Welcome back for Week 5 of Lawn Chair Catechism. We’re in Session 5 – Chapter 4: “Grace and the Great Quest”. As always, all of the discussion questions can be found here. This week’s questions for discussion in your own faith: It can be hard to settle our minds on the idea of “cooperating with grace”. How would you explain the Catholic doctrine on salvation to others? Today’s Gospel fits in so well with the reading this week and reflection questions. Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus said to his disciples: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.” What helps us to answer these questions? Reason? Grace? Faith? I think it’s a combination – if I was asked to explain it. Sheri Weddell notes:
Grace empowers our intellects and wills to understand God’s will and obey it, yet at the same time it leaves us free to resist if we choose. It is, in a word, love received and given. (p. 98)
I think it’s no mistake that Faith, Hope and Love are the words that stand out here all leading us to grace. Receiving it, giving it and having it. I think grace is something that one could try to describe as nailing jell-o to a wall. It’s not easy, or is it? Depends on the jell-o. I digress.
I think grace is present in a person in how they live through and for God. Our response to His love, and our acceptance of His love. How do we cooperate with this grace? Faith. Explicit personal faith.
We often use the single English word faith to denote what is covered by two different Latin terms. The first Latin term, virtus fidei, means “the virtue of faith,” which is the power or capacity to believe but not the act of faith itself. Virtus fidei is the sort of faith that Blessed John Paul II was referring to when he wrote of the “capacity to believe” placed within us by baptism that can exist without explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ. The virtus fidei, the “capacity to believe” bestowed upon an infant at baptism, must become actus fidei, explicit personal faith, for a teen or adult to receive a sacrament fruitfully. (pp. 107-108)
I was given a great grace today. My friend Shells said to me, “You are more by-the-book-Catholic than anyone I’ve ever met before. You really live your faith.” Shells is a non-active Lutheran. We don’t agree on a lot of social teaching, but we talk about faith, culture, politics and other topics merely from a learning perspective. She’s a lot older than I am, so the dynamic is very special. This morning we were talking about what being Catholic means. To be really honest, we were talking about the open letter to Nancy Pelosi from Fr. Pavone from Priests for Life. Have you seen it? My friend Shells, in that context didn’t understand the hullabaloo and I felt compelled to clarify. Not because I am pushing an elitist version of the Catholic faith as Weddell warns against,
Rather [it is] to create a spiritual culture that recognizes, openly talks about, and honors both the inward and outward dimensions of the sacraments and the liturgy (p. 124).
S understood the difference and understood where I was coming from. Now, between you and me, I fall short. A WHOLE lot. I work hard at picking myself back up, cleaning myself off through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and making sure that my children see me do that consistently and often so they know there should be no fear or embarrassment associated with it. The way I see it, I have to help form my children in the faith. I have to help them take the grace given them in the Sacrament of Baptism and the Eucharist to help them to move from virtus fidei to actus fidei:
All the baptized are to be “anointed” ones, little “Christs” who share in the same mission of Jesus the Christ as “priests” and temples of the Holy Spirit. (p.121)
My oldest son, when he made his first confession was even braver than I. He sat face to face with the priest and let it all out in front of the entire parish. It was a quiet conversation, but there weren’t enough confessionals to hear every child in a closed room. He was beaming afterwards. Beaming. His outward manifestation of the cleanliness and holiness he felt inside were one and the same. Grace. See you next week.