Monday, October 22, 2012

Hail Full of Grace, Part 2 of 3

Grace can be summarized in the words of our Lord: “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It’s a spiritual fact (likely to rankle any person with a self-reliant spirit) that human nature alone is unable to seek God. Any movement in your soul -- thoughts, words, and deeds -- toward the divine are not inspired by you but by Him. For example, St. Paul instructs us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17), but, we pray only at all because “the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness ... and intercedes for us” (Rom 8:26) and, confirming the words of our Lord, He sent the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-17; Luke 24:49). Grace is a prompt to union with the divine. He asks, you choose: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house” (Rev 3:20). When God initiates, will you receive or refuse Him?

Winding back time to the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve started as full of grace before “sin entered into the world” (Rom 5:12). Catholic theology has a precise term for this, the state of original justice, because they were created in holiness and thus had full union with God. This perfection is symbolized by “God walking about in the garden” (Gen 3:8) with Adam and Eve, talking with them, and bestowing all worldly necessities. Most important, however, is that God bestowed all spiritual necessities. We know this through what was lost in disobedience: intimacy with God broke into withdraw and shame (Gen 3:8-10), marital bliss disintegrated into mutual recriminations (Gen 3:12), man’s labor of love became drudgery (Gen 3:17-19), and woman’s labor of love became birth pains (Gen 3:16). In other words, the soul recoiled from both body and God -- pitting the flesh against the spirit and the spirit against the Holy Spirit -- and death resulted (Gen 3:22-24). This interior schism was a fall from grace, a descent into the luring ego (Gen 4:7), a blurring of sensibilities (1 Cor 13:12), a darkening of the soul (Rom 1:21). Minus Jesus and Mary, we have all inherited this poor condition.

Excuse the digression, but I’d be remiss not to mention sin’s effect on the world. After the relationships between God and man, God and woman, and man and woman were ruptured, nature was no longer paradise (Gen 3:14-19). The spiritual disorders that rooted within mankind then marred creation. Is this surprising? Our dear Lord said Himself that evil flows outward from the heart (Mark 7:18-23). Landmines buried across Old Europe and regional war zones, for example, do not exist because God found them good, but because disordered men with murderous designs brought them into existence. Evil tendencies start privately in the heart, and, without grace and willingness to repent, they birth evil words and actions that mature and spread throughout -- friendships, marriages, towns, states, nations, continents -- like bad leaven. Likewise, ever wonder how nations like America came to promote abortion? It was because too many citizens refused grace. They institutionalized their spiritual disorders by creating/voting policies that reflected their marred interior selves. Creation cries from the blood spilled on the ground (Gen 4:10)!

Many saints have opined that the punishment for sin is sin itself. Each sin decreases grace. Each sin increases spiritual disorder. The disorder manifests itself in the sinner as a compulsion to commit more sin. St. Paul called it “desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:17), psychologists call it the ego, and Catholic theology calls it concupiscence. Don’t believe yet? Get drunk and you will soon desire drunkenness again; fornicate and you will soon want more self-satisfaction; steal and you will soon plan what else “must” be taken; refuse Sunday Mass and you will soon refuse God in other areas of life. The conclusion to sin is clear: “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), and not just physical death but the death of your interior freedom. Unlike grace which brings peace and perfects self-mastery, sin brings the suffering of a bad conscience and loss of self-control. The desire for sin will pull against your willpower, and, like a slave master, demand you acquiesce to its demands. Whose knock will you answer? Christ isn’t the only one coming to visit: “Sin lies in wait at the door; its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it” (Gen 4:7).

A person full of grace is perfect like Adam and Eve were originally. Perfection, in the Christian sense, denotes there is neither sin nor the effects of sin (i.e., spiritual disorders) staining the soul. A perfect person cannot become any better. All spiritual necessities are provided. Gabriel greeted Mary as “full of grace” (Luke 1:28) because her being was filled anticipatory “with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph 1:3) and something filled to capacity cannot be filled anymore.