary, I was used to our teachers analyzing and dissecting grace in different ways, such as actual grace, supernatural grace, sanctifying grace, sacramental grace, etc. That is okay for study as when we dissected frogs in biology lab in high school. The one thing that we could NOT see in the dissection, however, was life… the one thing that gave what we studied meaning as far as the frog was concerned. So it is with grace. The one thing that gives it meaning is a living relationship with God. 

The word “grace” from the Latin word “gratia” shares a common root with the words “gratis” (free) and “gratuity”  (free gift or tip). So grace is a freely given gift from God to us, by which we share in the life and blessings of God. As St Peter describes it in his second letter: through God’s grace, we become “sharers in the divine nature of God” (2 Peter 1:4). Imagine that brothers and sisters, we actually share the very nature of God, which is divine, supernatural, heavenly, infinitely surpassing our own human nature. This happens to us when we are baptized; spiritually we are instantly “transported” to the right hand of God with Christ, and seated with him there in glory. As far as God is concerned, that is his destiny for us, where he wants us to be for all eternity, where, in his mind’s eye, he already sees us reigning. All of his divine intent is concentrated on doing his utmost, consonant with our free will, to get us to that place in reality, that is to say, in our reality, because, in God’s reality, that is where we are meant to be. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he declares that God “desires everyone to be saved” (1 Peter 2:4). If your and my reality does not accord with that vision , either because we don’t feel worthy to be with God in heaven, or because we are holding on to serious sin in our lives, that we are too ashamed to bring to confession , then we have to decide which kind of reality we want to live by- either the human reality of feeling unworthy and condemned , or God’s reality which sees us free and forgiven by Christs death and resurrection. In the final reckoning, the only reality that matters is God’s. (And that is why the Church encourages, indeed urges us, to have our children baptized as soon as possible after birth, that we can become sons and daughters of God and share in his divine nature, which is eternal and supernatural)

Grace is then, literally and actually, God’s free gift. But it is not really a “thing”. It is a living Person, the Person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself says, in Luke’s gospel, “if you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:13). The Holy Spirit is God’s greatest gift – therefore “grace” is not a “thing” – it is the very life of God’s Spirit alive and at work in and through us. The more we pray, and we should do this each day, the more we pray for this life in the Spirit, the more “grace” is at work in us, therefore the more of God’s blessing we are receiving. That is why St Paul tells us to “go on being filled with God’s spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).When Jesus tells us that he came to bring us “life to the full” (John 10;10), he is saying that he came to bring us the fullness of the Holy Spirit of God. 

 But there is one definition of “Grace” that I like and prescribe to. It is “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense” –GRACE. This is what our second reading demonstrates. Through Christ, we receive the “riches of God”. These are spiritual riches, the blessings of God upon us. In St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we are introduced to the spiritual blessings we receive when we are baptized.  Paul describes them as, and I quote, “the glorious grace that he freely bestowed upon us in his beloved Son” (Ephesians 1: 6), as well as “the riches of his grace that he has lavished upon us “(ibid, v. 8). When we are baptized, we receive the following blessings: being chosen by God to be his sons and daughters, receiving the forgiveness of our sins, knowing that we are gathered into Christ to receive the inheritance of eternal life, and receiving the Holy Spirit as the down payment of that inheritance to come. 

These spiritual blessings, these “riches”, have been obtained for us, says St Paul, through Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, into which we are immersed, through our baptism. When we are baptized, we become sons and daughters of God, we share in his divine nature, we receive the forgiveness of our sins, and the supreme gift of Gods; Holy Spirit, which is the pledge of eternal life. It is a terrible tragedy that so many Catholics simply see the baptism of their children as a rite of passage, something they have to go through in order to ensure they can have the benefit of a Catholic baptism, and be married and eventually buried in the Catholic faith. It is an even greater tragedy that many Catholics, mistakenly delay baptism for their children until they are of an age at which they can make their own decisions whether to be baptized or not. 

But in fact, being baptized into the Catholic faith, is the singularly most wonderful thing we can do for our children.  Just as Christ has gone through death on the cross, been raised from the dead, and then ascended into heavenly glory, so also we , through our baptism, have also died to sin and evil, and been raised into a whole new supernatural life with Christ, and ,with him, been seated with him “in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”. This is what our second reading is celebrating, and why we call this particular Sunday in Lent “Rejoicing Sunday”. There is nothing that our world can offer us that can possibly compare to the spiritual riches we receive through the grace of God given to us in Christ and through his Holy Spirit. Those graces, those spiritual blessings, those heavenly riches, of God are active in our lives, when we, in faith, carry out the good works that God has already prepared for us to accomplish, When we respond to the impulse of the Spirit of God in our lives , and carry out some good work to help others, then we are fulfilling the plan of God for us. I love the particular version of our second reading that translates the last line of our second reading today in this way: “We are God’s work of art, His masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that He has already prepared for us to be the way in which we live our lives.”