“Everything is grace.” These words were said by the great Doctor of the Church, St. Therese of Lisieux. The topic of grace is something central to the propers of the liturgy, and something you will hear mentioned time and time again. It is also something essential to understanding our present age. In Rome, the Synod on the Family is turning into quite the affair. While many believe that the issue has to deal with divorce, contraception or homosexuality, I would say the real dividing line is on understanding grace. The Propers for the Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost gives us further insight on what grace is, and why it exists.
When we think of grace, why do we need it? Often it is said that we need it because we are sinners, and we cannot obtain salvation without it. This is true, but there are more reasons for grace. If this was all the discussion was about, there would be no need for grace after you accepted Christ. The Introit reminds us of another reason for grace. It begins by pointing out that everything happens according to God’s will, which includes “the undefiled” that walk in the way of the Lord. If you are Holy, you have God’s will to thank.
The only reason you are Holy is because of God’s grace. Yet this also includes why you remain holy. The collect beseeches that God keep us free from all adversities, so, and this is the important part, we may be “devoutly given to good works for the glory of Thy name.” In addition to forgiving us of our sins, grace makes it possible to live a life of holiness, and to carry out our calling. While we were all made for union with God, we were also made to let others know of God’s existence. His grace helps us make that a reality.
The first way it does so is by shielding us from temptations and the devil. St. Paul describes grace in terms of armor a soldier wears before going into battle. This armor implies we will be in a hostile environment, and without it, we will die in battle. How many families today lack this armor? How often do they find themselves unable to go to confession because of inconvenient times or a distant priest who doesn’t take the sacrament seriously? Does their armor receive regular maintenance by sound spiritual instruction? In many areas of the world, including in our own backyard, that answer is no. Some Catholics have trouble finding this armor, and others have watched it wither away after years of battle. What is the Church doing to help these souls? The faithful family is on the periphery of the Church and the world; how are they being greeted? For those of you fortunate enough to have that armor: put it on, and always keep it well maintained.
The importance of this armor is elaborated upon in the Gospel. Christ tells the parable of the wicked steward, who is forgiven but himself refuses to forgive. His master gives him grace, and the ability to avoid further peril. By refusing to forgive, he is opening himself to the spirit of jealously and greed, things which will kill the soul. He was given the armor, but refused to wear it and keep it properly maintained. How many good Catholics, after years of fighting, are like the steward? We forget the importance of the armor. It isn’t given to us for a shiny status, but as protection against the snares of the devil. Forsaking this armor, we head into battle without it, and are quickly overcome.
I think if the Synod is to succeed, it must consider these people. Those who are following the Gospel find themselves marginalized not just by society, but increasingly they find themselves marginalized in the Church, the place where they should feel most comfortable living out the Gospel. As a result, many wither away from the faith, and fall prey to the same things they were originally rescued from. While they are ultimately responsible for their own sins, we as a Church are responsible to help them. By “we as a church” I do not mean just the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him. I mean me and you. How accessible is your parish to the family? Do you do things which call all people, men, women, and children there? How available are the sacraments? Are their souls being raised to God in the Mass?
Catholics need to know they can have access to this armor of grace, and they need to know how to use it. We are a big Church, we can give out that armor to the world, but also make sure those wearing it have a maintained set.