Tuesday, May 10, 2016

In the Hands of Mercy and Grace

In tomorrow's reading we see Paul continuing to prepare his followers for his departure.  For a time he has been teaching them, working alongside them, joining them for dinner and fellowship.  It's time though for him to move on.   Time for him to follow Christ where he leads, and in this case it leads him to uproot his life and journey back to Jerusalem for Pentecost. He doesn't leave them empty handed though.  "And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified." (Acts 20:32)  Grace.   Paul leaves those he loves, those he has come to know, in the hands of God and God's grace.

Grace is the means by which we have faith.  Grace is the help God gives us to respond to our vocation of becoming his adopted sons. It introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life. (CCC 2021) Grace is the very means of our salvation, it is the prime mover in the process of our justification.  It is the very Word of God itself which indeed will "build you up."   The Catholic Church has from its very beginning venerated those sacred writings that constitute a portion of the Deposit of faith.  They are not all we have though.   It is not just Sacred Scripture but Sacred Tradition that complete that deposit.  What the Apostles were given was not handed on in the form of a book, but rather was given to their disciples in an oral fashion. Later a portion of that Tradition was written down.  That's what we know today as Sacred Scripture.

The Church then revealed to us more of this sacred deposit of information by continuing to write down more and more, until we have what we know today as the Catechism.  Isn't it interesting that many Christian denominations reject all of the other things outside of scripture?  Even when scripture itself declares that it is the Church that is the "pillar and foundation of truth." (1 Timothy 3:15 John even informs us that he only wrote down some of what Jesus did "so that we might come to believe." (John 20:31 Then he goes on to say that if anyone attempted to write down everything Jesus said or did, "the whole world could not contain those books."  (John 21:25) Yet, we try to put God in a box.. and limit His grace.  The thing is, either we believe the words of Scripture, or we don't.   If we choose to agree with only those things in the Sacred Scripture that we agree with and ignore those we don't?  Well it isn't God we are believing in, it's simply ourselves.

So what has the Church then given us?  An outpouring of grace.  The keys were given to Saint Peter who then gave them to his successor and so forth, until we have the modern day Roman Catholic church.   Does it look exactly like the first century church?  No.   It has been influenced by men over the centuries, but it still has that divine rudder, that steers man who leads it.   In fact, if you read the writings of Justin Martyr you can see the echoes of the Mass as we know it today, sometimes even verbatim.  Here is where we believe that the Holy Spirit has preserved our Church that the 'gates of hell may not prevail against it.' (Matthew 16:18)  That even though men are involved and make mistakes, and boy have we made them, the Holy Spirit will protect His Church and continue to guide us.

How then do you and I get access to this grace?  It's freely given in the Sacraments.  These are the Ordinary means by which we receive the grace of God.   The Church in it's infinite wisdom has seen that when you are properly disposed to receive God's grace, when you are truly repentant of your sins, and you come to the Church asking God to forgive you and change you; then through the very words of Christ himself amazing things will happen!  Bread will become flesh, wine will become blood, and sinners will become Saints.  Don't get me wrong.. the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for Saints.   Every man and woman who walk through those doors has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  The thing is though, with God all things are possible... even a sinner like me can be used by him to be transformed and to help go forth to transform the world.

How though?   By discerning our vocation, by discerning God's call, by asking Him first and foremost what He wants of us.   We do that again, through Grace.

The Holy Spirit is "the principle of every vital and truly saving action in each part of the Body." He works in many ways to build up the whole Body in charity: by God's Word "which is able to build you up"; by Baptism, through which he forms Christ's Body; by the sacraments, which give growth and healing to Christ's members; by "the grace of the apostles, which holds first place among his gifts"; by the virtues, which make us act according to what is good; finally, by the many special graces (called "charisms"), by which he makes the faithful "fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church."  (CCC 798)

Just like Christ himself, who is both fully God and fully man, the Church is both divine and human.  We make mistakes, and we should be willing and ready to call ourselves on it.   Yet, the moral teachings, the dogmas of the Church, have never been wrong.  They call out to us of a divine origin, of a Sacred Deposit, of a treasury and storehouse filled with mercy, love, and justice.   The Chair of Peter has that key, and he has declared it open in this year of mercy.   Why not step forward and let that Grace wash over you?  Let God fulfill that prayer that Jesus prayed over his disciples in you today, Let him consecrate you in Truth!  Jesus is that truth, the Eternal Word of God.   He'll never force you into a relationship though.. he'll never make you do anything you don't with your own free will choose to do.. so make that choice today.. to step forward and say, "God I am ready for a true relationship with you, guide me through your Church, through your Sacraments, and through your Word, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, Eternal in the Heavens."  

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."