Faith and Life

The Winding Paths of Grace

You know how it is. You are driving along and, at a roundabout, a driver to your right is indicating right – and then turns off to the left, seemingly oblivious that you are sitting there, taking your lead from that little flashing light on his car, the same one he failed to cancel so that you could safely move off. You swear under your breath and drive off in a bad mood. At the next roundabout, you do what he did – well, if he can do it..

On another occasion, you are on a road with obstructions on your side, so you stop to give way to oncoming traffic. You’ve done the right thing. But the driver coming the other way reads the road well and realises that it’s easier for him to give way to you and to the four cars behind you, as he is there alone. And so he flashes you on – it is safe, so you go forward. You give that little flash to thank him and as you pass, you realise that there is a little glow in your heart because you have seen there is still kindness in the world, often coming from those who place their own needs and rights behind those of everyone else around them. Later, you feel bound to return that kindness to another driver, so that is what you do. Well, if he did it..

They are silly examples but they perhaps go some way to illustrating a point with reference to the life of grace.

Good begets good. And it is the same with divine grace. Grace is one of those rare things which, the more we use it up, the more of it we receive – and the more we ‘give it away’ (as it were) to others, the more of it we seem to receive in return. Divine grace is rather like divine mercy in that respect – this works in much the same way and it, too, can never be exhausted.

The grace of God comes to us from all sorts of unexpected places and people, often when we least expect it. Here are three examples.

A woman caring for her gravely ill husband feels she cannot go on any further and she just wants to run away – she is simply overwhelmed and exhausted, despite her very best intentions. But from somewhere, the grace comes to sustain her just a little longer – long enough to be there with her husband as he dies peacefully. She does not know that a neighbour mentioned her situation at Church that morning, and the person to whom it was mentioned quietly offered their Mass and Holy Communion for this intention – and this act of kindness obtained that necessary grace. Now, the person who offered their Mass will never know this – and nor will that woman and her husband – but that is not important. The grace is what matters, and the effect it brought about.

Elsewhere, a priest has felt for some time that he is worn out, his vocation is dead and he is considering leaving the Church – he is not even sure he still believes that the Eucharist is indeed Christ truly present. He has almost made the appointment to speak to his bishop and intends to do so after the morning Mass. At that Mass, he notices a very elderly lady who is clearly frail and can barely walk. At Communion, she gets up from her pew and comes to the foot of the Altar. He gives her Communion, which she receives with such deep devotion and humility that it ignites a little glow within him – he wonders if perhaps he has been wrong. He postpones his phone call, determines to pray – something he has not done recently – and slowly but surely, he reconsiders his options. He continues as a priest and goes on to bring the grace of God to many souls in all sorts of ways. What he does not know is that this grace was obtained through the sustained prayers of his aunt, who some time ago sensed his difficulty and has offered her Rosary every single day for many months now, something she will continue to do for the remainder of her life.

Somewhere, an elderly gentleman is dying despite all the treatments which have been given to him. He is perfectly at peace with this, because he is a man of faith. He knows perfectly well how grace works and so he has made the clear decision to offer his sufferings and his eventual death for the good of souls. He determines that he will write about his experiences, and he trusts the Lord will put his meagre efforts to good use. As time goes on, more and more people seem to come upon his written words and find themselves reading those words daily. And they learn important lessons through those words, lessons which teach them something about how to live as much as how to die. This man’s quiet, gentle example touches them and inspires them. Through his words, received in welcoming hearts, grace of every sort pours out; and in years to come, those numerous graces will each produce all sorts of good effects – like seed planted in good soil, which will one day blossom and produce good fruit.

Sometimes we see the result of grace in action.

In March 1887, a man called Pranzini was going to the gallows – an impious and unrepentant man, who had just been found guilty of murder. His case was an infamous one and had been in all the papers. In a quiet Carmelite monastery, a young nun had read the newspaper accounts and was worried that Mr Pranzini would soon find himself in Hell – and so she began praying very hard. She persistently asked God not only to have mercy on the poor man – God knows, he was in need of it! – but also to be kind enough to let her know in some way that he was indeed saved. Upon the gallows, Mr Pranzini had already dispensed with the priest who was with him. But then, at the final moment before he dropped to his death, he suddenly grabbed hold of the Crucifix held by the Priest, and kissed it with great devotion. Reading the newspaper account of this astonishing and entirely unexpected event the next day, that young nun took this to be the sign she had so humbly asked for. I don’t suppose too many people were concerning themselves with prayers for the salvation of the soul of a man about to be hanged for a brutal murder – but this young nun was the exception. Her name was Thérèse and her Carmelite monastery was in a place called Lisieux. Grace was at work through her prayers. And that grace achieved the intended effect, through the mercy of God.

For many, many years, I have been in the habit of looking very carefully at my life and trying to see the graces at work there – and, as is the case for every one of us, there are a great many graces to be seen, if only we have the eyes to see them. Many of those graces were small and – at least on the bigger scheme of things – insignificant; but they are the action of God regardless of that, for size does not equate to efficacy. Other graces have not been so small and have been absolutely crucial at particular moments. For these, especially, I have the very clear sense that I myself neither obtained them nor deserved them; rather, I am all too well aware that they came my way thanks to the prayers or sacrifices of others who were praying. Some of those generous souls, I know – others, I do not.

When we pray and offer-up the little sacrifices of our daily lives, God responds to our generosity and selflessness by granting His grace in some way or another; He does this not because we have put spiritual coins into a slot machine in Heaven, and not because we have in any way deserved those graces – but simply because He loves us.

My personal experience is that if you want to obtain great grace, or if you want the surety of obtaining it, then pray hard and at length before the Blessed Sacrament – there, it seems to me, the Lord is infinitely generous with His merciful grace and it flows out of His Heart like a torrent. Second to this, give your intentions to the Mother of God – the Church calls Her the ‘Mediatrix of All Grace’ for a very good reason. Although that title has not been explicitly defined by the Church, the Holy Fathers have – certainly over the past five decades – used it sufficiently frequently in their public speeches, audiences and exhortations, that you may be sure they had a good reason for doing so.

Where there is a need for grace, the Lord in His mercy will inspire some soul somewhere to do something to obtain it – and He will then grant it, again out of the depths of His mercy. Grace finds a way. It always does – every single time. The paths may be winding and may even seem so random to us that we think it cannot possibly be so – but I know better than that, for I see it all around me and in so very many lives. Grace is at work.

Now that you have read this far – stop and have a think. Where is that divine grace active in your own life? Where do you see it? Where do you perceive a need for it? And what are you doing to be a conduit of that divine grace both for yourself and for others around you?

You see, on so many occasions, you yourself will be invited to be a part of one of those winding paths of grace.


Catholic | Retired Nurse | UK

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