If you are wondering what thread binds all these readings together,
I will tell you what I see. That thread is grace.
What is grace? Here’s a short answer:
Grace is God’s love and life, acting in our lives, to make us like God.
First God nudges and prompts us, and sometimes blocks our way,
all to point us away from spiritual danger and toward spiritual life.
Those helps, nudges, prompts – which can come in our conscience,
or from our guardian angel, or from other people –
is what we call “actual grace.”
But we also call grace that infusion of God’s own life into our lives.
That is called “sanctifying grace,” because it makes us holy.
That grace forgives us and changes us to become heavenly.
To become like God.
Jesus gave us the sacraments as certain sources of sanctifying grace.
Here’s an analogy.
A friend looks at you says, you don’t look well. You need to go to doctor.
When you go to the doctor, he says yes, you are very sick –
but he gives you medicine, and you get better.
The friend’s nudge was “actual grace”;
what the doctor gives – to save you – is an image of sanctifying grace.
Although it helps us understand when we sort and categorize,
ultimately grace boils down to one reality: God.
God is life, God is mercy, God is holy, God is love.
As you and I encounter God, either we are drawn by God,
and transformed, into God – what we call purgatory and heaven –
Or else we resist and reject his life – and that is hell.
What is absolutely impossible is to remain untouched.
Notice what God told the people in the first reading:
I carried you. And what Paul said: that we were “helpless.”
And what Jesus said: what you receive, you received “without cost.”
So here are two key points I urge you to reflect on deeply.
First: Grace – God’s love, God’s mercy – it is all a GIFT.
No one earns heaven; no one pays for his or her sins.
It is not necessary; it is not possible.
The only response possible for us is either accepting God’s love –
surrendering to it – or refusing it.
The idea that you or I could offer any “payment”
is equal parts offensive and laughable.
Second point: God’s grace always is ahead of you.
You may think it was your idea to turn back to God, to put things right;
but in fact, it was God’s idea first.
His grace nudges you; supports you, draws you,
assists you all the way to the destination, which is God himself.
Again: the only thing you and I can contribute is “yes.”
And this is the mystery of it all:
Even the breath to speak that yes is itself God’s grace!
If it sounds like I’m saying that it is all God, and none of ourselves,
I am not quite saying that. This is the mystery:
It is as much God, and as little of us as is possible,
while still some infinitesimal part of us responds.
The wrong conclusion is to say, I can be passive.
Also wrong is to say, as you and I did as kids: “I want to do it myself!”
It is entirely right – and necessary –
for us to respond with openness, and, ultimately, gratitude.
This is the rationale to prayer, penance, acts of self-denial,
Mass each Sunday, and regular confession.
None of this is, “I owe God” or, “I have to make God happy.”
No! These are time-tested tools to help us cooperate with God.
When I was a boy, my parents provided everything for me.
But like all the rest of us, at times my father and mother said,
Get off the couch, come help.
My “help” wasn’t that much help; sometimes it was a distraction.
But my folks knew that my response and participation
was going to help me become less selfish, more generous – more human.
Has it occurred to you yet what’s happening right now?
It was God’s grace that brought you and me to this Mass,
to receive his word and assist in his sacrifice at the altar.
Today God gives you GRACE and LIFE.
“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”