Monday, July 11, 2016

Pope Francis' Recipe For Holiness: Ingredient 1 - Grace

My confession proceeded as usual. I did this...I didn't do that...I could have done this...I regret doing that...I failed...I sinned....and I am tired.  The last one was tough to admit. I am proud of the fact that I can keep the multiple plates of my life spinning.  I enjoy the activity and relish the sense of accomplishment I have at the end of the day. Most days, the hustle and bustle energizes me, but this time was different.  I had just come though a long month which included running a major Women's Conference, the frenetic pace of the Christmas holidays, two sick kids, and a bout with walking pneumonia that quite literally knocked the wind out of me.

I was tired and in all honesty, had very little sense of resolve that I could move the needle forward in the holiness department. So much for the "firm purpose of amendment" that the Sacrament of Reconciliation calls for.

I finished my confession, sat back and looked at my confessor - waiting for some words of wisdom, or at least a little pity.

Instead, he offered the following observation: "Do you know what I hear? I hear a whole lot of "I"...." He went on to point out, with the utmost gentleness, but quite rightly, that I had been trying to do everything on my own steam and I had run out of gas.  Instead, he suggested that I begin each day, even each new activity, by meeting the Lord in restful prayer and asking for his grace to provide the power for the day. 

My confessor was right. My pride and self-sufficiency had gotten the best of me, and in my desire to check off the "to-do" list each day, I forget to add the first, most essential ingredient of Pope Francis' Recipe for Holiness: Grace.

In a morning homily on May 24, 2016, the Holy Father challenged the his listeners with these words:  "We cannot achieve holiness on our own. No, it is a grace. Being good, being saintly, going every day a little - a step forward in the Christian life is a grace of God and we have to ask for it.

It was not the first time Pope Francis has talked about grace.  In 2014, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, he reiterated the famous words of St. Therese of Lisieux :"everything is a free gift from God, everything is grace, everything is a gift out of his love for us." 

What is grace?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life." (CCC 1196) We receive sanctifying grace, which allows us to participate in God's own life, at our Baptism. As long as we remain free from mortal sin, we live in this state of grace - an intimate communion with the Holy Trinity.  The Lord, in his generosity, also provides us with what the Church refers to as "actual grace", which Catholic Encyclopedia defines as grace that "is granted by God for the performance of salutary acts and is present and disappears with the action itself." This is the grace which moves us in a particular instance to perform an act of virtue or holiness.

We have access to this grace, now what? Pope Francis' highlights our Blessed Mother as the model for how we should respond and cooperate with God's grace.  He says: "the attitude of Mary of Nazareth shows us that being comes before doing, and to leave the doing to God in order to be truly as he wants us. It is He who works so many marvels in us. Mary is receptive, but not passive."

This was exactly my confessor's point.  I was so focused on performing the actions of my life, that I neglected to be receptive to God's grace and the help that He so desired to provide me. Our performance - based, action-oriented culture does not aid matters much. As Catholic's striving for the heights of holiness in the trenches of everyday life, we need to give ourselves permission to just "be" in the presence of the Lord and be open to whatever he wants to work in us and through us.

The results of this grace and our cooperation with it are amazing. The Pope tells us: "If our life is allowed to be transformed by the grace of the Lord, for the grace of the Lord does transform us, we will not be able to keep to ourselves the light that comes from his face, but we will let it pass on to enlighten others."

We see lives transformed by grace most clearly in the witness of the Saints. Their holiness is compelling - it draws us to them.  We want what they have. The good news is that what they have is not reserved for just a select few, but available to each and everyone of us, we have only to ask and be receptive to all that God desires to give us.

Almighty Father, giver of all good gifts, we humbly come before you and surrender our lives to you. We repent of the times we have tried to live life on our own terms and using our own steam. We turn to you today and ask you to fill us with your grace, so that every aspect of our lives may be lived according to your will and that we may be a witness to your great love to all we meet.

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