There is a very simple, yet very profound and beautiful quote by St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “Everything is grace.” Everything is indeed grace and we will unpack what that means practically for us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines grace like this: “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. Grace is a participation in the life of God.” (CCC #1996-1997, emphasis added.) The Catechism further differentiates between habitual grace and actual graces saying, “Habitual grace, the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God’s call, is distinguished from actual graces which refer to God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification.” (CCC #2000, emphasis added.)
Starting at the beginning of this definition of grace, we see that the gift is free and undeserved. We currently live in a culture where people tell themselves they deserve to have anything they want, whenever they want, simply because they want it or think they have earned it in some way. So, to hear that God is giving us a free and undeserved gift might sound rather shocking to the modern ear. The truth is, that due to our sinful nature we don’t actually deserve this gift of grace that God freely offers us. The sins that we commit every single day are the same sins that nailed Jesus to His cross for our sake (another freely given and undeserved gift) which, by our human standards, is a pretty unforgivable thing to do. By offering us this undeserved gift of grace, God is demonstrating His unconditional love for us and His deep desire for us to return that love to Him.
The second part of the definition says that the gift of grace allows us to participate in the life of God, which is Trinitarian and thus includes the life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It means we can be yoked into the family of God and draw from that wellspring of familial love, affection, and assistance. It also means that every single human experience we could ever have can be yoked to every human experience Jesus ever had. Then, in each of these moments, we can tie in the third part of the definition; we can see how God intervenes for us and works with us and for us in everything we experience.
Now that we better understand the meaning of the word “grace” we can see what St. Thérèse meant by “everything is grace.” For practical purposes, you may want to add the word opportunity – everything is an opportunity for grace – because we need to be open to it in order to receive the free gift in its fullness. If we willfully choose spiritual blindness and refuse to see the work God is doing in our lives, then any grace we might receive in any situation will be limited by our own obstinacy. Therefore, every moment of every day – good or bad – is an opportunity for God to fill us with His grace and allow us to draw into His Trinitarian familial life with our entire selves. What a gift!
Jesus was fully human and experienced ever single human emotion and situation that you and I face every day. He had moments of joy and celebration, like at the wedding feast of Cana. He wept at news of the death of His beloved friend, Lazarus. He unsuccessfully tried to escape the crowds after the beheading of His cousin, John. He experienced righteous anger when the money changers entered the temple and brought their love of worldly things with them. He expressed compassion and mercy for the woman at the well who was an outcast from her own society because of her sinful lifestyle. He was betrayed by two of His closest friends – Judas, when he sold Him out to the Roman authorities and Peter, when he denied him three times. He suffered physical pain and absolute humiliation when he was beaten, flogged, mocked, and stripped before crowds of people. Finally, He experienced triumph when He was resurrected. Chances are you can relate to each and every one of these examples because you have experienced similar things in your own life. I know I can!
When we go through this wide range of human experiences, every single one of them is an opportunity for us to allow God to come in, experience them with us, and offer His help within them. In our joys, triumphs, and successes, God is there sharing them with us, assisting us, and sanctifying us with His grace, particularly when we give glory to Him in those joys and successes. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13). When we go through the most painful experiences that life has to throw at us, God is also there, sharing in our pain, heartbreak, and desperation. He is holding us in the palm of His hand, supporting us and comforting us. These difficult moments are also wonderful opportunities to receive His grace, allowing these moments to work for our sanctification and hopefully, our eventual redemption.
When we understand all of this properly, we can look at each situation in our lives through a new and more beautiful lens. We can see how God is next to us in all things, not just in a benign and invisible sense, but in an actual and participatory sense. Think about times in your life where God’s work wasn’t evident in the moment, but when you look back, you can see that He was there helping you the whole time. Use that perspective to learn how to recognize his graces better in real time as things arise. Remember to always praise and thank God in all the things He sends your way because they all are opportunities to receive His grace and work in your soul and your life. The more difficult part of this task is to remember to thank Him for all of your crosses and sufferings, regardless of how bad they are, because they are drawing you closer to Him who strengthens you. Look at your suffering as yet another means by which God is extending His grace to you. This is what St. Thérèse did well. She looked at every little opportunity every day as a means by which to draw closer to her Lord out of love of Him. As a result, He showered her with an abundance of grace, and she is now united with Him in heaven.
There is a song called “Everything is Grace” by Matt Maher based on these words of St. Thérèse. Consider listening to that song to reveal how you can shape your perspective on all that comes your way.
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