Lent, Day 6, Grace cont’d

2003    Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. There are sacramental graces, gifts proper to the different sacraments. There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning “favor,” “gratuitous gift,” “benefit.  Whatever their character—sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues—charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church.

On this, I’m a bit puzzled.  The main point seems to be that there are particular gifts of the Spirit that would also be called graces, but which are distinct, I guess, from the sanctifying grace.  Though I have a certain fondness for the sacraments, and especially for the sacrament of confession and extreme unction, which seem to be opportunities for a person to reconcile him or herself following sins (failures to love) or prior to the final checkout.  But I don’t see the sacraments in and of themselves conveying or conferring grace.  That to me seems silly.  The pouring of water on an infant’s head doesn’t do more than confuse or frighten the infant.  For the parents and the others who witness that ceremony, there is meaning and significance.  Communion, which I see as largely symbolic, does not seem, by itself to convey anything.  In a sense, if the communion wafer is not the true body of Christ in some real or mystical way, the ceremony seems, to a non-Catholic as silly.  And those Protestant Churches that have communion, on occasion, don’t seem to put as much value in the ceremony.  Certainly, Ralph Waldo Emerson used the disagreement over the importance of the “Lord’s Supper” at 2nd Church in Boston to resign from the ministry of that church.  I think that looking to that magical moment of communion can have an effect on a person.  As a kid and a young adult, communion prompted me to make a good confession and try to right myself as best I could — that self-reflection was beneficial, and the fact that everyone in the church (just about everyone) received communion also gave me a sense of solidarity with the community.  But I don’t see that the act of receiving a wafer confers any grace — I don’t see that Al Capone or other Italian or Irish gangsters who may have received communion saw it make any positive change in their outlook or their behavior.  Chief Justice Robert Taney, the author of the Dred Scott case, and a practicing Catholic and slaveholder, was not moved by communion to change his ways or beliefs.

I’ll be interested in hearing more about charisms.  I don’t believe in miracles in the sense of a suspension of science in the world.  I think that a speech, or some gesture, can have some profound effect on an audience and that such speech, such gestures, can be miraculous in some way.  And I think there are miracles in our daily life, in the sense of things that make us go “wow.”  And speaking in tongues — that has always left me feeling cold and not impressed.  I’ve seen people in more emotional churches get caught up in the service and the singing, and see that as a form of the gift of the spirit.  But how is that different from getting caught up in Royals Fever the way we did in the fall?  Or the way Red Sox fans get all choked up by what happens in and around Fenway Park.

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