Lent, Day 8, Grace cont’d

2005 Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord’s words “Thus you will know them by their fruits” – reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.

A pleasing illustration of this attitude is found in the reply of St. Joan of Arc to a question posed as a trap by her ecclesiastical judges: “Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.'”

“Since it belongs to the supernatural order” — well, this is only true if we accept that there is something supernatural.  It is true that there is a lot in the natural order which we do know know in the way we might know the taste of burgundy or chocolate, or recognize the shapes of letters and understand the words they spell.  That said, I think that “grace” would not be something we experience in the same way as we experience physical pain, or sensory pleasure, which we can often pinpoint and replicate — dropping a weight on our foot will hurt, and if we do it again at some other time, it will hurt again in like manner and we can likely predict that feeling.  But grace surely belongs to categories like love, faith, hope or other emotional states.  We cannot put our fingers on grace, or sense it with eyes, or ears, but, if we believe that there is something like grace, just like we believe there is something called love, I think we can be aware of it, or feel it intuitively.

“Reflection on God’s blessings in our  life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us…”  As I’ve noted before, I have a great fondness for the passage in The Color Purple in which one character explains how God is always trying to please us, and that it pisses God off if we pass by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.  And this passage seems to suggest something like that.  If we adopt an “attitude of gratitude,” if I can borrow a phrase from the more positive bible thumpers, we heighten our overall awareness of the blessings around us.  That awareness and gratitude make us even more aware of such blessings.  In a sense, our belief helps us see the world in a positive way, and acting on that, help to enact the very positive world we imagine.  And I think we can reflect on blessings in our world and our lives, even if we don’t believe in God, and I think we can reflect on saints, or heroes, and try to see the lessons in the lives of those extraordinary people, or characters, which lessons and examples we can imitate.

The quotation attributed to Joan of Arc, is one which I find beautiful, though I don’t believe in God.  It is a statement of one who has faith in that Interdependent Web (Joan of Arc would have said God) and her place in it.  If she strayed from her true path, the universe (God) would call her back.  That response was to a questioner who hoped to trap her — the inquisitor was expecting her to say Yes, and then would pounce on her for presuming to know God’s will, which she, as a poor farm girl, could  not know.  Her response given covered all bases, not claiming absolutely any state of grace, but hoping for it, or for God (the universe) to direct her to it.

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