March 6, 2024, 6:00 AM

Franciscan Fractals: “Unraveling Grace”

Contemplating today’s culture with the wisdom of Jesus and St. Francis.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8

The term “grace” is used profusely in our culture. From naming children “Grace,” to singing “Amazing Grace,” to television commentator “Nancy Grace,” to the Episcopal “Grace Cathedral” in San Francisco, to venerating Mary, the mother of Jesus, as “full of grace,” the definition of “grace” becomes more obscure and vague.

The season of Lent makes it even more difficult to comprehend grace. Grace, simply articulated, is forgiveness and love that is freely given by God. Lent is filled with many activities, including the actions of prayer, fasting, and alms giving. se disciplines actually have little ability to clarify the meaning of grace for us.

When asked, “How does one obtain God’s grace,” most people respond with answers like “being good, going to confession, praying fervently, receiving the Eucharist,” etc. While grace may be present in each of these actions, believing that doing any of them causes God to grant grace is a profound misconception.

If one needs to do something, no matter how big or small, then it is not grace. We live in a transactional society, where things are bought and sold with a price tag. Too often we take what we see in our society, and interpret God in the same way. It is hard, very hard, to comprehend a gift of freedom and joy that is totally free. Should there not be some price to pay; at least the cost of a therapist, physician, or perhaps, some jail time? The answer is ‘’no.”

Are not our well-intentioned Lenten disciplines sufficient justification to warrant reward? We believe we do good works. Can’t God simply add divine goodness on top of our good works so that we merit grace? Again, the answer is ‘’no.” If we do anything good, it is already because God’s grace was freely given first. Our works have no merit, no matter how you or I attempt to spin it.

This places us in an uncomfortable predicament. It seems we are powerless before God. God has all of the cards in God’s hand. Amazingly, however, the only true power that God has is to love us. We are at God’s mercy of being loved. Wow, what a thought!

This is where faith comes in. God gives us a promise to unconditionally love us. We don’t have to do anything to receive that love – absolutely nothing! And, it is faith that allows us to comprehend and receive a promise of unconditional love. Without faith, you and I are unable to know that we are being loved. Faith is a passive event that comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of God. (Romans 10:17) Remember, only with faith can a promise be received.

If we are loved anyway, then why do good works? Why perform the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving or charity? The answer is that all good works spring forth from faith as a response to God. God is served by all things that may be done, spoken, or thought in faith. Hence, all of the various types of good works become equal, and all distinctions between various good works fall away.

Good works are inescapable because they emerge out of a sense of thanksgiving to God. Who wouldn’t want to thank God for unconditional love that gives you and I new life, joy, and peace?

May your remaining days of Lent be filled with the realization of God’s love and the joy that flows from being loved unconditionally.

Prayers and Blessings,

Fr. John