Grace is not an Abstraction

Sunday, July 8 (O.S., June 25), 2018: 6th Sunday after Pentecost; Virgin-martyr Febronia of Nisibis (304).

Epistle: Romans 12:6-14
Gospel: Matthew 9:1-8

Glory to Jesus Christ!

God’s grace in our lives is not abstract. This is what St Paul tells us today and we neglect his teaching to our determinant.

The gifts given to each of us at baptism aren’t simply practical ways to preach the Gospel and bring others to Christ. To be sure, they are these but they are more than this.

Our gifts are the concrete manifestation of God’s grace, of His love and divine life in our lives. This means that our gifts are how we are connected to God and so, as St Paul makes clear, to each other.

When we are ignorant of our gifts or neglect their exercise, conflict and discord arise. This is true in the family, the parish and even the Church. Again, the spiritual gifts that St Paul speaks about are nothing less than the manifestation of divine life in our lives and the concrete bonds of charity that unite us one to another in Christ.

Apart from God’s gifts, I’m not morally or spiritually different than the paralytic was bodily. Like the paralytic’s desire to walk, apart from the gifts received at baptism a life of Christian faith, hope and love remain just beyond my grasp. Faith is mere conformity, hope just optimism and love? Love becomes mere sentimentality.

This situation is made all the worse when, on the social level, we actively stifle the discovery and expression of the gifts received.

One way we do this is that we deny the possibility that God pours out His grace in the form of concrete gifts. Do this and it is only a short hop to denying that each Christian has a personal and unique vocation.

Our vocation is not a predetermined “slot” or “job” or even “office” in the Church. Rather it emerges slowly as we exercise the gifts given in baptism. There are few things more deadly to appreciating the baptismal vocation of each and every baptised Christian than the simplistic confusion of a person’s calling with discrete tasks.

Much of the confusion we see in the Church, to say nothing of our inability to retain young people, is the result of neglecting the intimate connection between baptism, the spiritual gifts, and personal vocation. When these connections are not made, or worse denied, being Christian becomes nothing more than being “a good person.” Or worse, “being nice”!

This moralizing view of the Christian life attracts no one. It is especially uninspiring to the young. If this is all it means to be Christian, why be Christian at all? After all, society is filled with morally good people who are often more “Christian” than Christians.

Ignoring or denying the personal vocation of each Christian has another negative consequence. It is the beginning of a demographic death spiral. It contributes to a situation in which the most thoughtful and idealistic believers–often the young and converts–walk away.

They walk away not from Christ and His Church but from the frankly superficial idol that we offer them instead. Bad as this is for the individual, it is worse for the Church.

As those who are seeking something deeper leave, the spiritual vitality of the parish, the diocese and eventually the Church suffers. We become complacent. At first, we are satisfied with a pat answer. We don’t concern ourselves with a vibrant life of faith, hope and love. In time though we lose our taste for a Christian way of life that is deeper, wider, more comprehensive and that can transform not only our lives but the lives of those around us.

Over time, we lose as well the sense of sin and so the magnificent liberating effect of the forgiveness Jesus extended to the paralytic and wishes to give to us as well. The Christian life becomes flat, uninspiring and, frankly, dull and unattractive. What beauty do we have to offer, after all, but the beauty of a repentant soul made whole by forgiveness?

My brothers and sisters in Christ! This doesn’t have to our lot! On that first Pentecost, the Resurrection of Christ was preached by those who only recently cowered in fear. Those who, only days before, abandoned and denied Jesus, became His apostles and evangelists.

Those who the world persecuted and despised would shortly turn the “whole world upside down” (Acts 17:6). How did this happen?

The world was turned upside down because the disciples took seriously what St Paul tells us today. The disciples knew that they were richly blessed by God with gifts given to them for their salvation, the salvation of the world and the Glory of God!

Secure in this knowledge they transformed the world through the preaching of the Gospel, making of disciples of the nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

4 thoughts on “Grace is not an Abstraction

  1. I especially liked this part of what you had to say:

    “the intimate connection between baptism, the spiritual gifts, and personal vocation. When these connections are not made, or worse denied, being Christian becomes nothing more than being “a good person.” Or worse, “being nice”!

    This moralizing view of the Christian life attracts no one. It is especially uninspiring to the young. If this is all it means to be Christian, why be Christian at all? After all, society is filled with morally good people who are often more “Christian” than Christians.”

    …and that vocation is about something much much deeper than doing tasks or fulfilling roles in a church context.

    …and that vocation grows as we exercise the spiritual gifts of faith, love and hope.

    As you say, vocation can be something so much deeper and transforming than superficial politeness and “niceness”.

    Christians have died for their vocations. I’m not sure that “niceness” is not worth dying for!

    Best wishes,
    Michael

    Like

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