‘The relationship between the Christian message and human experience… springs from the very end of catechesis, which seeks to put the human person in communion with Jesus Christ. In His earthly life He lived His humanity fully: Therefore, “Christ enables us to live in Him all that He Himself lived, and He lives it in us”. Catechesis operates through this identity of human experience between Jesus the Master and His disciple and teaches us to think like Him, to act like Him, to love like Him. To live in communion with Christ is to experience the new life of grace.’ (General Directory for Catechesis 116) … Bringing people to understand this(the Catholic understanding of the life of grace) is, of course, at the very core of what catechesis must achieve.
Avoiding the Extremes
(Ed note: the Church predictably, historically, regularly, habitually avoids the extremes of any issue. It has done so throughout its two millenia. This is one of the ways we know and can come to understand the truth of a matter and the True Faith & teaching of the Church. If it is an extreme position, in any/either direction, the Church will avoid these in her teaching, and seek a middle ground where it has found and believes always exists the Truth of a matter; not because it is a middle ground, but because the middle ground is where the Truth has historically been found by her.)
In her teaching on grace, the Church avoids two extreme positions. On the one hand, she avoids over-emphasising the weakness of human nature. She accepts that human nature is, of course, limited, corrupted and flawed. But she does believe that what is broken may be mended. God can repair the damage. In avoiding this extreme, the Catholic Church is avoiding the position of some Protestant communities.
On the other hand, the Church also avoids the opposite extreme, that places too much emphasis on the goodness of human nature, that underestimates the harm done to humanity by the Fall. That would lead to the view that salvation is possible though one’s own efforts.
All catechesis on the life of grace has to avoid these two positions. It has to accept that human nature is flawed and wounded by sin, but not fatally so. By doing so it accepts that we can and must participate in our own salvation by our own efforts, but that we cannot achieve it without being joined in communion to the incarnate Word of God, who then enables our weakened nature to begin living His new life.
Pope John Paul II summed up the Catholic understanding in his letter written on the threshold of the new millennium. He said that our catechesis must always reflect that ‘essential principle of the Christian view of life: the primacy of grace…God of course asks us really to cooperate with His grace, and therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom. But it is fatal to forget that ‘without Christ we can do nothing’ (Novo Millennio Ineunte 38)
What is the life of grace?
We must avoid the extremes. What, then, must we teach? We teach that the life of grace is communion with God. It is a life in union with Him made possible by the Incarnation. Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, united himself with our humanity so that we could have this union with God. St Paul described it as becoming adopted children of God and true heirs of all the love he wishes to give us (Rom 8:15-17). In Roman times, an adopted son gained all the rights and privileges of a natural son, losing all that belonged to his former life. He became a true member of the family into which he was adopted, and was a real co-heir with other sons of his father’s estates, and any debts form his former life were cancelled. The life of grace, then, is life as true members of God’s Trinitarian family.
We begin by teaching that point. Then we can move on to consider something further. We needed to be redeemed from the weakness and corruption caused by the Fall and the presence of sin in the world. For this, the Son of God’s uniting humanity to Himself at the Incarnation was necessary. But more was needed. The Son of God, in His human body, then subjected Himself to death for our sake, and in doing so He actually destroyed death, which could take no hold on Him as He is Life itself. We recall this just after the Consecration at Mass when we say, ‘Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life.’ Through his death, Jesus destroyed death for us, and through his resurrection he made sharing in his life possible. In the sacrament of Baptism, we are joined to him. We are made part of his body the Church and so death is destroyed in us also. Our life is a new one.
It is this twofold aspect of salvation which can be lost in explanation at times. God the Son not only redeems us from death, but also enables us to live as adopted sons and daughters of God. And He does all this through His union with us in the flesh.
Purpose, Balance, & Means
What we have, I think, are three teaching points which we will want to cover in our presentation on the life of grace.
Firstly, then, we need to be clear about the nature and purpose of the life of grace, which is communion with Christ, and through Christ with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We have seen that by grace, the free gift of God, we are given a share in his own life, the Trinitarian and familial communion of Father, Son and Spirit. We share in this life in the way proper to our created nature – an adopted way rather than a natural way. The grace given to us for this is supernatural. In other words, we are being given more than is due to our nature – even without considering the sinfulness of it. There would have been no way for us to gain this life without the Incarnation – and given our sinfulness, no way for death to have been destroyed without Life Himself subjecting Himself to it, which broke it to pieces and allowed us to share His own life.
But what can be sometimes overlooked is that, although we need this life of grace here and now to enable us to live in the world with integrity and honor, we need it much more to live in the presence of God at the end of this life. Without growth in grace here and now, we shall find it impossible to tolerate being in the presence of Love and Goodness Himself in the hereafter, let alone find pleasure and fulfillment. ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb 10:31). Jesus warns us of the dangers of failure to grow in grace in the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30). To live in communion with Christ is to experience the life of grace He gives us – and conversely, to break communion with Christ is to lose it.
Secondly, we ensure that in our catechesis a balance is kept so that we maintain a Catholic understanding of grace. Humanity is unable to redeem itself, but our human nature is not damaged beyond the point of no return. We are truly enabled to respond to God’s love in communion with Christ; what we do, and say and even think is of true significance when it is done in Christ, contributing to his redemptive work in the world.
Thirdly, the sacraments of the Church are our normal means of keeping open the channels of grace in us – the life of grace is nourished and strengthened in us by this means and we are actually enabled to cooperate with Christ in his work of salvation…The whole understanding of how the gift of grace is transmitted to us through Christ’s and the Spirit’s work in the normal sacramental actions of the Church, and its reality in enabling us to cooperate with God, had not been handed on to her. She needed to hear that the Blessed Trinity has given us a share in their life of grace precisely though the sacrament of the Son and the sacramentality of His Church’s actions; this is the means God chooses to be one with us.
‘The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of His own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification.’ (CCC 1999)”
I believe in grace. I do. God help me, I do. I have FELT it! I, the least of His. Praise Him!
How consoling! How nourishing! How fulfilling! How strengthening! Place ALL your trust in Him! Do it! And LIVE!!!!