-“Conversion of St Paul”, by Domenico Morelli, 1876, in the collection of Altumura Cathedral-Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, opened 1232 AD, Bari, Apulia, in southern Italy. Please click on the image for greater detail.
“For here we have no lasting city…” -Heb 13:14
“Our Lord Jesus Christ demands nothing less than a total transformation of our lives. At the beginning of His earthly ministry, He proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). We must undergo a moral (repent!) and mental (believe!) transformation. Our will must conform to the “One . . . Who is good” (Mt 19:17) and our intellect to the One Who is “the Truth” (Jn 14:6). This demand, however, is not reducible to Kantian moralism or Socratic metanoia. The difference between the Teacher’s call to transformation and that of any other teacher is the reality of grace.
Grace transformed impetuous Simon, a denier of Christ, into Peter, Christ’s vicar on earth. Grace transformed zealous Saul, a persecutor of Christ, into Paul, Christ’s ambassador to the Gentiles.
We do not initiate this transformation. God does. Our transformation is not self-directed or self-determined. It is Spirit-led. It can break upon us suddenly like a lightning flash or gradually like the rising sun [Ed. or, in my case, geologic time :)] . We are transformed, because He transforms us, just as “we love, because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).
Nevertheless, the transformative power of grace does not exclude our freedom and cooperation. Grace is not like a marionette string, moving us here, now there. Grace works from within the human will, but without determining or forcing it. This is ultimately a great mystery acknowledged even by the Prophets of Israel. Isaiah articulates it thus: Lord, it is “You Who have accomplished all we have done” (Isa 26:12). There is no denying that we have done the work, but we could not have accomplished it without the Lord, Who works in us by grace. Habakkuk provides an image to illustrate this mystery: “God, my Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet swift as those of hinds and enables me to go upon the heights” (Hab 3:19). I am the one who goes upon the heights, but I am enabled to do so by a power that does not come from my own resources. God, by grace, makes His strength my own. He equips me to do something above and beyond what I can do alone.
Our Lord demands a total transformation. He calls us to act freely, consciously, and deliberately in response to His call. But this is not about the mere mustering up of our own willpower. Our strength is the Lord. By their own natural power, our feet only move so quickly. Grace makes them swift as those of hinds.
Grace is God’s love at work in us and through us. The Father grants this utterly free gift through His only begotten Son, Who came into the world “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). It “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). Grace elevates the soul, strengthens the will, and enlightens the mind. Our human nature is transformed in such a way that we can, in fact, repent and believe in the Gospel. More wonderful yet, we are enabled to approach heights previously inconceivable: we are transformed to “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4).
If today, you believe in the Gospel, it is by grace. If today, you act on the Gospel, it is by grace. If you give thanks for the graces you have received, it is by grace. And, if even at this moment you wonder if you have received grace, lift your heart in joyful prayer: that prayer will itself be graced. By such prayer, you may ask for more grace. Truly, “we have all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16)! Praise God for this transformative gift! Oh Lord, it is You indeed who have accomplished all we have done.”
A Prayer to Know, Love and Rejoice in God
I pray, O God, that I may know you and love you,
so that I may rejoice in you.
And if I cannot do so fully in this life
may I progress gradually until it comes to fullness.
Let the knowledge of You grow in me here,
and there be made complete;
Let Your love grow in me here
and there be made complete,
so that here my joy may be great in hope,
and there be complete in reality.
Lord, by Your Son, You command,
or rather, counsel us to ask
and You promise that we shall receive so that our “joy may be complete.”
I ask, Lord, as You counsel through our admirable Counselor.
May I receive what You promise through Your truth so that my “joy may be complete.”
Until then let my mind meditate on it,
let my tongue speak of it,
let my heart love it,
let my mouth preach it.
Let my soul hunger for it,
let my flesh thirst for it,
my whole being desire it,
until I enter into the “joy of the Lord,”
Who is God, Three in One, “blessed forever. Amen.”
–St Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogion
Prayer to Embrace God in Love
I am desperate for Your love, Lord.
My heart is aflame with fervent passion.
When I remember the good things You have done, my heart burns with desire to embrace You.
I thirst for You, I hunger for You.
I long for You, I sigh for You.
I am jealous for Your love.
What shall I say to You?
What can I do for You?
Where shall I seek You?
I am sick for Your love.
The joy of my heart turns to dust.
My happy laughter is reduced to ashes.
I want You. I hope for You.
My soul is like a widow, bereft of You.
Turn to me, and see my tears.
I will weep until You come to me.
Come now, Lord, and I will be comforted.
Show me Your face, and I shall be saved.
Enter my room, and I shall be satisfied.
Reveal Your beauty, and my joy will be complete.