Grace to you!
If you have not been following our daily reflections, we are focusing on spiritual appreciation of grace throughout this year’s Advent Season. Since all the Church’s liturgical year cycle is rightly called the year of grace, we deemed it crucial to walk us through the spiritual paths of connecting with the grace-moments we celebrate in the life of the Church. This theme was, in part, in response to audience requests for a down-to-earth, yet spiritually profound, appreciation of grace in our Catholic tradition.
We have been reflecting on sanctifying grace. In this third week of Advent, also called Gaudate Sunday, we shall focus on actual grace. As usual, our approach is a contemplative soul-to-soul dialogue so as to deepen our faith.
Actual grace is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “God's interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification” (CCC, 2000). It is distinguished from sanctifying grace, also called deifying grace or habitual grace, which is “the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God's call” (ibid.)
As I contemplated the wealth of God’s grace both habitual and actual, an analogy that came to my mind as a way of distinguishing the two in layperson’s term is the metaphor of a car.
You see a brand new car. It’s fueled and ready to go. Every thing is in top form. Though the car is complete, its state optimal, unless it is driven, it would be lying there, serving only an aesthetic purpose, I suppose. When the driver starts the engine and drives off, the state is extended to a movement, a speed and velocity. The car that was in optimal state is now in the actual state of speed.
Actual grace is like turning on the engine of a car that is in good shape, putting it in gear and accelerating. If the car isn’t good and there is no gas, it wouldn’t run. If the car is in good form, and has all the needed gas and oil but without someone starting the engine and pedaling it, it can’t run either. Though its value is still intact, yet the owner has to enjoy the ride. Enjoying the ride is the joy of owning a beautiful car, isn’t it?
The role of sanctifying grace in our souls is like a car in perfect condition. Actual grace is like a car being driven. Though an imperfect analogy, since the car isn’t rational, yet it gives an idea of the distinction between a state (habitual grace) and the action (actual grace).
For those familiar with philosophy, please don’t confuse this with the metaphysical principle of act and potency. It isn’t.
I will use one instance of the function of actual grace as it relates to our readings today as an example. The theme is on joyful patience as a quality in anticipation of the coming of the Lord. Gaudate – rejoice!
In writing about this sort of patience, which by the way is granted to us through the actual grace of God, the writer of the Letter of Saint James uses a beautiful concept in Greek, makrothumeo, translated as “Be patient” (James 5:7).
Makrothumeo literally translates into long suffering, bearing and suffering for a long time, persevering, being constant, steadfast, and enduring. At our breaking point, the Lord provides us with the actual grace of patience; that grace that will enable us to hang in there.
The core of this long suffering is the joy of the Lord that inspires us to hold on and the hope which endures. The joy is within. Patience never gives in, despite obstacles, sufferings and tribulations. It perseveres and can endure untold hardships while remaining confident in the hope of salvation. Hence, Saint Thomas Aquinas sees it as strongly related to the virtue of fortitude (courage) and somewhat annexed to it.
Patience is an active, not passive, acceptance of a situation. It is also the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it is granted to us by the grace of God working in us, which can do incredibly more than we can think or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
John the Baptist in prison needed this patience. Though an exceptional character, he had his moments, just as we have ours.
Through John’s difficult times, the Lord Jesus teaches us to hold on and not to allow anything to take away the joy of the Lord and the reason for our hopeful anticipation. “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me [Jesus]” (Matthew 11:6).
On this Day 15 of Advent, you may want to pray for the grace of joyful perseverance and patience.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.