Does anyone here really understand bitcoin? It is a mystery to most of us, we really don’t know what it is or how it works – we sort of know – it’s like electronic money, right? In any case, we can figure out how to use it. I think it’s theological parallel is grace; the grace that St. Paul talks about in our second reading. “My grace is sufficient for you.” It’s short, sweet and to the point. Three times St Paul asked and the answer was essentially “No.” But grace is sufficient…. If he can figure out how to use it.
In Bible studies this passage always raises lots of questions. In the course of the dialogue I have always been struck by language we use surrounding the topic: sanctifying grace, actual grace, habitual grace, prevenient grace, sacramental grace, get grace, lose grace, fall from grace, a state of grace and more. Grace is part of the mystery of God and so we humans will ever want to describe it, categorize it, tame it, corral it – all in hopes we can discreetly and definitively understand grace. But it is a mystery.
“My grace is sufficient for you.” What can we discern from this simple passage? It’s true God answers prayers; it may not be the answer we were hoping for, but we are not abandoned. We are given a sufficiency of grace. Which leaves us with two goals: (a) opening up the mystery of grace at least a little, so that (b) if we have been given grace, we can discern how we will use it?
Ok. What is grace? When referring to God, the word for grace (hen) appears in the Old Testament books about 60 times with God ever the watchful Lord finding favor with someone. God found favor with Noah, Moses, the prophet Samuel, Ezra and Jeremiah, and others. What is common to all is that the bestowal of grace was unmerited and was always at the initiative of God in order that the person carry out their role in God’s plan of salvation.
In the New Testament, God finds favor with Mary – in our prayer we describe Jesus’ mother as “full of grace.” The Annunciation of the birth of Jesus was God’s initiative, but it required a free response on Mary’s part. God’s initiative and the free response are hallmarks of St. Paul’s extensive teaching on grace in his letters to the Galatians, Romans, Corinthians, and Ephesians. In our second reading, Paul’s use of this sufficient grace is equated with the power to live the Christian life and to do ministry in the name of Christ. But sometimes grace is sufficient so that we do not lose heart as it says in 2 Cor 4.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) section 1996 and following summarizes the whole of Scripture and the centuries of Christian reflection by defining grace as “favor”, “free and unmerited help from God”, and “participation in the life of God.” All good, all requiring a free response on our part. All geared toward the power to live a Christian life, do ministry for the greater glory of God, and to endure and not lose heart. I am sure theologians everywhere are cringing at this simplification, but, hey, we’re not theologians. It is sufficient for us to be able to explore “how we will use it.”
Consider patience. There are 70 verses in the New Testament that point to the virtuousness of patience – most memorably, 1st Corinthians: “love is patient, love is kind…” Patience is a virtue, but is impatience a sin? It is very common to hear it confessed. But perhaps more clearly considered, impatience when acted upon or dwelled upon is a quite powerful temptation that can lead to sin, quite serious sin. And if one is in the habit of quickly giving into impatience, then perhaps the pathway from temptation to sin is short as can be.
Anger is a sin, but what about that moment when anger arrives. You did not will it, want it, wish it wasn’t there, but there it is. Luring you, tempting you: come on lash out, use that clever line to put them in their place, cut them down to size – no wait…. Let’s plot something that is the ultimate smackdown. Anger too can be habitual, amplifying its power over you. But there is a moment when it is tempting.
There we are impatience or anger bubbling up from some dark place…. “Wait a second…what am I doing?” What you are doing is you are about to make a choice. You are about to roll with the tidal wave of temptation, or you are going to accept that grace awaiting you. I would suggest that every temptation that arrives unwelcomed, unannounced, uninvited and unwanted also comes surrounded by grace from the every watchful God. It comes unmerited and at the initiative of God, but it comes…. And awaits our response. Will we let grace in?
Back in high school at the dances, one always looked forward to the slow music, then you got to dance really close to your partner. That’s why the good nuns were on patrol. They would come up to you, with a 12-inch ruler in hand, position it between you and your dance partner, smile and admonish you to “Leave room for the Holy Spirit.”
And there is a habit worth developing, refining and perfecting. Leaving room for the Holy Spirit. The habit for when facing temptation, you turn to God in thought, a prayer, whatever and however, and choose to let the Holy Spirit remind you that grace is sufficient, in fact abundant, and there for the taking, allowing you freely choose to participate in the life of God. through the coming of the Holy Spirit.
All of this geared toward the power to live a Christian life, do ministry for the greater glory of God, and to endure and not lose heart.
There is something about us that counts and remembers all the times we fail and give into temptation and sin. Why is it we never count all the times we chose grace? I suspect we chose grace for more than sin. And that makes hopeful sense to me. “My grace is sufficient for you.” Our cup is neither half full or half empty – it is ever overflowing with grace. Freely chose to drink deeply from that cup.
May the grace and peace of Christ be with you. Amen