The Life of Grace

The Life of Grace

By Father James Chelich

What Do We Believe? We say that we believe in God. But for most of us, most of the time, this remains an idea somewhere in our head. We say that we believe that God became “flesh” in Jesus — that He joined Himself to what we are: human beings in bondage to the addictive power of Sin, so that we might be able to become what He is: whole, holy and free (Ref. 2 Cor 5:21). But again, for most of us, most of the time, this remains just a concept in our mind. We also say that we believe that Jesus died for our sins and those of the whole world, that by his death and resurrection he broke the addictive power of Sin over our lives, and that He offers us forgiveness and the possibility of a new life. This is a compelling thought. It moves us to reflection and inspires great sermons and books. But even here, for most of us, most of the time, it remains a thought enshrined in our heads. Is there any way of expressing what we believe that knocks at the door of our heart rather than rattles around in our head? A way that urges our heart to open itself to what we say we believe? Saint John, the disciple who stood at the foot of Jesus’ cross with Mary, his mother, found a way. In his first letter he writes: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.” 1 John 4:16a Just one little verse? And at first glance not a very remarkable one at that! But hold on. Give this little verse some careful attention. Change it to the first person and begin to say it slowly — repeating it over and over again: “I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me.” Stand in front of a mirror, and as you look at your reflection, continue to slowly repeat the words. Emphasize the words “love” and “me”: “I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me.” It is hard to keep saying these words without some kind of response forming in your heart. You can feel your heart either resisting the words or wanting to open to them, either growing hard or becoming warm. Why? Why would your heart resist these words, and what can we learn from the resistance we feel? How often have you been told that you are not good enough to be loved? How may times and in how many ways have you been told that you are not beautiful enough, that you are not capable neough, that you are not intelligent enough? This message has been hammered into us since we were a small child. We have hear it said so many ways and felt its sting so many times that it has disqualified our hearts for love. We have even been lead to believe that we must earn God’s love and that in His eyes we will never be “good enough”. This is totally false. God loves you — unconditionally! And the only thing God asks is that you open your heart to His love for you — that you let it in. This does not mean that God accepts everything that you do. You do not even like everything that you do. There are a lot of sad and destructive things that you would stop doing if you could. God accepts and loves you — as you are. You are good enough, beautiful enough, intelligent enough and capable enough for God to love you and to love through you. The beginning ot true religion is to accept this and to open your heart to it. We don’t change in order to earn God’s love. The acceptance and experience of God’s love “works” its own change in us. This is the truth and mystery that we will examine in this boolklet. Saint John’s little verse becomes a key that can open our heart to the things that we say we believe: “I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me…” …in the love that became flesh for me in Jesus, …in the love that was poured out for me on His cross, …in the love that radiates toward me from His open heart, …in the love that I feel stirred into flame in my own heart when I read on the Word and receive the Eucharist, …in the love that remains with me always: in all things, through all things, to the end of all things. Chapter I Grace: “The Love God has for us” “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, Glory as of the only Son coming from the Father. And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:14,16-17 (Revised Standared Version) In the New American Bible, this same passage reads: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory: The glory of an only Son coming from the Father filled with enduring love… Of his fullness we have all had a share — love following upon love. For while the law was given through Moses, this enduring love came through Jesus Christ.” Grace is God’s Love. It is the personal and uniquely powerful love that God has for each of us, a love that He freely and unconditionally offers everyone of us. Saint Paul writes in the Letter to the Ephesians: “But God is rich in mercy; because of his great love for us he brought us to life with Christ when wwe were dead in sin…This is not your own doing, it is God’s gift; neither is it a reward for anything you have accomplished…” Ephesians 2:4-5, 9 In the Letter to the Romans, he adds: “I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principlaities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth nor any other creature, will be able to seperate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 Grace is a Divine “Energy” Grace is Divine Love: the Divine Love shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the Blessed Trinity. It is the Divine Life they share together. It is the very power of God. The Grace that we experience as created beings is the radiation of this Life-giving Love from within the Blessed Trinity. It radiates from God outward into the whole created universe where it creates and sustains life, and works in and through all things for the good. Grace is experienced as a life-creating and life-sustaining Love/Energy flowing from God — a Divine Energy! The movement and work of Grace in our hearts and in the world is directed by the Holy Spirit. This is what we mean when we say that the Holy Spirit is: “…the Lord and giver of life…” The Creed at Mass Grace Comes to Us from a Heart Laid Open The great Old Testament prophet Ezekiel was given a vision. An angel showed Exekiel a new temple: “Then (the angel) brought me to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold… I saw water trickling from the southern side. Then when he had walked off to the east with a measuring cord in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and had me wade through the water the water which was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and had me wade through the water which was now knee-deep. Again he measured off a thousand and had me wade; the water was up to my waist. Once more he measured off a thousand, but there was now a river through which I could not wade; for the water had risen so high it had become a river… He asked of me, ‘Have you see this, son of man?’ Then he brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit. Along the bank of the river I saw very many trees on both sides. He said to me… ‘Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live… wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh… Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.'” Ezekiel 47:1-12 Ezekiel saw a great river whose life-giving waters begin with a small trickle from the open doorway of a temple. One day Jesus was in the Temple in Jerusalem and he said to the crowds: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) Many of his listeners thought that he was referring to the ancient temple building. Saint John added a note of explanation: “Actually he (Jesus) was talking about the temple of his body.” (John 2:21) Saint John wants to make clear that Jesus, himself, is the real temple! The temple that Ezekiel saw in his vision is Jesus. But what of the trickle of water that Exekiel saw flowing flowing from the open doorway of the temple? Saint John, at the end of his Gospel, carefully describes what took place on Calvary just after Jesus died on the Cross: “When they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. One of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. This testimony has been given by an eyewitness, and his testimony is true. He tells what he knows is true, so that you may believe.” John 19:33-35 The water coming from the open heart of Jesus is of great importance to Saint John. What signifigance does it have for him? Earlier in his Gospel, Saint John records Jesus saying to his disciples: “If anyone thrists, let him come to me; let him drink who believes in me. Scripture has it: ‘From within him rivers of living water shall flow.'” John 7:37-38 Again, Saint John added his own note of explanation: “He (Jesus) was referring to the Spirit that those who come to believe in him were to receive.” John 7:39 The “living water” clearly refers to the Holy Spirit. But there is something more to this image of a flowing “river of living water”. Saint Paul grasps the whole meaning when he writes in his letter to the Romans: “…the love of God has been poured out in our heart through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5 “Living water” also refers to Grace, “the Love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Grace is what the Holy Spirit brings and “pours out in the hearts of those who believe?” And so Saint John wrote: “…while the law was given through Moses, this enduring love came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17 Grace is the “water” that Ezekiel saw flowing from the Temple in his vision. This mighty river of Grace begins in the Heart of God. It flows from the open heart of Jesus, the “Temple” — God become human flesh and blood. From here it flows through the entire world making all things new and fresh, restoring life in every form, and producing from the trees that grow along its banks both the food and medicine that will nourish and heal the human world. As we will see, these “trees” in Exekiel’s vision are women and men who believe, those who open their hearts to “the love of God that comes to them in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” For the moment however, it is important to see that the Heart of God, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is the source and beginning of Grace. “This is the Christ we proclaim while we admonish all women and men and teach them in the full measure of wisdom, hoping to make every man and woman complete in Christ. For this I work and struggle, impelled by that energy of his (Christ’s) which is so powerful a force within me. Colossians 1:28-29 Grace Transforms or Changes Things by its Flow Above we described Grace as Divine Energy. Ezekiel saw this Love/Energy flowing from the Temple of God (Jesus) as a mighty river bringing life and healing everywhere it flowed. There is something important about Grace to be learned here: Grace “works” by its flow. Electricity is an example of how energy changes or “works” things by its flow. Electricity lights light bulbs, heats heaters and runs motors by flowing through them creating light, heat and motion. Grace moves and transforms everything in the universe by freely flowing into them, through them and around them. Grace “Works” Through Hearts Laid Open The one thing, however, that Grace cannot freely flow through is the human heart. While Grace surrounds us at all times and sustains our being and life, it is not free to flow through us. God created our hearts inviolable. This means that the human heart has doors that can either be opened or remain closed to everyone and everything around us. They cannot be forced open, even by God. God created each of us with the dignity of freedom: the ability to say “Yes” or “No’. We can choose to say “Yes”, and to open our heart to the flow of Grace; or we can choose to say “No”, and keep our heart closed to its flow. The decision to open our heart to the Love of God is a critical one. It is a choice between life and death. Moses tried to explained this to the Hebrews in the desert just before they entered the promised land: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding His voice, and holding fast to Him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you…” Deuteronomy 30:19-20 The Heart Has Two Doors Did you know that the human heart has two doors? It does! — a front door and a back door. Jesus refers to them both: “On one occasion a lawyer stood up to pose him this problem: ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?’ Jesus answered him: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you shall live.'” Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-3?? Luke 10:25-28 Jesus tells the lawyer that if he wishes to live and to inherit everlasting life, he must open both doors of his heart: the front door to God and the back door to the people and world around him. The decision to open these doors has a great deal to do with God’s Love and the way it “work” in us and through us. Saint John explains it this way: “When anyone believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God.” 1 John 4:15 “If we love one another God dwells in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” 1 John 4:12 Saint Paul explains the same thing in his own way: “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, and may charity be the root and foundation of your life. Thus you will be able to grasp fully Christ’s love, and experience this love so that you may attain to the fullness of God Himself.” Ephesians 3:17-19 But the message of Saint John and Saint Paul is the same: two doors to the heart must be opened in order… to “inherit everlasting life”, to “grasp Christ’s love”, and to “experience this love”. Both doors to our heart need to be opened for Grace to flow through us. Both need to be opened for Grace to “work”. The Door of Faith and the Door of Charity Faith throws the front door of the heart open to God. When the front door of the heart is open to God in faith, it creates a passageway between our heart and the Heart of God along which Grace, the Love/Energy of God, begins to flow into our heart. We experience reconciliation with God and peace within ourselves. We also experience the promise of an inner healing and transfromation of life. But nothing really changes in ourselves or our relationship with others or the world around us. The back door needs to be opened! Both the front and the back door of a house need to be opened if fresh air is to flow through it! (Ref. John 3:5-8) Charity throws the back door of the heart open to others and to the world. Charity is doing deeds of love in the name of God. These deeds need not always be great things, they can be small things like a compassionate word said or a few moments of attention given. But great or small, they must be done in the name of God and for His sake; not as we usually do them — at our convenience and for our own advantage or benefit. “The gift you have received, gift as a gift.” Matthew 10:8 The motivation for opening the back door of our heart comes only when we have first opened the front door. When we open the front door to God in faith, we experience the love of God for us personally — “We come to know it”. This experience of being loved urges us to open the back door of our heart to others and the world around us. We can only give what we ourselves first possess. And when it comes to love, we can only give that which we have been given. Real love is a free and unconditional gift — a gift with no strings attached. It can only be received as a gift. And once received, it can only be given as a gift! When we do small acts of love for others in the name of God who first loved us, we give as a gift the Love we have received as a gift. The Divine Energy that is the Love of God joins itself to our act of charity and can now flow completely through us. Things begin to change! Things begin to “break loose” both within us and in our relationships with others and the world around us. We begin to be transformed into a new person: one who is… “…formed anew in the image of his Creator.” Colossians 3:10 When we see and experience the power of the love of God at work in us and through us, “we come to believe in it! When only the front door of the heart is opened, when there is faith but not charity, then there is reconciliation with God and peace but no change. When only the back door of the heart is opened, when there is charity but not faith, then there is genuine kindness but no power for change. Change, and the power for it, is a matter of both doors being open and Grace flowing freely into and through the human heart. Transformation in our lives is the result of the flow of Grace through our hearts. The Life of Grace is a Holy ‘Communion of Loves’ The life of Grace can be described as a holy “communion” of two loves: God’s love and our’s. The Love/Energy of God flows from His Heart into our own when we open our hearts by believing in the love that God has for us. Once within us, this Love/Energy seeks to unite itself to some loving act of our own — some gift of who we are or what we have that will now be given to another in God’s Name and out of gratitude for the love we have received from Him. Joining itself to our act of love, God’s Love/Energy passes out into the life of the world and the people around us. God’s Love/Energy magnifies and multiplies a hundred-fold the life-giving and healing effects of our act of charity. The Gospel story of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes (Luke 9:12-17) is a perfect example of this “communion of loves” at work. Jesus gave thanks to God and blessed the five loaves and two fish in God’s Name. He then instructed his disciples to distribute them as a gift of love to the crowd of five thousand. The small morsels were now the gift of both Divine and human love. They were miraculously multiplied by the Grace that joined them. While we may not always see such an immediate effect of our acts of charity when they are joined to the Love of God and done in His Name, we will none-the-less come to know of many miraculous things that will have taken place in the lives of people as a result of the union of God’s Love with our’s. Saint Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus: “To Him (God) whose power at work in us can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine — to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, world without end. Amen. Ephesians 4:20-21 God created woman and man to be united with Him in a Holy “Communion of Loves”. You might say that God created us to be the ordinary means by which His Grace would sustain and nourish the life of the world. Gifts lead to Possibilities, and Possibilities to Choices In teaching the first Christians about the Life of Grace, Saint Paul emphasized how total, complete and unconditional was the free gift of God’s Grace to each of us: “I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principlaities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth nor any other creature, will be able to seperate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 But Paul went on to say: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Romans 12:2 Saint Paul makes two points. He tells us that we must be transformed by the renewal of our minds. As we have seen, this renewal and transformation takes place by the flow of Grace that begins at the front door of the heart with Faith and is completed at the back door of the heart in Charity. But Paul also warns us not to conform ourselves to this age. God’s Love and love in the world are two very different things. God’s Love has no strings attached; love in the world has all sorts of strings attached. God’s Love is freely given; love in the world comes with a price tag. God’s Love invites; love in the world manipulates. God’s Love wants only acceptance, love in the world wants compliance. We are all very much immeshed in the world and, wether we realize it or not, the world’s brand of loving attaches itself to us. Living the Life of Grace, in the way we have been describing it, will sooner or later come into conflict with our old patterns of loving. We will find ourselves feeling the tension between them. This tension alerts us to the fact that it is time to make some choices. Will our way of relating to the people and things in our world be through a holy “Communion of Loves” or will we continue to go it alone? Will our life be formed in the pattern of giving as a gift that which we receive as a gift or in the pattern of getting all we can get at the least expense? If we are to resolve the tension we feel, we will have to make a choice: either to renounce the new way of loving or the old. Receiving the free gift of God’s Love opens up the possibility of living our life in a new and completely different way. And new possibilities inevitably lead to choices. As the new Love takes root in us, it will ask that we renounce the old: that we renounce a love that is self-centered and self-seeking for one that is self-surrendering and self-giving; that we renounce a love that is other-using and other-manipulating for one that is other-attentive and other-blessing. The choice will be between our old ways of loving that isolated us and placed us in constant competition and conflict with the world and everything in it, and a new way of loving that connects us to God, to others and to the world around us in a life-giving way. Amazing Grace… “All of us, gazing on the Lord’s glory with unveiled faces, are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image by the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 Grace, the Love of God for each of us, is the Lord’s “glory” that transforms us into His image. Chapter II Hail Mary, full of Grace! On his cross, Jesus gave all of his “beloved disciples” in every age the truly remarkable woman to be their mother: “Near the cross of Jesus there stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Seeing his mother there with the disciple whom he loved, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, there is your son.’ In turn he said to the disciple, ‘There is your mother.’ From that hour onward, the disciple took her into his care.” John 19:25-27 Mary is remarkable because she is a woman of Grace. We can learn a great deal from her about Grace and how it works in our lives. Let us look at a scene from her life described in the first chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel: “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. Upon arriving, the angel said to her: ‘Rejoice, O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.’ She was deeply troubled by his words and wondered what his greeting meant. The angel went on to say to her: ‘Do not fear, Mary. You have found favor with God. You shall conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus. Great will be his dignity and he will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever and his reign will be without end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be since I do not know man?’ The angel answered her: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence, the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God. Know that Elizabeth your kinswoman has conceived a son in her old age; she who was thought to be sterile is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible with God.'” Luke 1:26-37 If we pull out the underlined portions of this passage, we see more clearly what God is saying not only to Mary but to us all: “Rejoice, O highly favored daughter (or son)! The Lord is with you. You have found favor with God.” Our initial reaction might well be the same as Mary’s: “How can this be?” How can God’s “favor” (Grace) be mine? How can Grace be at work in my life? The explanation is the same for us as it is for Mary: It is the free gift of God and the “work” of His Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The whole passage now comes to the great question the angel was sent to ask: Will you allow God’s favor (Grace) to work in your life? Just as the angel waited for Mary’s response, he now waits for ours! Mary Teaches Us How to Respond to Grace It is by personal example that Mary teaches us how to respond to God’s invitation to open our hearts to His Love and to let it “work” in our lives. Responding to the Invitation: The First Step “Mary said: ‘I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.'” Luke 1:38 Mary’s first response to God’s offer to have His Grace work in her life is an unreserved act of faith. With a clear “Yes” she throws open the front door of her heart to God. By example, she teaches us that our first response to God must be to give Him a loud and clear, but very human, “Yes”: Yes! I will take the risk, God, and open my heart to Your love! I have been hurt and manipulated in the past, all too often in the name of “love”, and so this is not easy for me. I need you to know and understand this, Lord. That is not all: Your Love will have to embrace me as I am. I am so weary of trying to be something I’m not. I need to be loved as I really am. For my part, Lord, I will not hide or withhold any part of who I am from You I will expose it all to Your Love for me. Now that You know this, I can say… Yes! I accept Your offer! I don’t understand how you are going to do the impossible in my life. But yes! Let it be done! This “Yes” must be without reservation or exception. We can neither hold back nor hide any part or area of our life from God’s Love. The reason why Grace works so little effect in the lives of many believers is that their “Yes” to God is conditioned and qualified by so many reservations and exceptions that the front door of their heart is barely open an inch to God’s Love. Responding to the Invitation, The Second Step: “Thereupon Mary set out, proceeding in haste into the hill country to a town of Judah, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out in a loud voice: ‘Blest are you among women and blest is the fruit of your womb. But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby leapt in my womb for joy. Blest is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.'” Luke 1:39-45 Again, notice the portions of the passage that are underlined. Mary’s next and immediate response to God’s offer to have His Grace “work” in her life is to hasten to throw open the back door of her heart to someone in need. For Mary, at that moment, it happened to be Elizabeth who was six months pregnant in her old age. Again, Mary teaches us by example: If we want God’s Love is to “work” in our life, we must… Proceed in haste each day and enter into the house of someone’s need. Feeling God’s Love and acceptance for us, we are invited by the very Love we have received to take just a little bit of whatever we might have and offer it to the need of someone around us. This might be a bit of our time and attention, an encouraging word, a helping hand, or assistance out of our means. Whatever we have to offer, we offer it lovingly, in the name of God who first loved us: “I offer this piece of myself to you in love, and in the name of the Love that first loved me in Jesus Christ, my Lord.” The last step is to trust: Trust that the Lord’s words to you will be fulfilled. With both of the doors of your heart open, Grace will work the most astounding changes within you and in the world around you! Jesus said: “Everything is possible to a person who trusts.” Mark 9:23 Prayer Holds the Doors of the Heart Open Prayer is how we hold the doors of our heart open to the Love that God has for us. Without prayer the doors of the heart all too quickly swing shut to leave us once again in the darkness, closed in upon ourselves, ready to brood over past injuried and nurse old bitternesses. Nothing holds the front door of the heart wide open to God’s Love like the Prayer of Praise. The Prayer of Praise joyfully addresses God in thanksgiving. It asks nothing of God except to give God glory and honor for the goodness of His Love. We repeat the name of Jesus over and over again while we thank God for His Love. At the same time we let ourselves feel the warm waves of God’s Love moving toward us, bathing us and washing away every worry that fills our mind and every anxiety that grips our heart. A Prayer of Praise might sound something like this: Jesus, I thank you for your Love. Jesus, let your Love unbind the tensions and anxieties that grip my heart. Jesus, let your Love lift the worries that fill my mind. Jesus, let your Love dispel any fear within me. Jesus, I rejoice in who You are for me: my Friend, my Redeemer, my Brother, the Physician of my Soul. Jesus, I praise you. Jesus, I thank you. Jesus, I love you. If the Prayer of Praise holds the front door of the heart wide open to God’s Love, then the Prayer of Intercession holds the back door open. The Prayer of Intercession asks something for others: family, friends, neighbors, the poor. But it is most powerful when it asks something for our enemies and those who have injured us. In the Prayer of intercession, we mention their name to God and share with God their situation and our true feelings about them. We then specifically ask God to give them the good things we know that they need. We ask God to protect them, and to bless them, to make His Love known to them and to renew their life. Mary, herself prayed to keep the doors of her heart wide open to the Love of God. As we will see below, she prayed in Praise upon visiting Elizabeth and she prays in Intercession at the foot of Jesus’ cross. Mary Teaches Us a Pattern to the Life of Grace “Then Mary said: My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit finds joy in God my savior, For he has looked on his servant in her lowliness; all ages to come will call me blessed. God who is mighty has done great things for me, holy is his name; His mercy is from age to age on those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm; he has confused the proud in their inmost thoughts. He has deposed the mighty from their thrones and has raised up the lowly to high places. The hungry he has given every good thing, while the rich he has sent empty away. He has upheld Israel his servant, ever mindful of his mercy; Even as he promised our fathers, promised Abraham and his descendants forever.” Luke 1:46-55 This passage of the Gospel of Saint Luke is a song. It is Mary’ song, and she sings it in praise of God’s Grace in her life. Even in her song of praise, Mary continues to teach us the way God’s Grace can “work” in our life. The key word is “lowliness”: “God looks on his servant in her (or his) lowliness.” v. 48 What is this “lowliness” all about? Perhaps the words “littleness” and “emptiness” can best describe it. “Littleness” means to bring ourselves down, close to the earth; to plant our feet firmly on the groung; to stand in the honest and true stature of both our strengths and our weaknesses. It also means that we know the truth about ourselves and are willing to face it. “Littleness” means that we refuse to make excuses for our shortcomings — we acknowledge our sins, when we commit them, as wrong and we readily seek the help and strength we need to overcome them. Standing in this pasture, we allow ourselves to feel very much in common with all our fellow human beings, we taste our limitedness and we know our need for God. “Emptiness” is emptying ourselves of Self. We tend to get full of ourself: of self-satisfaction, of self-importance, of self-sufficiency, of self-determination. “Emptiness” means that we have our own thoughts, ideas and opinions, but that we set them aside for a moment and ask God to show us something more or appreciate something from a different angle or a wider perspective — perhaps to allow us to see things from His point of view. It also means that, while we have our own feelings and first impressions, we are willing to set them aside for just a bit to let God carry our hearts to a greater depth of feeling — to feel things with His Divine Heart. “Emptyness” means knowing what we need and want to do, but setting our will aside for a moments in order to listen for God’s will in the situation before us. The “littleness” and “emptiness” we are describing are voluntary and God-oriented. We do not make ourselves “little” and “empty” to impress others or because we lack self-confidence and have a poor opinion of ourself. We make ourselves little (of right stature) before God. We empty ourselves for God. To complete the description only one thing more must be added: expectation! The “littleness” Mary sings about expects to be lifted up; and the “emptiness” expects to be filled: God raises up the little; He fills the empty with every good thing. v. 52, 53 The Attitude in which Grace “Works” “Littleness” and “emptiness” describe an attitude — an attitude of receptivity and expectation. This is the kind of attitude to which God readily responds. It is the human attitude in which Grace “works”. It is called Humility. Humility is the soil of the heart that invites God to sow the seeds of new beginnings in our life, and that encourages God to nurture those seeds into powerful changes in our life. The opposite attitude is one of being puffed up, full of Self, autonomous, independent, the master of our own destiny. It is called Pride. Pride is a heart closed to God and barred against Grace. The Pattern by which Grace “Works” Mary’s Song sets forth a pattern that we are called to embrace: We becoming “little” so that God can lift us up; we emptying ourselves so that God can fill us. And… When God lifts us and fills us to meet our need in the present moment, we hasten to make ourselves little and empty again in the next. If we linger in our “up” and “full” mode we soon drift from being filled with God to being filled with ourselves. We begin to work off our own wisdom and energy and not His. That with which God has filled us for the need of one moment we want to make work in the next — but it never works! The position to which God lifts us in one situation we want to remain in for the next — and it is certain to be the wrong one! A deep depression always follows. In the Life of Grace, after we have once been lifted and filled, we voluntarily make ourselves “little” again to await the next rising, and voluntarily “empty” ourselves again in anticipation of the next filling. This is the way we keep our spiritual balance.. “I assure you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God. Whoever makes himself lowly, becoming like this child, is of greatest importance in that heavenly reign.” Matthew 18:3-4 Does this mean that we deny or deprecate our self-worth or our talents and gifts? Not at all. Our self-worth is based upon the fact that we are children of God, in living communion with Him. This means that we allow God room to take the initiative within us in every moment and situation we find ourselves. But it also means that we respond to God’s initiative with our whole being: with all our heart and with all our soul — with every talent and gift we have. We continue to have our plans, to follow our course and to do our work; only now in everything we do, we pause to let God in — to shape our thinking, to expand our sensitivities and to take the initiative according to His will. “Every scribe who is learned in the reign of God is like the head of a household who can bring from his storeroom both the new and the old.” Matthew 13:52 When we make ourselves “little”, and “empty”, God really does take the initiative and act in our behalf: He turns things around, He gives depth to what we can feel and expands what we can see, He opens up new possibilities, He inspires hope, He provides us the strength, fortitude and endurance we need in the moment that faces us. If we look back on the text of Mary’s song, we see that it is a song in praise of God acting on her behalf. In the deepest sense her song is the song of every man or woman who has ever opened their heart to the Love of God: “Then Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit finds joy in God my savior… God who is mighty has done great things for me, holy is His name.” Luke 1:46-47,49 Chapter III Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us… The Saints work in communion for the success of the saints. This means that the Citizens of Heaven work in communion with Jesus for the success of all of us on earth. They work on our behalf through love and prayer. This is the great doctrine of the Body of Christ and the Communion of the Saints. Mary does this in a particular way. She does her work from the foot of the cross: “Near the cross of Jesus there stood his mother…” John 19:25 As we saw earlier, the cross is the throne of God’s Grace. Jesus on the cross is the very picture of the Heart of God laid open to the world. It was from his cross that Jesus gave Mary to be the mother of of every woman or man that comes to the cross — that seeks to open their heart to God’s Love. “Seeing his mother there with the disciple whom he loved, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, there is your son.’ In turn he said to the disciple, ‘There is your mother.'” John 19:26-27 Mary stands with us before Jesus as our Mother in Faith, to pray with us and to teach us how to open our hearts to “the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Romans 8:39). She also stands with us as our Mother in Charity, wanting to pray with us and teach us how to walk in the power of “the love of God (that) has been poured out in our hearts.” (Romans 5:5). Mary is both our tutor and our advocate in the Life of Grace. She stands at the front door of our heart, to pray with us and tutor us in a longing desire for God and God alone (Faith). She also stands at the back door our our heart, to pray with us and tutor us in a true and genuine doing of the deeds of love for other’s in Jesus’ name and for Jesus’ sake (Charity). Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my mother, Pray for me a sinner now and at the hour of my death. Amen. Mother of Those Beneath the Cross and Those on the Cross It is not just at the foot of the Jesus’ cross that Mray stands. There are other crosses on Calvary. Saint Luke, in his Gospel, describes a dramatic conversation that took place on Calvary between Jesus and the criminals crucified with him: “One of the criminals hanging in crucifixion blasphemed him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Than save yourself and us.’ But the other one rebuked him: ‘Have you no fear of God, seeing that we are under the same sentence? We deserve it, after all. We are only paying the price for what we’ve done, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ He then said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you enter upon your reign.’ And Jesus replied, ‘I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise.'” Luke 23:39-43 This scene reveals the stark truth about us all. In one way or another, we have all been crucified by the world and we find ourselves hanging on a cross of our own heartache. Nor are we completely innocent victims. We have all done our share of crucifying others: either out of our pride and greed or out of anger and bitterness. If what Saint John tells us in his account of Calvary is true, Mary was present to this conversation between Jesus and the criminals crucified with him. As a mother, her heart must have spoke in love and prayer to the heart of each of those criminals crucified with Jesus. Her prayer is certainly not difficult to imagine: “Open your heart to Jesus!” The Gospel of Luke tells us that one of the criminals did and that the other did not. The one that did found himself, that very day, in Paradse. What about us? The two criminals crucified with Jesus stand for us, and Mary has one and the same prayer and counsel for us all: Open your heart to Jesus! …to Jesus crucified out of love for you (the front door of your heart); …to Jesus crucified in the least of your sisters and brothers (the back door). Like the criminals crucified with Jesus , the choice is ours: we can open our hearts to Grace offered us — a Grace that can heal us, restore us and lead us to eternal life; or we can keep our hearts closed to the love and salvation offered — a refusal that seals us in on ourselves to be consumed by our own bitterness and anger. This refusal and the heart that it holds imprisoned in bitterness and anger is the very definition of Hell. O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy. Chapter IV “…our daily bread…” “Give us this day our daily bread…” Matthew 6:11 Have you ever wondered what “our daily bread” might be? It has a lot to do with the Life of Grace. Let’s take a moment to unfold its meaning. A clearer rendering of this verse might be: “Give us this day our bread for the day.” But let’s unfold it just a bit further: “Dear Heavenly Father, Provide us all that we need in this moment.” Our “daily bread” is everything that we need in the present moment — all that we need, not only to endure it and survive it, but everything necessary to respond to it fully and pass through it with joy and in peace. To live the Life of Grace means that in every moment and in each situation we find ourselves, we ask and expect God to provide everything we need by way of strength, fortitude and love, right-judgement and understanding, knowledge of the Truth and that which will give life. Not only will God provide all that we need for the moment, He already has provided it! It is already ours: “Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavens!” Ephesians 1:3 We need only open our hearts to it and claim it! We are always praying as if we are trying to get something out of God when in fact He has already provided us everything we need. The key is to open our heart to Him and claim it: God, however, gives us what we need only for the moment and situation we face. He does not give us what we will need for the moment after this one. God gives us our “daily” bread — our “bread for the moment”. He does not give us our “weekly bread”, our “monthly bread” or our “bread for the whole project” or enterprise we have embarked upon (our marriage, family, mission, ministry, etc.) Why not? First, because this is the only way we will be able to preserve our sanity. Life is lived successfully and with joy only when it is lived in the present moment, not when it is lived in the moment past or the moment to come. But there is an even richer reason. We were created by God “in His image and likeness”. This means that we were made to live in communion with Him. Everything we need for the moment and situation at hand is already ours, we need only open our heart to God in the present moment and claim it. And everything we need for the moment and situation that follows the one at hand will be provided for us as well, if we open our heart in that moment to God’s presence and claim it. God’s presence and Grace must be turned to and claimed, moment by moment and situation by situation. Nothing else preserves the living communion with God that we were created to enjoy. Incredible and unbelievable? Yes, it is! But that is just the problem: we don’t really believe it. We don’t trust it, and so we don’t open our heart to it. But that is not all there is to tell of our unbelief. If the whole truth is to be told, we don’t believe it because down deep we don’t want to believe it! We have our own agenda and our own plan for what we want done in this moment, and in the moment after this, and in the moments after that. We want what we want and, frankly, we want to be able to get it ourselves. If this should fail, then perhaps we might want God’s help to get it — but the bottom line is that we still want what we want. Even among the Godly we play the same game: we want to build the Kingdom for God for Him, or if that fails, to build the Kingdom with a little of His assistance; rather than see His Kingdom built at His initiative, out of a living communion of will and energy with us. We are perpetually angry with God because He did not make us independent and autonomous — a self-made, self-contained, self-determined woman or man. And then we get angry with Him all over again because he won’t help us get what we want when we want it. Our addiction to our own autonomy and our own will restrains us from opening the doors of our heart to God’s presence and Grace. You might say that we are starving to death at a banquet all laid out and provided for us. I think that this was Jesus’ point about the person without a wedding garment in the parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14). The person was not clothed with the Humility that makes communion possible. If you think about it, Jesus was really talking about us! In a passage in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah says: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and pure, choice wines — juicy, rich food and pure, choice wine.” Isaiah 25:6 The “mountain” that Isaiah speaks of is Calvary. Calvary is the place were God, in Jesus, establishes the new Life (Covenant) of Grace. The food that Isaiah says God will provide is Grace — “our bread for the moment”. In another passage, Isaiah delivers an invitation in the name of God: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!… Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.” Isaiah 55:1-3 This is an invitation to live the Life of Grace. It is a call to respond to God, to “heed” Him in each moment and every situation. Grace is grace. I mean by this that Grace is a freely given, lavishly provided for gift in every moment for those willing to open their heart to it, for those willing to be loved by God, for those willing to live a life in communion with God. It is a gift that can never be received by those wanting to stand independent and autonomous: those who refuse communion with God, their fellow human beings and the world around them. Nor can it be received by those who seek to be indulged by God rather than loved by Him. A lover stands free to give all that is best. A lover is trusted to give everything that is necessary. The real issue in all of this is whether we are willing to let God be God, and allow ourselves to be loved by Him. Ultimately, only love can heal us and rebuild our world. It is all the work of Grace. We cannot think or talk ourselves or our world “right”. Nor can we engineer them “right”. Good intentions, firm resolutions, the best plans, and the most noble projects by themselves are doomed to fail. Only a love greater than our own can save us — a love freely given, entering the heart with warm welcome, and there given human flesh and blood in works of charity that announce the Good News to others: God is real! Forgiveness is available! Healing is possible! IX. The Life of Grace The Life of Grace is “bread for the day”: freely given and lavishly provided for us in every moment and each situation if we open our heart to it: “You heavenly Father knows all that you need. Seek first His kingship over you , His way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Matthew 6:32-33 The Life of Grace is the pattern of “littleness” and “emptiness”: “littleness” with the expectation that we will be lifted; “emptiness” with the anticipation that we will be filled: “I am the little one before the Lord, let it be done to me according to Thy word.” Luke 1:38 The Life of Grace is Faith and Charity. This is God’s “Way of Holiness”: both doors of the heart thrown open — the front door to God and God alone in every moment and situation, and the back door to the needs of our brothers and sisters: “May Christ dwell in you hearts through faith, and may charity be the root and foundation of your life. Thus you will be able to grasp fully Christ’s love, and experience this love so that you may attain to the fullness of God himself.” Ephesians 3:17-19 Now we return to the great question: Will you allow God’s Grace to work in your life? This is no more and no less than to say: Will you let God love you? The angel waits for your answer as he did for Mary’s. How will you respond? Open the doors of your heart: to God with the clear “Yes” of Faith and to the need of your sisters and brothers in Charity. Form your life in the pattern of voluntary “littleness” and “emptiness”. Accept the “bread for each moment” God offers you: Turn to God in each moment, open your heart to His love for you, and claim His Grace. X. A Daily Devotion I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me! “God is rich in mercy; because of His great love for us He brought us to life with Christ when we were dead in sin.” Eph 2:4-5 I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me! “God’s love was revealed in our midst in this way: He sent His only Son into the world that we might have life through him.” 1 Jn 1:9 I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me! “The way that we came to understand love way that he laid down his life for us; we too must lay down our lives for each other” 1 Jn 3:16 I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me! “When anyone believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God.” 1 Jn 4:15 I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me! “If we love one another God dwells in us, and His love is brought to perfection in us.” 1 Jn 4:12 I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me! Lord, help me to open my heart to You; help me, also, to exercise a true and generous love for others in Your name. “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, and may charity be the root and foundation of your life. Thus you will be able to grasp fully Christ’s love, and experience this love so that you may attain to the fullness of God Himself.” Eph 3:17-19