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Cheap Grace is not Enough

Recently, I was having a conversation with a dear friend and mentor of mine over the phone.  We were discussing the present moment and how it is a gift present momentto us.  My wise sage friend was telling me that it is important to focus on the relationship with our heavenly father in those moments.  I was commenting on how the present offers us enough grace and opportunity to become a saint.  Together, we further came to understand that God, the Father, has enough built into each day to enable us to feel His love, grow to know Him and sanctify our lives.  We agreed how important this knowledge was for men and each of us personally to realize, yet most men fail to realize and ponder such simple observations as these.  Why?

Perhaps, it is the wounded nature of man that prevents him from recognizing God’s gift of the present.  Perhaps, it is the confusion and chaos of our lives that distracts us from His love and invitation to further know Him.  Perhaps, it is the notion of sanctification through daily sufferings and experiences that is so far removed from man’s existence and priorities.  I suspect it is a combination of it all.  Regardless of the disinterested, dazed and distracted man of today problem, we, the lay faithful, who have the awareness or even an inkling of such, must be vigilant to the moments and opportunities that we have to share those truths.

Further in our conversation, I shared the thought that unless a man is serving others, he is serving himself.  It is not enough to just have faith, we must bebonhoeffer actively and daily sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.  As the great German theologian Deitrich Bonhoeffer once referred, an attitude of just accepting God’s love and forgiveness without action is really nothing more than “cheap grace.”  That’s the core of the Gospel message.  It is our service to one another.  Not making sense yet?  Maybe the lesson that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s own mother gave her as a young girl can be helpful.  The Gospel can be summed up on five fingers:  “You did it unto me” (reference to Matthew 25:40).  We must start there.  What have we done for the least of our brothers and sisters in our family; in our workplace; in our community; and in our church?  The present has enough opportunity to grow in holiness.  Are we aware of those moments?  We need to ask God for this grace!

A few years ago, my zeal got the best of me and for some odd reason, I thought that an investment in a hair shirt would be good for my growth in holiness.  Thankfully, my spiritual director forbade me to do such a thing.  The act of mortification that was so popular in St. Thomas  More’ s day  and age (the middle ages) is no longer needed.  Through the wise counsel of St. Francis DeSales and Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who both said that hair shirts are unnecessary today because people are enough to fulfill this need, I quickly changed my thoughts on such matters.  That’s right, every person you meet each day is an opportunity to put on a hair shirt!  Yes, quite literally, it is enough to die to oneself by serving those in our care and periphery.  Hard to do, but so necessary and profoundly so simple of a path isn’t it?

As St. Francis of Assisi once said, “it is in giving that we receive.”  Whether it is further healing that we seek for ourselves or just a greater connection with our loved ones, including our eternal family members, we must learn to be attentive to the present and the grace that is sufficient in that moment.

In Christ’s healing love,

Mark Houck