Skip to comments.Lesson 13: Grace and the Divine Life (Part 1)
Posted on 04/28/2006 9:26:04 AM PDT by MILESJESU
Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier
Lesson 13: Grace and the Divine Life (Part 1)
[Class begins with a greeting by Father and the recitation of the Hail Mary.]
In this lesson, we have a lot to cover. We are going to talk about grace, which is one of those absolute mysteries, but grace is also one of those things where there has been a lot of study. There are over a hundred different distinctions with regard to grace. We are not going to make all of the distinctions, but grace is one of the areas that the Church has basically put a moratorium on what is being done. Traditionally, the Jesuits and the Dominicans have been arguing about the nature of grace; that has been going on for hundreds of years.
A couple of hundred of years ago, the Pope finally intervened and said, Look, grace is the life of God, and God is an absolute mystery, so you are never going to understand it completely. Enough. It is just one of those things. Like Augustine, they try to figure it all out and they cannot, and they never will, even in the next life. But there certainly are a number of things that can be said, so we will try to cover those things in this lesson.
Anyone who was raised Catholic will remember that grace is defined as the supernatural life of the soul. Grace makes us children of God and heirs of heaven. Grace is Gods life that He infuses into our soul, and it is precisely the sharing in His life that makes us partakers of the divine nature. It raises us to a supernatural level of acting and being.
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Lesson 13: Grace and the Divine Life (Part 1)
[Class begins with a greeting by Father and the recitation of the Hail Mary.]
In this lesson, we have a lot to cover. We are going to talk about grace, which is one of those absolute mysteries, but grace is also one of those things where there has been a lot of study. There are over a hundred different distinctions with regard to grace. We are not going to make all of the distinctions, but grace is one of the areas that the Church has basically put a moratorium on what is being done. Traditionally, the Jesuits and the Dominicans have been arguing about the nature of grace; that has been going on for hundreds of years. A couple of hundred of years ago, the Pope finally intervened and said, Look, grace is the life of God, and God is an absolute mystery, so you are never going to understand it completely. Enough. It is just one of those things. Like Augustine, they try to figure it all out and they cannot, and they never will, even in the next life. But there certainly are a number of things that can be said, so we will try to cover those things in this lesson.
Anyone who was raised Catholic will remember that grace is defined as the supernatural life of the soul. Grace makes us children of God and heirs of heaven. Grace is Gods life that He infuses into our soul, and it is precisely the sharing in His life that makes us partakers of the divine nature. It raises us to a supernatural level of acting and being. It makes us children of God, and because we are children of God, we are members of the one Son of God. His inheritance becomes our inheritance, and therefore heaven God Himself becomes our inheritance.
We remember from the third lesson that Adam and Eve were created with sanctifying grace but they lost it when they sinned. This means that humanity originally had everything necessary to enter into the Beatific Vision, the blessed vision (which is what Beatific means), the face to face vision of God for eternity, so we would have been able to go straight to heaven. But they lost that. We also saw that Christs death on the Cross reconciled humanity with God, but we also said that that objective redemption must be accepted and appropriated to each person individually. The application of the fruits of the Redemption is called justification or sanctification. Because we have a mind and a will, the Church teaches that the process of justification requires the free cooperation of each person. God will not force anybody to cooperate; it requires our free will. Each of us has the freedom to choose. Grace, then, is a supernatural gift of God which He bestows freely on rational creatures so they can obtain personal union with Him.
There are two ways our soul can be. We are either in the state of sanctifying grace or we are in the state of mortal sin; it is one or the other. We can have venial sins, the smaller sins, on our souls, but that does not remove Gods grace entirely. The reason a mortal sin is called mortal is because it causes a supernatural death, that is, the death of the life of God in the soul. If we are in the state of sanctifying grace, we have Gods life and we partake in the divine nature and we have union with God. If we do not have sanctifying grace, then we do not have the divine life in us and we do not have union with God.
Now it goes beyond that because union with God is not merely for this world, it is particularly for the next. I think we have probably said a few times already, and we will say it again, that every single person who dies in the state of sanctifying grace will go to heaven. You may have to stop off at purgatory for a while, but you will go to heaven. Remember, if you get to purgatory you cannot go backwards because you cannot sin in purgatory; it is just a matter of working everything off. At the same time, every single person who dies in the state of mortal sin will go to hell. You cannot go to heaven if you do not have sanctifying grace. No person who is without sanctifying grace can ever enter into heaven. That is why this is so important. And how do we get into sanctifying grace? Initially, through Baptism, but beyond that, through the repentance and the forgiveness of our sins. As long as you have confessed any and all mortal sins that you are aware of and those have been forgiven, then you have good reason to believe that you are in the state of sanctifying grace. That is what we have to be looking at. These points become so important because we do not want to cut ourselves off from eternal life.
Grace includes a number of things, as I have already mentioned. Under this heading would be sanctifying grace and actual grace. There are the theological virtues. There are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. There are all kinds of things that fall under this. Grace also makes us sharers in the Trinitarian life through the indwelling of the Trinity. I was talking earlier about how we have union with God: As long as we are in the state of sanctifying grace, the Most Holy Trinity dwells within our souls. God dwells everywhere by what is known as His presence of immensity. God holds everything in being at all times, so He has to be everywhere. He is holding the tables and chairs in place right now. God also has to hold Satan in place, all the souls in hell, and hell itself; God has to hold all of those things in place or they would cease to exist. By His presence of immensity, He is everywhere and in everything. But there is a different presence, and that is called His indwelling presence. The indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity is what takes place at the moment we are in the state of sanctifying grace, when the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit literally come to dwell within our souls. This is why Saint Paul calls us the temple of the Holy Spirit. Remember that where one Person is all three are (outside of the Trinity). Therefore, since we are outside of the immanent Trinity, and where one Person dwells (the Holy Spirit, in this case) all three are present, not only are we temples of the Holy Spirit; we are temples of the Most Holy Trinity and all three Persons dwell within. This is exactly what Jesus promised us: If anyone loves Me, My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and We will tabernacle in him (tabernacle is what it literally says). That means We will pitch our tent within him; we will dwell within him. The indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity is what we are talking about here. That is the beauty of what occurs. If we commit a mortal sin, then we lose all of that at the moment we commit the sin. When we go to Confession, when we repent and our sins are forgiven, not only are we restored to sanctifying grace, but then the Holy Trinity also returns. That is the point of the union with God.
Now I should also point out that when we receive Holy Communion, we have still another presence of God, and that is the presence of Jesus sacramentally and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament. That is another form of the Lords presence. There are many ways that God can be present, and it should not be something that surprises us in this 21st century. You can take a video of yourself and send it to somebody, you can call somebody on the phone, or you can leave a voice mail for someone. These days, you can even do something on your little cell phone and send a picture of yourself at the same time you are talking to people. There are all kinds of different ways that we can be present even if we are not physically present. We can have conference calls where we can be sitting in on a meeting even if we are halfway across the world. There are ways that we can do these things even if we are not physically there. So why would we be surprised that God can be present in a variety of different ways? The thing to understand is that there are different forms, different levels, or whatever you want to call it, of the presence of God.
The essence of grace is gratuity. The reason for this is that no creature has the right to the Beatific Vision. None of us can stamp our little feet and say, I have a right to go to heaven. No, we do not. None of us has a right to be there. It is a gift. God is our Father and He wants us to be in His home, but we do not have an absolute right to be there. It is purely a gift. The Churchs teaching on grace is based on Her belief that the goal and the purpose of each and every human life is eternal life with God and a personal sharing in the divine life. The purpose of grace is to bring us to that face to face vision of God. It is to make us holy, which is what sanctification means, and it is to bring us to heaven.
That brings us then to the first distinction, and that is the distinction between sanctifying grace and actual grace. Sanctifying grace is also called habitual grace, and it is an abiding, supernatural, and personal quality of the soul which sanctifies the person intrinsically and makes him holy and pleasing to God. Let us pick that apart for a moment because you have to understand what this is saying. First of all, it is something personal. It is something that takes place in the individual, but it is something intrinsic. This is where there is a difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. For a Protestant, justification is something external. For a Catholic, it is internal and it actually changes you; it makes a change in your soul. There is an entire difference in the being of a person who is in the state of grace as opposed to a person who is not in the state of grace. It is not simply covering something up or making it look good; it actually changes you on the inside and does what the word says it is sanctifying grace it makes you holy. It puts you in union with God.
Actual grace is a temporary supernatural intervention by God by which the powers of the soul are influenced to perform a salutary act, an act that moves one toward salvation. The salutary act is directed to the attaining, preservation, or the increase of sanctifying grace. We said that sanctifying grace is habitual. It remains that way until you commit a mortal sin. But actual grace is a temporary intervention of God. To put it very simply, I would call it Gods little elbow in the ribs or boot in the rear end to be able to say, Do something. We have all experienced it. We have all experienced God saying, You need to do this. It could be anything: Why dont you sit down and pray? Why dont you go here? Why dont you do that? Most of us say, No, I dont want to. But the grace is there and we have all experienced it right before we sin. It does not happen every time right before we sin, but we have all experienced it before we sin. God is giving you the grace to say no. This is a dumb idea; dont do it. Most of the time, we blow that off and say, But I want to. I like it. So we refuse the grace. But none of us can say that we did not know, and none of us can say that the grace was not there because we know it was. God was there to tell us, Dont do it. But He gave us a free will. He is not going to force us to do anything. And so that is the actual grace. The actual grace in that case is the nudge to say, Do that, or Dont do that, as the case may be. It is what helps us to do something which will either preserve sanctifying grace in us to say no, to attain sanctifying grace, which is to get to Confession or to be baptized or to repent, or to increase sanctifying grace, which happens through prayer and the reception of the sacraments, through acts of charity and things like that so we can actually grow in Gods grace. Actual grace helps us to be able to attain, to preserve, or to increase sanctifying grace. Actual grace then is a temporary help from God which is totally supernatural. It is purely from God; it is not a natural thing. It is given gratuitously to help unbelievers to move toward faith, hope, and charity. It is given to Christians to move them to repentance and to the reception of the sacraments. And it is given to Christians who are in the state of grace to help them to become better and to become more holy. That is Gods Will for us: to become saints.
Another distinction in grace is between created and Uncreated grace. Uncreated grace refers to God Himself because God is the only One Who is uncreated. When we talk about Uncreated grace, we are speaking of God in as much as He dwells in the souls of the just and gives Himself to the blessed in heaven. In other words, God, Who dwells in your soul if you are in the state of grace, is Uncreated Grace. God, Who is looked at by the souls in heaven, is Uncreated Grace. Grace is the life of God, and you cannot separate God from His life, so when we are talking about God, we are talking about Uncreated Grace. God gives Himself to be possessed by us, and therefore that is called Uncreated Grace. However, the actual indwelling of the Trinity in our hearts or the actual vision of God in heaven, since these are acts of a finite creature, are called created graces because they have a beginning. There was a time when God did not dwell in our souls: before we were baptized. For the souls in heaven, there was a time when they were not in the Beatific Vision, so that actually has a beginning. God, at Whom the souls in heaven are looking, is Uncreated Grace, but the fact of the looking at God is a created grace. It depends on whether we are talking about God Himself or what is happening within the creature. Uncreated Grace is God Himself. Created grace is the supernatural help or operation in the creature which is distinct from God Himself. You can see how fine some of these distinctions are. We are only making the important ones, but there are lots more.
The purpose of sanctifying grace is the personal sanctification of the one who receives it. What the word sanctifying means is to become holy, to be sanctified. There are some graces that are conferred for the sanctification of others. The purpose of sanctifying grace is that the individual who receives the grace can become holy, but then there are some other graces that God gives for the sake of making other people holy. These include, but are not limited to, the extraordinary charismata, the charismatic gifts that we sometimes hear about. Those are things like speaking in tongues, prophecy, miracles, those kinds of things. Those are for the sake of someone else. By the way, the priestly power of consecration is also a charismatic gift. In other words, I did not become a priest because I was the holiest guy God could find. God called me to be a priest so that other people could become holy. That means you have to suffer with me and put up with me and pray for me so that you can become a saint! But the fact is that the ability to consecrate the Eucharist and the ability to forgive sin is for the sake of other people, not for the sake of the priest. Obviously, through the consecration, I also receive great graces because I too can receive Holy Communion at Mass, but it is not just for me it is for the sake of others. The same is true with regard to all of these other extraordinary charismata.
In many circles in Christianity today, people think it is kind of a litmus test: Do you speak in tongues? No? Oh, you must not have the Holy Spirit then! Nonsense. It is not a sign of your personal holiness that you can speak in tongues. Do you work miracles? Do you see visions? Do you hear voices? All these things that they all jump up and down about have nothing to do with your own holiness. Nothing. In fact, the possession of these gifts is completely independent of the personal moral qualities of the possessor since they are given for the sake of others. In other words, you can actually be in the state of mortal sin and still have these gifts. God can work through anybody He wants to do whatever He wants. This becomes very important with regard to the priesthood, and we will talk about this in a subsequent lesson. You might say, Well, if somebody is speaking in tongues, how could the Holy Spirit work through them if they arent in the state of sanctifying grace? What happens if you go to Mass? What if the priest is in the state of mortal sin? Is Jesus there when he consecrates? Yes. It is not a question of the holiness of the priest; it is a question of the holiness of God Who is working through the human person of the priest. That is where it becomes very important to understand. If the priest was in the state of moral sin and Jesus was not there because it was dependent on the moral quality of the priest, then you would have to be wondering every time you went to Mass whether the priest was in the state of grace or not, and that is not something you have to worry about. But when we look at people who have these extraordinary gifts, it does not mean that they are necessarily holy, because God can do these things apart from the holiness of the person. He gives them to the person in order to help them become holy. By living out my life as a priest, I will either become a saint or fail to become a saint. I remember talking to one priest a number of years ago who has the gift of healing and has been approved by the bishops as having that gift. Before he went out to a healing service that he was going to do, he told me, When I was a young priest, I hated going to the hospital. I couldnt deal with sick people. I just couldnt handle it. So what does God do? He gives me the gift to heal! And now what happens? I get chased by sick people! So you see Gods sense of humor. This is how this priest is going to become a saint. God gave him this gift and now he has to use it. It was not because he was so holy, it was not because he had such a devotion to the sick, but it was so that he could become a saint by using the gift God gave him for the sake of helping others and to have the charity to be able to extend that gift to others. A charismatic gift helps the person to become a saint if used properly, but it is not given because the person is so holy already.
When we talk about grace, we have to understand that grace is not a thing. You used to see lots of Protestant cars driving down the street with a particular bumper sticker. I certainly understand why they had it there, but it does not work; it said, Grace happens. That was a response to another bumper sticker we saw frequently about something else that happens. Grace does not happen, but that is the Protestant understanding of it. Grace is one of the areas that is very, very different between Catholics and Protestants. Grace is God Himself, and God does not happen God is. And since grace is God Himself, it is dynamic and personal. Grace elevates the faculties of the soul to a supernatural level. Sanctifying grace does that in a permanent way, and actual grace does it in a temporary way to help us to perform salutary acts. Some of these things which are conducive to eternal life would be faith, hope, and charity, praying, going to Mass, going to Confession, the sort of things that will help us along the way to salvation. What this means is that we are incapable of doing anything meritorious of eternal life without the help of God. Jesus made that absolutely clear: Without Me you can do nothing. That is what He means. Without God, we can do nothing. We cannot even take a breath without God. He has to provide the oxygen; He has to provide the means for the heart to beat and the lungs to work and everything else. When we are talking on the supernatural level, it is just that: supernatural. It is beyond our nature; we cannot get to it ourselves. Therefore, there is nothing we can do to get to heaven on our own. You could try from today until the day that you die, and you could say, Im going to do my own best to try to live a good life. Im going to try to earn my way to heaven. You cannot earn it; it is a gift. Because it is supernatural, it is not something we can do by our own natural ability. We can only do it with the help of God.
For a non-baptized person, actual grace invites that person, and in the person in whom actual grace is at work, we see spontaneous nondeliberate acts that gently lead the person to faith. This grace is called antecedent or prevenient grace. Prevenient simply means that it comes before or is antecedent. It comes before the actual act of faith. It comes before getting into the state of sanctifying grace. Prevenient grace precedes the free and deliberate acts which will lead the person to faith. Here we can say that God works in us but without us. He is leading us along. I think we have all experienced that. Anybody who was not Christian and had an adult conversion certainly can look back and see the way that God was laying the groundwork, setting things up so that something is in your path here, you talk to that person there, and this thing happens over here. Little by little, you get turned around. That is what the word conversion means: to turn around. It can happen with us too if we fall away from the Church. God simply set things up to help us to get back. For some of us, it requires a lot more than a 2 x 4. For some of us, it requires a gentle, little nudge. It depends on what it is that we need. For those of us who are thick of skull and small of brain, God needs a railroad tie and has to whack us pretty hard. With some people, all He has to do is give what is called the mom stare. We all know what that is; how moms will just give their kids a stare, and the kids know exactly what it means. That is all it takes for some; it is enough to get them turned around. It depends on how sensitive you are. God will use whatever means He needs to, and He arranges it individually according to your person, your personality, your situation in life, so that it leads you to the fullness of the truth. This is the same grace that is at work to bring a Christian who has fallen into mortal sin back to repentance, because obviously if we are not in the state of sanctifying grace, God cannot be working fully in us, so He has to turn us from the outside.
When one is in the state of sanctifying grace, God through actual grace works in us and with us to perform these salutary acts. In other words, now He is working in us and we are cooperating with our free will. These acts are common to both grace and free will; therefore, this grace is called consequent or helping grace. It is consequent, which means follows from, and so it follows from our entrance into the state of sanctifying grace. This grace is necessary in order to achieve sanctifying grace, and it is also necessary to perform meritorious acts for those who are already in the state of sanctifying grace. Actual grace, then, is a supernatural power given by God to the soul which unites itself to the faculties of the will and the intellect and with them forms one united principle from which a supernatural act proceeds. In other words, God gives the grace so that we will have the ability to understand and the ability to make a choice, so it involves the mind and the will. God gives the grace so that we can make the choice to be able to do what is right, and a supernatural act then proceeds from it. We make the choice, we cooperate in that way, but it is not something we do by ourselves, because that would be natural and nothing supernatural can proceed from something purely natural. So it is the combination of both.
We have already talked about these salutary acts a few times. What are they? Salutary acts are acts which are meritorious of the Beatific Vision, acts that lead us to salvation. The necessity of supernatural grace to perform these acts flows from the supernatural character of their end, which is the Beatific Vision. Salutary means salvation. They are saving acts, acts that will lead us to salvation, to the Beatific Vision, that face to face vision of God. That point of being able to see God face to face is something clearly supernatural, and therefore to perform these kinds of acts requires supernatural grace to be able to achieve a supernatural end. The act has to be proportioned to the end. As we have mentioned several times, something natural can never by itself attain something supernatural. We need supernatural grace to perform a supernatural act in order to achieve a supernatural end.
Once a person has attained faith and supernatural grace, does that mean it can never be lost? In other words, once you are baptized into Jesus Christ, are you guaranteed of heaven? Once saved, always saved? I believe in Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, therefore Im going straight to heaven. We have all heard that, havent we? It dos not work. It is not Scriptural and it is not something that Christians have ever really believed until more recently. There is no certainty in that way of salvation. This falls into the area that is called final perseverance. In question form, the point is this: Can the justified person, the person in the state of sanctifying grace, persevere to the end of his life without some special help from God? The answer is no. Not only do we need the help of God to get into the state of sanctifying grace, but we also need the help of God to stay in the state of sanctifying grace. Final perseverance means to live and to die in the state of sanctifying grace. This implies a continuance in grace which requires the help of God. It also implies dying in the state of sanctifying grace, which depends upon Gods special protection. Upon entrance into the state of sanctifying grace, we receive the grace of potential perseverance, yet we know that not everyone perseveres to the end. This is the mystery of the relationship between Gods grace and human free will. When you go to Confession and you confess your sins and you are forgiven, the grace to not sin again is given, and the grace to remain in the state of sanctifying grace until the end of your life is also given, but that does not mean we are going to cooperate with it. There is enough grace there to be able to do that, but in our weakness and with the devils temptations, we might fall. The grace necessary is there, but that is not a guarantee that we are going to cooperate with it, and God is not going to force us to cooperate with it.
Perseverance is a supernatural gift from God and it cannot be merited. It is something supernatural; it is beyond what we can merit on our own. Is it possible then to have any certainty at all about our final perseverance? The answer to that is yes. But it is a conditional assurance. God has promised that those who keep the commandments and remain faithful in prayer will persevere to the end. As long as you are doing what you are supposed to do keeping the commandments and trying to be obedient to the duties of your state in life, praying and trying to grow in holiness and grow closer to God you can have a reasonable assurance that you are on the right track and that if you were to die you would be in good shape. Not an absolute guarantee, though. Because of original sin and the weakening of the mind and the will, we know that we always have the possibility of falling. Therefore, we cannot be absolutely certain of our perseverance. This is also why in the Hail Mary we pray every time: Pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Why? Because the hour of our death is the most critical hour of our entire life. It is then that Satan is going to unleash his most vile attack because he knows if we choose against God at that moment, we are done forever. At the same time, if we fell today, we can get to Confession. Maybe a week from now we are going to shake our head and say, What an idiot! What did I do that for? Then we go to Confession and we can get back into the state of grace. But when it is the final hour, and then the final minute of your life, you do not have a week to think about it and say, What an idiot! Of course, a week later you would be saying that! But then it is too late to repent. Once your soul leaves the body there is no repentance. So the devils most vicious attack is going to come right at the end of your life. If you are accustomed to saying yes to God, if you are accustomed to cooperating with Him, if you are accustomed to praying and looking toward Him, then chances are more than likely that is what you will do when the devil unleashes this attack. If you are accustomed to turning away from God, trying to rely on your own strength and not looking to God, then chances are that when the devil unleashes this kind of attack on you, you are going to do the same thing; you are going to turn away from God and you are going to fall.
That is why it is so important now that we are trying to live according to the commandments and trying to persevere in prayer. Scripture makes very clear that when you decide to enter into the service of God you should prepare yourself for trials. Now that sounds a little different from the gospel of health and wealth that you can watch on TV. All these people say, Just send me $100. God wants everything to be wonderful in your life. That is not what Scripture says! Scripture says when you choose to serve God, get ready for trials. The devil is more than happy to have you in the state of mortal sin, and as long as you are in the state of mortal sin, he will take good care of you: What is it that you want? Just stay in the state of mortal sin and Ill provide it for you, no problem. But if you get into the state of grace, he is going to attack you because he wants you back in the state of mortal sin. So the attacks come. But God also allows those attacks because they strengthen us.
I always use the analogy of a weight room. I know this may not work so well for the women, but for the guys, you will understand. You walk into the weight room and you see one of these muscle-bound guys and you say to yourself, It might be cool to be like that. The guy throws 500 pounds onto the bar and starts bench-pressing it. Then you walk in and throw 100 pounds on, and it crashes down on your chest. You say, Its going to take me a while to get there! But the only way you are going to get there is to continually work at it. You hardly can lift it, and then after a couple of weeks of doing it, it becomes easy. So you throw 10 more pounds on there, and you grunt and groan and turn red and shake and sweat. You keep doing this, and after a while you might be a muscle-bound guy too. You could be pressing 500 pounds if you want to, but it is going to take time. And how do you do it? By continually making it more difficult. You were not going to lift 500 pounds the day you walked into the weight room, but maybe after years of continually working at it and persevering in it, you build up the strength.
Well, that is what the word virtue means: strength. We get ourselves into the state of sanctifying grace, but most of us at that point are very weak. A little wind from the devil is enough to knock us down. God allows us to be tempted so that we can learn how to say no, so that we can learn how to reject Satan, so that we can learn to say yes to God and grow in strength. Then He allows the temptations to become a little harder, a little stronger, because now we are a little stronger, so He allows a little bit more. Then when we are pretty good at refusing the temptations at that level, God allows a little bit more. People look at the saints and what they have to go through, and they say, Oh, no. I dont want to do that. God is not asking you to do that right now. If you get to that level of holiness, yes, He probably will ask you to do things like that. But it will not be a problem because you will be able to do it. Fo instance, you do not take a kindergartener and put him in a calculus class. They are not going to get it. You teach them 1, 2, and 3 in kindergarten, but you do not teach them how to do calculus. By the time they are in twelfth grade, maybe they are far enough advanced to be able to do calculus. That is the same idea. A kindergartener looking at what a senior in high school is doing would say, I cant do that. I better quit school right now. No. Persevere through it. It keeps getting more difficult with each grade level, but you have the foundation.
That is what happens in prayer. It keeps getting more difficult, but you have the ability because you keep growing. So do not say, Look at what the saints had to deal with. If you are not a saint yet, you are not going to have to deal with that. Do not look at what certain individuals might be going through because your situation will be different. God gives to each of us according to our personalities, according to our own strengths and weaknesses, according to our backgrounds, according to all these things. What needs to be purified? That is what He is going to work on. In our generosity, we will tell God, Im willing to do this! What do we tell Him? Basically, that we are willing to suffer in the areas we are good at: Ill do this in my strength. He says, No, no, no. Youre already good at that. We need to work on your weaknesses. Yes, well let you suffer a little bit, but its going to be in the areas youre not good at. Then, of course, we fall and complain and say, Why are You doing this to me? Why do You hate me so much? Why are You so mean to me? He isnt. It is because He loves you and He is trying to help you to grow in holiness.
Think about the gymnasts in the Olympics. You watch the coaches and they push these little girls to the extreme. These kids fall and they cry and they get hurt and the coach says, Get back up on the bars. Soon the kid is swearing at the coach, You hate me, and all this other stuff. But you know what happens when they win the gold medal? Who is the first one they run to? Not even Mom and Dad they run to the coach who would not let them off the hook, who kept pushing them to be more perfect. That is what God does for us. He keeps pushing us so that we can grow in holiness. Remember that at the moment you die, it is the end of that; there is no more growth. This is the only time. He wants us to be as holy as we can be now because that is going to translate into eternal life. The level of love that you have when you die is the level of love you will have for the rest of eternity. Your position will be fixed at that moment. That is why He allows all these things to happen in our lives, so that we can grow. It is a great gift and we have to be able to see it that way. It is hard when you are in the middle of it. You need somebody else who has been through it a little bit to be able to help you with it, to say, This is normal. This is okay. Dont stop; just keep going. But when we are in it ourselves, we cannot see it. So we need one another that way.
Can a person avoid all sins throughout his life without some special help from God? Well, can we avoid sin for two minutes without some special help from God? Obviously not. Without special help, at least some venial sins are certainly going to be committed. This point comes up because the Pelagians claimed that human free will was sufficient to avoid all sin on ones own without any help from God. We should note that the justified person always has the grace necessary to avoid mortal sin. As I mentioned, when you go to Confession, all the grace necessary to stay out of mortal sin is given. It does not mean we always cooperate with it, but all the grace is there. The Churchs teaching on grace stands between the extremes of naturalism, on one hand, and exaggerated supernaturalism, on the other. Naturalism states that we can attain faith and perform salutary acts without the help of God. That is the position of the Pelagians and the rationalists. The Protestants particularly are still dealing with rationalism; some in the Catholic areas are too, but that was particularly a problem from the late 18th century up into the 20th century. Exaggerated supernaturalism, on the other hand, is the position of the Protestant reformers, as well as some Catholics who have been condemned for heresy. This position holds that we cannot know anything about God or divine truth or even perform some morally good actions on our own. The Church maintains that we can know at least some truth about God and we can perform some good actions which prepare us for justification without the help of God. In other words, by our own strength, we can do certain things. Not all actions of the person in the state of mortal sin are mortal sins. That is what it comes down to. There are some who would say that if you are in the state of mortal sin and try to do something good, it is still a sin. No, it is not. However, without the help of grace, one cannot keep the whole of the moral law or avoid falling into serious sin for a very long time. And so we need Gods help to be able to do anything on the one level, but when we are talking about being able to act, God has given our nature certain abilities and powers that we can act on our own.
Can grace be earned? We have already answered that question several times when we said gratuity is the essence of grace. That means it is freely given. No, it cannot be earned. Grace cannot be merited by any natural work that deserves a reward from God. That is what merit is: it is the reward you get for doing some work. By ourselves, we cannot do that because, again, grace is supernatural and by our own natural ability we cannot earn something supernatural. We have already seen that the initiative in salvation comes from God. That requires antecedent or prevenient grace. And in order to receive grace, a person must be properly disposed. But because grace is absolutely gratuitous, we cannot by our own efforts even acquire any positive disposition for grace. So is this a little game that we are playing? No. There is an axiom which states: God does not deny His grace to the one who does what he can. My mother would have simply said, God helps those who help themselves. In other words, you have your part to do, and God will take care of the rest. Some of the saints would say, Work as though everything depended on you, and pray as though everything depended on God. It is both-and in that way. If you are trying to do what you can to dispose yourself to cooperate with God, He will take care of everything else. This point of cooperation with Gods actual grace means that the one who does with the help of grace whatever lies in his power will not be denied further grace from God. So God gives us the actual graces, and if we try to cooperate with those then He will give us more grace so that we can continue to grow.
Does God offer His grace to all, or just to some? Does God offer His grace to every single person, or just to a few chosen? He offers it to all, yet we know that not everybody achieves salvation. Unfortunately, some will go to hell. Therefore, Gods will for salvation must be conditioned in some way. There are two aspects of Gods saving will. The first aspect is that God wills the salvation of all on the condition that they die in the state of sanctifying grace. Every single person who dies in the state of grace goes to heaven, as we said many times. This is antecedent or conditioned will and it requires our free cooperation. The second aspect is Gods particular will of salvation which unconditionally desires the salvation of all who die in the state of sanctifying grace. First of all, there is the condition that it is for anyone. All people who die in the state of sanctifying grace will go to heaven. Then there is the particular will, that each individual person, as long as they are in the state of grace, will be saved unconditionally. This is consequent or unconditioned will, and actually coincides with what we as Catholics mean by predestination. Calvin and Jansen taught that only the predestined can receive Gods grace, even though Jesus came to save all. They acknowledged that He came to save everyone, but they would say that only those who are predestined can receive Gods grace. We would say that there is no limit to the Incarnation. God does not put limits on the grace He offers. God desires the salvation of all and He offers every single person His grace. One can fall from the state of grace, one can also be restored to the state of grace, and others can convert by cooperating with grace. But the grace necessary for entrance into the state of grace and sufficient to remain in that state is always given to every single person. Every person on the face of the earth is offered the grace of God necessary for salvation. That does not mean everyone will cooperate, but it means every single person has what is necessary. No one standing before God on Judgment Day will be able to say that they did not have the opportunity for salvation. Every single person is offered the grace.
[End of Lesson 13]
Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier
Lesson 13: Grace and the Divine Life (Part 1)PING!
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LESSON 13: GRACE AND THE DIVINE LIFE (PART 1)BUMP
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