Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

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 Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Transformed by Grace

 We heard in the first reading this morning: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy”. In the Gospel we just read Jesus said: “You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

Are these unassailable heights for us as Catholics? Do we consider such standards only possible for the heroic few – the great saints like St John or St Monica, your patrons?

The answer is: yes, they are. They are impossible to us striving as human beings to achieve such high levels of personal sanctity, but they are not impossible to anyone who lets the Grace of God triumph in their life.

Consider what St Paul said in the second reading of the Mass today: “Didn’t you realise what you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you?”

St Paul reminds us that each of us as baptised Catholics has the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. When we were baptised the Holy Spirit was poured into our hearts. The Spirit of God is holy because God is holy. In other words the holiness of God abides within us.

Christianity is not just a set of beliefs or a range of moral standards. The Christian life is altogether wonderful. It is a joy as Pope Francis keeps saying. The key to understanding what it means to be a Christian is to realise what in fact happened to us when we were baptised. God sent his Spirit – his Holy Spirit – into our hearts. We have a new principle of life within us: the Spirit of God.

To be a Christian means that we live a life of Grace. The word grace simply means the gift of God to us. God’s own Spirit is active within us. God is drawing us towards himself. God is wanting to make us fit for heaven. God is shaping us as his own beloved sons and daughters.

This is the wonderful reality of being a Christian. It is also something we rarely consider.

The Blessed Virgin Mary understood this so well. Her great prayer of joy in the Lord – the Magnificat – captures her profound understanding of what has happened to her. She says, “my soul proclaims the greatness of God and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour”. Why? “Because the Almighty has done great things for me”. The angel had said that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and she would conceive the Son of God.

This is the pattern for every Christian life. The Holy Spirit overshadows us and so Christ in born in our hearts.

Holiness is not the product of our own efforts, though we have to actively co-operate with the movements of Grace. Holiness comes about as God steadily transforms us into images of his Son.

The author of our holiness is not ourselves. The author is God. What does this mean in effect? How do we live a life of Grace?

The beginnings of being transformed by God’s Grace is to recognise that it is God who is at work in us. Once we are aware of Grace, we learn not to rely upon ourselves alone, but to turn to God and seek his Grace. We learn to co-operate with God’s work in our lives.

To find something we have to look for it, or look out for it. To find Grace we need to look for it. It is a good exercise to take a little time to sit quietly and reflect on our lives. We often look on our lives in terms of what we have done – the decisions we have made, the actions we have taken.

Try another way: reflect on your life and look for the signs of Grace. It may be that we see how our prayers were answered. We may recognise a time when something unexpected made a wonderful difference to the direction of our life. It may be that we experienced the presence of God, or his peace and joy at a particular moment of need. We may be able to identify some prompting that inspired us to a particular course of action.

Grace is mysterious and surprising, yet absolutely real.

Once we see the movements of Grace we are able to engage our lives more with the Grace of God. We learn to entrust our lives more into the hands of God and allow him to lead and guide us.

We learn to let Grace more and more mould and influence our thoughts and words and actions. In this way we enable God more immediately to shape our lives.

We are, each of us, temples of the Holy Spirit. The life of Grace is the great gift of God’s love for us as his beloved sons and daughters born to him in baptism.

Living the life of Grace is the path to holiness. We become holy because God is shaping us and transforming us.

We are all called to be saints. This is not our work or the achievement of our own determination, but the triumph of Grace. St Paul rightly said that we are all God’s work of art.

 

Saturday, 22 February 2014