Editor’s note: This article is part 4 of a series, “The Kingdom of Grace.” Part 3 can be found here.
God is Love.
In his very great love for us, God gives himself to us. He opens up his inner Life to us, and gives us his Son and Spirit. In so doing, he proves himself to be the God of grace–uncreated grace. When God gives himself to us, however, he also gives us many graces–created graces.
The many created graces coming to us from God are worth pondering at some length so that we might learn to live by them more and more. For all of them, in one way or another, work to open our hearts to the God of grace and go into his life in a manner otherwise impossible for human beings to do.
When God gives himself to us, when he opens up his inner Life and gives us his eternal Son and Spirit, the whole act of love is really quite unfathomable for us. It is also quite impossible for us to receive him or respond to him consciously, freely, or in a personal way. It is simply not in the powers of our human nature to be able to do so.
All of our intelligence and strength are but poverty before him, and the gift of himself to us is too excessive for us to handle. For our lives, our loves, our relationships, our knowledge, all of our inner resources and wealth, all of it is naturally adapted to life in the physical world, and God is beyond the physical world.
He is a mystery to us.
However, God knows our limits rather well. He knows of our incapacities to welcome and respond to him when he gives himself to us. So, when he gives us his uncreated grace, when he gives us himself, he also gives us by his grace certain new and special qualities.
These new qualities are over and above all the qualities that belong to our nature such as musical gifts or a high degree of intelligence. They are distinct from all the blessings of nature that make us up individually, the gifts of body or soul, and these new qualities enable us to receive and respond to God’s gift of himself in a way that is conscious, free, and personal. Such is their importance.
When God by his grace creates in our souls these new and special gifts, these created graces, some are more fundamental than others. The most fundamental one is sanctifying grace. For now, let us just say that sanctifying grace is something of God’s own life planted in the depths of our souls. (More to say on the life of grace in the next article.)
Flowing from sanctifying grace are all the infused virtues as well as the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. According to the traditional list, the infused virtues are faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. The gifts of the Spirit are understanding, knowledge, wisdom, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.
All of these graces are created in our souls through the waters of baptism. They are stable gifts, deeply rooted in our souls, and cannot be lost except by mortal sin. (Thanks be to God, if one commits a mortal sin, the sacrament of penance restores them.)
From the days of their catechesis, many Catholics are familiar with terms such as sanctifying grace and might even remember the lists of the infused virtues, gifts, and fruits of the Spirit. Very few Catholics, however, realize what all these things really are, what they do for us, and why they are given to us in our baptism.
In a nutshell, all of these qualities enable us to receive and to respond to God in a conscious, free, and personal way when he gives himself to us – when he opens up to us his inner Life and shares with us his Word and Spirit. Sanctifying grace, the virtues, gifts, and fruits spelled out on the catechetical lists form the very capacity to welcome God personally and respond to him consciously and freely on a level beyond all that is possible for us to do by our own human strength or abilities.
Even more amazingly, God gives us not only a host of qualities such as sanctifying grace or the virtues, but he also activates us in various ways. He stirs within our hearts, moves and inclines our hearts, to welcome God as he gives himself to us. When God so works in our hearts and inclines us from within to welcome him and respond to him, the stirrings and promptings are traditionally called actual graces or inspirations. Actual graces and inspirations move us in the depths of our hearts to various saving acts such as repenting of one’s sins or offering up praise and thanksgiving to God. The graces and inspirations to do so are also created graces.
Sometimes people speak of more specific graces. For example, God might give someone the grace of conversion, the grace of a religious vocation, the grace of the priesthood, the grace of a miraculous healing, or the grace of greater patience or chastity or something similar. One might speak even more particularly of the grace of Saint Paul, the grace of Saint Augustine, the grace of Saint Catherine of Sienna, or the grace of Pope Saint John Paul II. One might also speak of the grace of particular sacraments: the grace of baptism, the grace of confirmation, the grace of holy matrimony, etc.
God gives such graces to different people in different ways, and at the same time gives them to his Church. He gives them according to his eternal designs for the particular person and for the Church as a whole. For he is ever forming us individually, and in so doing he is ever building up the Church for what he has always planned her to be in heaven – the Church of the endless ages in Light.
The graces of God come to us in myriads of forms: stable qualities, actual graces, inspirations, sacramental graces, the grace of a particular vocation or apostolate, and many more. Regardless of their forms, created graces are given to us to open our hearts to God so that we can personally receive him and freely respond to him when he pours himself out upon us in Love.
The graces of God in our lives accomplish something still more. His graces to us are supernatural, and actually lift us up to live on a new level beyond the whole world of nature. They adapt us to live in God’s own supernatural and divine milieu, beyond the visible world of nature and even beyond the world of the angels, but to ponder such mysteries belongs to the next article in our series.
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.