Divine grace is like the air we breathe – it is all around us even though we cannot see it; and we certainly cannot do without it. But what, exactly, is divine grace?
The Catechism tells us that “Grace is favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to His call to become children of God” (Catechism, para.1996). And “Grace is a participation in the life of God” (para.1997). It is, then, the divine help given to us, which invites us into the very life of God, and which makes it possible for us to do so. The Catechism elaborates a little further on this –
“Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with His work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church.” (para.2003)
You could say, then, that divine grace is the presence and activity of the Kingdom of God within us.
Very often in our prayers, we pray for grace or for specific graces, corresponding to needs we see ourselves as having or areas where we seek to improve in some way. We may, for example, ask for the grace to be patient, or to bear suffering well, or for assistance with some spiritual need. And this is a good thing to do – the Catechism reminds us that “the preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace” (para.2001).
For a number of years now, I have found that the final period of Lent tends to be a moment when the Lord seems to be especially generous with His graces. Seeing our need, and hearing the pleas we have often made throughout Lent, He seems to answer our petitions so kindly at this moment, almost as though He has held back some of His graces until this particular point. I think this, too, is a characteristic of the nature of divine grace – each grace is indeed very specific and is intended for a particular moment in our lives, so that it might achieve a particular effect. And in this sense, I don’t think any specific grace is repeated – it is for that moment alone. This should serve as a reminder to us never to take a grace for granted and never to squander a grace given to us – but rather, to quickly put it to good use so that it bears fruit.
Saint Paul mentions something along these lines. He writes – “I am the least of the apostles.. I hardly deserve the name apostle, but by God’s grace, that is what I am” (1 Cor.15:9-10). Certainly, the initial grace given to Paul was what you might call a ‘signal grace’ – but this was followed by a great many other graces; although on a less grand scale, these were no less effective in constantly transforming this man, such that the Kingdom of God was most certainly alive and flourishing within him.
We all need the action of divine grace at every moment, and not simply at the more momentous moments of life – that “participation in the life of God” of which the Catechism speaks is, after all, not a one-off event but an on-going process and relationship.
In this final period of the season of Lent, perhaps it is a good moment to reflect, to notice, and to give thanks for all those little graces we are constantly granted by the Lord; and to ask His continued generosity with all the graces of which we still stand in need.
Perhaps this is the moment in which He will grant some of them to us.