Throughout this series, we have seen how God as a Trinity of Persons is at work for the good of all that He made. When considering our own capacity to respond to God’s work and to live the life for which He made us, it is essential that we consider the truth of His divine life placed within us that enables us to make such a right response. This divine life placed within us is what we call “grace.”
In John 7:37-39, Jesus gives a very brief and beautiful image of the life of grace. To quote from the passage: “‘[Jesus said]: If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’
The passage continues with the explanation: “Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive.”
The glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “grace” as “The free and undeserved gift that God gives us to respond to our vocation to become his adopted children.” This same glossary entry goes on to distinguish two types of grace: “sanctifying grace” and “actual grace.” Accordingly, the definition says “As sanctifying grace, God shares his divine life and friendship with us in a habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that enables the soul to live with God, to act by his love.” Distinct from this habitual gift of life within our souls is actual grace by which “God gives us the help to conform to his will.” These actual graces are given for a particular time of need and for a particular purpose.
Appealing to the simplicity of The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Lesson 9 spells out each of these types of grace, acknowledging that they are received primarily through prayer and our participating in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. It says that sanctifying grace has four main effects: that we are made holy, that we are made adopted children of God, that we are made temples (that is, dwelling places) of the Holy Spirit, and that we are given the gift of heaven. Sanctifying grace builds us up, drawing us toward ever greater perfection in God – or in becoming like God and thus toward living in more and more perfect communion with God. Meanwhile, actual grace is the help that God gives us in particular moments to do the good that ought to be done and to avoid evil. This help is given according to the time for which it is needed.
Much more could be said about God’s grace in explaining its nature and how it works in our lives; however, as we move toward covering the commandments and the sacraments, where this gift of grace will often be mentioned, what is of greatest importance for us to consider now is how it is by God’s life at work for us and within us that we are invited toward greater perfection – whether that be the greater perfection of living as God does (keeping the commandments) or in participating directly in His life and in receiving the renewed outpouring of His life, as a river of flowing water, through receiving and living the sacraments. Accordingly, let us conclude with the classic expression “grace perfects nature,” to simply point toward how all that we are called to be (even in our “fallen” state in the life of this world) is made possible and real by the life of God at work through his free, underserved gift of grace to us.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1996-2005 give particular treatment to the reality of God’s grace as free, undeserved gift, mindful that the reality of God’s grace is rightly included in many topics of the Catholic Faith.