Tag Archives: grace

Grace abounds

Sometimes I get taken aback at the grace and graciousness that abounds here.

Yes, there is poverty, there is violence, there is selfishness. But, grace abounds.

Saturday a week ago I went to San Juan Concepción, planning to go to a meeting – which actually wasn’t there. I went looking for someone and, trying to turn around, I backed into a deep drainage ditch and my right rear wheel was hanging there. I was in dire straits. But men and boys from the community came out, got some stumps and planks of wood and, jacking up the car, they pushed me out.

Thursday, after preaching at the 7 pm Mass in Dulce Nombre, I started home at 8:30 pm in the dark. On an inclined curve, the car headed into the right bank. I stopped before I hit the hill. But, trying to back up and start up again, the car slid into the edge of the left side of the road. I tried to move – but no luck, even with four-wheel drive. A motorcyclist stopped who is from Pan Grande; he had to walk his motorcycle up the incline. But he returned and tried to help me move, even getting rocks form the nearby field to try to get traction. No luck. Two more guys on a motorcycle stopped and tried to help. By this time, Padre German, our pastor arrived with two guys. Finally, they managed to pull the car out and I could return home to Plan Grande.

Friends, neighbors, and strangers stopped to help (though one car came by and got up the incline with no problems, but didn’t stop.) I continually am amazed at the kindness of the people. As I have written several times, one of my major sources of security is in the people – willing to help a gringo, without compensation.

Then, this morning I presided at the Celebration of the Word with Communion here in Plan Grande. After the Prayer of the Faithful, the tradition is to sing a hymn of thanksgiving and take up the collection. As the hymn was ending I looked up and saw Don Salvador, a bent over older man – probably in his eighties – bending over in the middle of the aisle to tie the shoe of a little boy. I stopped and waited until he finished. Then I went to get the hosts from the tabernacle. But I felt as if I had witnessed in Don Salvador’s simple gesture the sacrament of service.

These small acts of kindness, generosity, and care sustain me – and shows me the presence of God here.

Grace abounds.

There is sin, evil, violence, racism, poverty, crime. But, as Georges Bernanos concludes his novel, The Diary of a Country Priest, relating the final words of the priest: “Grace is everywhere.”

Unworthy yet graced

Last Sunday’s readings reflected a sense of human unworthiness.

Isaiah protests (Isaiah 6:1-8),

I am a man of unclean lips.

Peter protests (Luke 5: 1-11),

Depart from me, Lord for I am a sinful man.

Even Paul protests (15: 1-11).

[I am] not fit to be called an apostle.

Is this just a reaffirmation of a faith that crushes people, that keeps people down by promoting a low self-esteem?

It might seem so. But, when I look at myself honestly, I realize that I am inadequate, I am not complete, I am not perfect.

I often have the illusion that I should be able to do it all, to do it always right. But reality often hits me in the face.

I cannot.

But, for we who believe in a God who became flesh for and with us, this is not the final word.

God sends an ember to cleanse the lips of Isaiah. Jesus calls Peter to follow him, to get up off his knees and go forward.

But Paul puts it most clearly and succinctly:

By the grace of God I am what I am and his grace in me has not been useful, not been sterile, not been in vain, to no purpose, empty.

Dorothy Day once noted that “The sense of futility is one of the greatest evils of the day.”

But she realized that God worked with her, in her – and made of her smallest acts a sign of God’s love and grace.

Yes, she experienced “the long loneliness,” as she entitled her autobiography. But she also experienced the grace of God – which came to her in a special way with the joy of motherhood.

Recognizing our need of God and others, our dependence, can free us from dependency on ourselves and from the frustration of not being able to be perfect. It can open us to God’s love.

Last year, while reading a book by James Keating on the diaconate, I came across this quote:

[The deacon] is to receive an intimacy from God that makes him feel uncomfortable, because it makes him know that the love given by the Trinity to the alienated and the lonely is first given to him.

This brought me great consolation in the midst of a time when I was feeling a bit disconcerted and disconnected – alone. I felt a strong sense of both my sinfulness and God’s mercy. Not one or the other – both.

The next day I went to a Mass in the neighboring village. It was the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower. Later I found these words in one of her letters (#226):

I expect as much from God’s justice as from His mercy. It is because He is just that “He is compassionate and filled with gentleness, slow to punish, and abundant in mercy, for He knows our frailty, He remembers that we are only dust. As a father has tenderness or his children, so the Lord has compassion on us!”

This gives me great joy – and a great lesson to begin Lent.

Birth of John the Baptist

John the Baptist, Chartres Cathedral

John the Baptist, Chartres Cathedral

His name is John.

Today the Gospel relates the birth of John the Baptist.

The relatives want to give him the name of his father.

But, surprise!

Elizabeth and Zacharias insist on the name “John.”

In Hebrew, John means “God is gracious.”

Graciousness is, for me, one of the most important starting points for believing and living.

God is gracious – and gives us all, without cost.

And so we too are called to be gracious, to be giving – and above all to be forever “giving thanks.”

All is grace.

 

 

 

 

Grace is everywhere

Georges Bernanos, who died sixty five years ago on July 5, 1948, closes his novel  Diary of a Country Priest with an account of the dying words of a priest who served God and God’s people in the midst of his doubts, limitations, and seeming failures:

 Does it matter? Grace is … everywhere.

I’ve read the novel a few times and it is one of a few novels that I brought with me to Honduras.

There is a beautiful simplicity in the novel that is reflected in the first and last words of this “diary” of an unnamed priest.

“Mine is a parish like all the rest,” the novel begins.

Grace arises in the midst of the ordinary.

But it was a struggle for him to see that. But at the end, before he died in the house of priest friend who had left the priesthood and lived with a lover, he wrote in the “diary”:

How easy it is to hate oneself! True grace is to forget. Yet if pride could die in us, the supreme grace would be to love oneself in all simplicity – as one would love any of those who themselves have suffered and loved in Christ.

To love oneself as one would love the suffering.

What a challenge and what a grace.

But it’s the message that strikes me personally. In myself and in others I have seen how the grace of God helps us to love ourselves – in a healthy way – when we begin to love the poor and experience their love for us.

I think Bernanos hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

I hold that the poor will save the world and they will save it without wishing to do so, they will save it despite themselves, that they will ask it nothing in return, simply because they will not know the value of the service they have rendered.

The poor, the suffering, open to us the presence of a loving God.

Grace is everywhere – if we open our hearts to the poor.

The power of stories

Today the Catholic Church celebrates St. Anthony – not the Franciscan St. Anthony of Padua, but the Egyptian desert father, often identified as the founder of monasticism, who lived from 250 to 356.

There are many fascinating aspects of St. Anthony’ life – including giving up his wealth in response to hearing the Gospel of the rich young man and his struggles with demons which is depicted graphically in Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim altar tableaux meant for a chapel of the Antonine monks who cared for those suffering with ergotism. Christ is covered with the same type of sores that the patients suffered. Paul Hindemith also responded to the inspiration of Grüenwald and St. Anthony with his Mathis der Maler.

But what struck me this morning, as I read Robert Ellsberg’s account of St. Anthony in All Saints, was the power of the account of his life written by St. Athanasius. This was a work that contributed to St. Augustine’s conversion. It was also a work that deeply influenced western monasticism.

What stories are we listening to? What stories are we telling? Whose lives do we recall?

Attending the funeral of my Aunt Mary Barrar last month I heard a great number of stories of her life, especially her last months in an assisted living setting. Her ability to connect with the staff, to show her interest in their lives, and even to influence at least one of them were marvelous signs of love and faith.

Similarly the wake of my father in 1999 was a time when I heard stories of his generosity even as a young man.

Let us then share stories and seek out the stories of others so that we can see the signs of God’s grace active in our world.