Editor’s note: This article is part 2 of a series, “The Kingdom of Grace.” Part 1 can be found here.
The Lord Jesus came so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (Jn. 10:10). The abundant life he came to give us was nothing less than eternal life – the divine Life of God himself. The gospel of grace is simply the story of how God has opened up his inner life to us, has personally called us to participate in his inner life, and actually transmits to our souls something of his own divine Life. The gospel of grace is the announcement that out of his sheer love for us God is now giving himself to us.
The story of grace begins with God. God dwells in unapproachable Light (1 Tim. 6:6). What sort of life God lives in the Light, and what goes on in his inner life too, is also a secret. No one on earth could ever imagine it, guess it, or fathom it. Yet, God did not want to keep his secret to himself. He wanted, rather, to reveal it to us. His purpose in revealing the secret of his Life, however, was not simply to tell us about it or give us new information. If his purpose were merely to tell us about it, then the revelation would have been for us like hearing of a beautiful island somewhere – a place of splendid sunrises, gorgeous waters, amazing plants and animals – but a place we never get to visit and experience for ourselves.
Rather, God wanted to open up his secret to us so that we might enter into his inner Life and to participate in it for ourselves – knowingly, lovingly, freely enjoy his eternal and divine Life. He wanted to transmit something of us his very Life to our souls. In this way, our inner life would mysteriously blend with his inner Life, and something like a marriage between God and humanity could come to pass. There is a name for the wonderful act by which God reveals his inner secret to us, calls us into his inner life and transmits something of his divine Life to our very souls. The name is grace.
When God set about the work of revealing his secret to us and transmitting to our souls something of his own Life, God did so in an orderly fashion. The secret of God is that he is a Trinity of divine persons – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and the manner in which he revealed this mystery to us involves all three persons in the process. After a preparatory phase under the old covenant, when the fullness of time had come, the Father sent his eternal Son into the world. Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal Son of God. He was born of Mary of Nazareth in Bethlehem of Judea, and he was a real and true human being who walked the face of the earth. As he did so, Jesus carried within himself the whole divine Life. For he was the eternal Son of God, and so he carried the secret of God within himself.
Truly he lived a human life, but unique among all human beings, he also lived the divine Life. Everything that he said or did revealed this Life in some way or another. Jesus spoke of his heavenly Father, and ministered in the power of the Spirit – healings and exorcisms and sublime teachings. In the power of the same Spirit, Jesus also freely chose to die on the cross out of sheer love for us, as a sacrifice for our sins, and in so doing revealed the magnitude of divine Love for you and for me. But that was not enough. God also raised him from the dead, and in his ascension, Jesus returned to the Father. When he returned, he did so with a specific purpose in mind. His purpose was to stand before the Father of lights and intercede on our behalf for a special intention. The intention was for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us.
The Holy Spirit is the personal Love going on between the Father and the Son within the inner life of God for all eternity. Just as two people who love each other look at each other and tend to breathe a sigh of love for one another, so for all eternity the Father and the Son behold each other in splendor and breathe a sigh of Love for each other. The Holy Spirit is their eternal sigh of Love. The Holy Spirit is a sigh of Love so deep and so magnificent that the Spirit is actually a third divine person proceeding from the Father and the Son. Teachings such as these are so very great that they deserve long meditation in their own right, but it is even more amazing to consider that day and night the risen Lord Jesus stands before the Father, shows his glorified wounds to the Father, and intercedes for you and me to receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Such is the mystery of Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest.
The Father always hears the prayer of his Son, the Eternal High Priest, and the Spirit has been sent into our lives in a new and special way – in a manner over and above the Spirit’s work of creating the world. The good news that comes down to us from the apostles of old is that “the love of God has been poured forth into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rm. 5:5). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit – the grace of the Holy Spirit – is now ever at work in the world in different people and in different ways. But most importantly, the Spirit actually comes to live and dwell in the hearts of those who are baptized.
It is an amazing thing to ponder that the Holy Spirit himself abides in the depths of our hearts. He lives and abides there so long as we continue to live in a state of grace – in the sanctifying grace we received in our baptism. Once sanctifying grace has been given in baptism, it is impossible for someone to lose it except by committing mortal sin. If there is any question of having committed mortal sin, it is time to fly to the sacrament of penance. For that great sacrament restores sanctifying grace in our souls, and the Spirit comes to dwell in us anew.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). The question is as relevant for us today as when Saint Paul first put it to the Corinthians in the first century. How many Catholics have never heard of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! How few Catholics realize that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the key to our sanctification and our transformation! How few Catholics learn to walk in the presence and the power of the Spirit dwelling in their hearts! One of the main points of this series is to learn more of the mystery of the Spirit dwelling in us, and how to live more and more according to his presence in our hearts.
When the Spirit comes to dwell in us, he comes to carry out a project in us – a saving mission. He comes to Love us, to give us Light, and to transmit to our souls something of the very divine Life that is in Jesus Christ. The Spirit comes to befriend us to God. He comes to inspire the pronouncement of the Name in our hearts, to flood our souls with the filial prayer of Jesus, and to transform us into another Christ in the world. Every one of these points is a mystery, and each deserves a meditation of its own. Everything begins with the gift of grace, and the gift of grace is the topic of our next article.
Father James Dominic Brent, O.P. is a Dominican Friar who lives and teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. Several of his homilies, spiritual conferences, interviews, and radio spots can be found on his personal Soundcloud site. He frequently lectures for the Thomistic Institute and appears on Aquinas 101.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.