Saturday, 26 May 2012

Pentecost Sunday - Year B (Year of Grace - Australia)

Acts 2:1-11; Galatians 5:16-25; John 15:26-27; 16:12-15
Year of Grace 2012 – 2013 (Australia)

The Bishops of Australia have invited the whole Church to a Year of Grace which commences today – Pentecost Sunday - a whole year to ponder, learn, marvel at, praise, open up to and live the wonder of grace.

Youcat, the youth catechism given by Pope Benedict to the youth attending WYD in Spain, defines grace as: everything God grants us, without our deserving it in the least(338).’

Maybe the bishops should have just declared a ‘Year of Everything’ or perhaps, even more comprehensively: ‘A Year of Everything, Everywhere, Always’.

The word grace means gift and has its origins in the Latin word gratia. Indeed, all is gift – the universe, the planet earth, the human race, you and me, the pews we sit on, the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the praise we give. All has its source in the goodness of God towards us, his creatures. As St Paul reminds us in 1Cor 4:7: What do you have that was not given to you?

And that’s precisely the trouble with grace, it’s everything. All we can do is embrace it, explore it, try to understand it and reverence it, and then, out of the gratitude which will arise quite spontaneously in our hearts, give praise and thanks for it.

Perhaps a basic distinction to make is between those of God’s gifts which are material and those which are spiritual. There is a hierarchy of graces. In other words, there are greater graces and lesser graces; spiritual graces and material gifts. This difference is expressed in Jesus’ statement in Mt 4:4: Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Here bread is the material and word is the spiritual. Jesus knows we need both, but the word of God is the greater, the higher gift. St Paul, echoing the Master, encourages us to: Be ambitious for the higher gifts …(1Cor 12:31).

I have no doubt the bishops were well aware of all this and that in their invitation to celebrate a year of grace they were thinking mainly of the spiritual graces. Theologians have divided these graces into various categories which you may recognise from your school days: sanctifying grace, habitual grace, actual grace, sacramental grace, the grace of state, and, of course, as the song says, it’s all ‘Amazing Grace’.

Another way of knowing grace, of coming to understand it, is by recognising what it does to us. Youcat says (339): God’s grace brings us into the inner life of the Holy Trinity, into the exchange of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It makes us capable of living in God’s love and of acting on the basis of this love.

Living in love and acting on love – is this not a summary of the whole of our earthly Christian pilgrimage? Grace is the way God communicates himself to us so that we are able to live in communion with him. Surely this is the greatest effect of God’s love – to be able to live in communion with him – the branch connected to the vine.

This grace, won for us through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus and poured out on us by the Holy Spirit is, according to St Augustine, the greatest of God’s works, greater even than the creation of heaven and earth and all they contain.

The bishops have given us a whole year to celebrate the wonders of God’s grace bestowed upon us in countless different degrees and ways. Let us content ourselves with the present feast – the coming of the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the infant Church.

Gathered in prayer, and in fear, the ‘dry bones’ of the Church were called into life by the Holy Spirit and made into the living Body of Christ. The Church became the ‘first’ sacrament of Christ the primordial sacrament, and through her the Holy Spirit would continue to be poured out for all time.

Through the mysterious will of the Lord, from the day of Pentecost on, all those who approach worthily the sacraments of the Church would receive this same gift of the Holy Spirit, the very life of God. Though the Holy Spirit can ‘blow where he will’, the most excellent place for us to receive his grace is in the sacraments.

The Holy Spirit gives us a new life, a spiritual life, a life which will not desert us. This life makes us capable of sharing in the divine life of God himself. As the Catechism says (1995), the Holy Spirit gives birth to the ‘inner man’ because he is the ‘master of the spiritual life’.

The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it (1999).

Surely this is the greatest of God’s graces, the very life of God infused into our souls by Christ, and leading us to eternal life. As God’s greatest grace we should have the greatest gratitude for it. It can be lost only by mortal sin but quickly recovered by a good confession.

St Augustine said: You are a child of grace. If God gave you grace, because he gave it freely, then you should love freely. Do not love God for the sake of a reward; let God be your reward!

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