Grace is a special gift of God’s love, different from all the blessings of nature, and God gives us his grace in order to draw us into us his own divine Life. God gives actual graces to all people, but in baptism he gives sanctifying grace to souls. Thanks to sanctifying grace, the soul lives on another level than all the things of natural world – on a level beyond even that of the angels. It was God’s plan all along to bestow such a special gift of his Love, and to share something of his own Life with us. In order to live the spiritual life, in order to come to know, love, and enjoy God himself, the first thing one needs is the light of grace.
In order to live the spiritual life, in order to come to know, love, and enjoy God himself, the first thing one needs is the light of grace. – Fr. James Brent, O.P.
To understand the light of grace, the liturgy of the Church provides the best comparison. Every year at the Easter Vigil, the priest first blesses the fire, and from the holy fire the paschal candle is lit. From the paschal candle, in turn, the candles of the people are lit. The deacon then processes with the paschal candle. Three times he stops in the procession, holds the candle high, and chants “the Light of Christ!” All of this reveals that Christ is the light of God, and each of us receives his light. The light of Christ, God’s own Light, radiates in us by the grace of our baptism.
Throughout the year, the same paschal candle is present in the liturgy of baptisms. When a baptism takes place, after the pouring or immersion in the water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a small candle is lit from the paschal candle and handed to the newly baptized or to the godfather. When the newly lit candle is handed over, the minister says “keep the flame of faith burning brightly.” The liturgy of the Church teaches us clearly that faith is a special light received from God in Jesus Christ, and thanks to grace his divine Light illuminates our souls. Faith is the light of God shining within us in the depths of our souls – in a special part of the soul traditionally called the spiritual part of the soul, the mind, or the heart.
Faith is a fixed tendency to trust and affirm what God has revealed to the human race, i.e. everything that comes down to us in the testimony of the prophets and apostles. This fixed tendency is traditionally called a theological virtue. Thanks to this virtue or fixed tendency of the heart or mind, when a person full of faith hears what God has revealed, the person simply believes it all. The faithful affirm in all simplicity that Jesus is Lord, that he freely chose to die on the cross out of love for us, that God raised him from the dead, that now he stands before the Father interceding for us, and the Father answers his prayers by pouring out the Holy Spirit upon us – especially in the sacraments of the Church.
Thanks to the virtue of faith, the faithful simply believe in the perpetual Virginity of Mary, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and all the other mysteries of our faith. These mysteries naturally give rise to many questions. The questions are not doubts (or need not become doubts). Rather, every question is a call to grow in understanding of what God has revealed, and so faith also ponders the mysteries in love like the Blessed Virgin Mary who “kept all these things pondering them in her heart” (Lk. 2:19). Faith, therefore, gives birth to prayer and meditation, contemplation and sacred study, indeed, to the whole personal response to the Light that is living and true theology.
More importantly, faith is the beginning of eternal life in us. In John 17:3, the Lord said: “eternal life is knowing you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life is a form of knowing. It is not merely an abstract or conceptual knowledge, but a personal, experiential, familiar form of knowing God. Faith is contact of the mind with God himself, and the fruit of such contact is life in the presence of God, awareness of him, knowing him in the biblical sense in the depths of the heart. Whoever lives in such contact with God in the depths of the heart is already in some sense one with him. That is why Saint Thomas Aquinas says that by faith a person enters into “a union similar to marriage” with God, and also that by faith a person “perceives many things of God in a manner higher than reason.”
Now, just as in a marriage, the union merely begins on the day of the wedding and is meant to grow from that day forward, so union with God begins in faith and is meant to grow through faith and hope and charity and the seven gifts of the Spirit. It is meant to grow into the full enjoyment of the presence of God dwelling within us. In this way, God recovers fallen humanity from its sense of the absence of God, heals our hearts of the calamity of the Fall, and renews us in the life of knowing the divine Light.
Most importantly of all, faith is the root and source of contemplative prayer. “Contemplation,” the Catechism says, “is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus” (CCC 2715). When two people trust each other and abide in love together, their communication tends to simplify, to become more interior, more silent, and yet mysteriously richer and more intimate. So too it is with the faithful who pray. Those who believe – in all trust and love – what God reveals, and give themselves to the practice of prayer, tend to become more interior souls, more silent, abiding more with a simple awareness of the presence of God living within. They begin to experience for themselves the meaning of these words: “he who believes in me out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (Jn. 7:38).
Such contemplative awareness can become radical. One great example is the French Carmelite nun Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity. She was a contemplative soul, and by grace was given from an early age to pondering the reality of the Trinity dwelling in her soul. “I have found heaven on earth, since heaven is God, and God is in my soul,” she wrote. What was her secret? What was the secret of her growth in radical awareness of God dwelling within her? “Believe in his Love,” she wrote, “in his exceeding Love.”
“Believe in his Love, in his exceeding Love.” – St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
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.
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