Monday, November 14, 2011

Grace: The gifts that keep on giving

I'm willing to put money on the fact that most Catholics' familiarity with the word "grace" correlates to the prayer we say before each meal, but why do we call that prayer "Grace"? "Grace" comes from the Latin word "gratia" which translates to "gratitude, favour, or gift". So as we say the prayer of Grace, i.e. "Grace before meals", we are thanking (expressing gratitude) God for the gift/favour of the meal.

We could spend all day talking about etymology but my fear would be that only one of us would enjoy it (i.e. me), so instead I'm going to get straight to the heart of this blog entry: Christians will often talk about "grace" and use the word differently depending on the context, and I believe it's my duty at this moment to provide an understanding of how to correctly identify the type of grace one may be talking about when it comes to Christian-speak.

Firstly, there are two types of "grace"; let's identify them:

1.) Actual grace; and
2.) Sanctifying grace.

Now let's define them:

Actual Grace: This is a share, if you will, in the life of God; God acting upon you and drawing you to Him, hence "Actual Grace". Grace of this nature is received at or works from the very beginnings of a person's conversion and works throught and towards the person's sanctification. Grace moving you towards God is akin to being inspired by the Holy Spirit. In short: Actual Grace is the grace that enables us to act in a manner that is pleasing to God, i.e. to do good and to avoid all evil (CCC, par. 1777) and to do as Christ taught us (in essence: Matthew 5:48).

Sanctifying Grace: This is what you need to get into Heaven and to be with God for eternity; the soul needs to be "clean" before it can come before our heavenly Father (Revelation 21:27). To die in a state of grace is to die with Sanctifying Grace (grace that sanctifies you; grace that makes you fully and completely holy), i.e. there is no mortal sin or trace of it upon your soul. Sanctifying Grace allows us to share in the life and love of God in Heaven, sometimes referred to as the Beatific Vision. We first receive Sanctifying Grace at Baptism and later through the other sacraments. We can have no Sanctifying Grace in us if we are not in a state of grace, i.e. if we have committed Mortal Sin (1 John 5:16-17). However, making a good confession can restore Sanctifying Grace within us.

Think of Actual Grace and Sanctifying Grace this way: Actual Grace is the magnetic force that draws the needle in the compass; Sanctifying Grace is the key that opens the treasure chest... don't lose it!

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." - Philippians 2:12-13


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