As part of the continuing Lawn Chair Catechism series on "Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus" by Sherry Weddell over at CatholicMom.com, I am joining the discussion here on "The Backs of People's Heads and Baby Faces". Take a look over at CatholicMom.com to see what we're talking about this week and feel free to drop in with your thoughts here or at CatholicMom, or even on your own blog.
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?What exactly is "cooperating with grace"?
Well, I had to do some studying on this one. I kind of had a notion of "cooperating with grace" but not really a solid understanding. If it's what it sounds like it is (you have to work with the Grace that God gives you,) then I've got this. But if not...well, let's just say my childhood catechesis had holes and I'm still plugging them.
A quick Google search landed me at the "Summa Theologica" (Question 111, Article 2 - if you're following along at home). And it's a bit more involved than my initial analysis. So let me see if I can sum this up and not offend the sensibilities of all my more theologically trained friends.
In my understanding, the gist of it is this:
- God saves us by His Grace.
- But in order for us to be saved, we have to exercise our free will and turn toward Him and cooperate (work with) with the Grace that he gives to us.
- We don't cause the Grace to happen by turning toward God, but we allow his Grace to work in us, making us change and work toward good.
- Operating grace (what God gives us, say, through the sacraments) and cooperating grace are the same thing, but they have different effects on the soul.
- Therefore, it is essential to receive grace but it is also essential that we change our lives and move toward God in order for that grace to really change us and make us one with God.
In order to be saved you must open yourself to the grace of God by repenting of your sins, being baptized and allowing Grace to work on changing your soul and taking you where God wants you, which is ultimately with Him in Heaven. The catch is that you have to do something with the Grace, even if all you have time for is to say "Yes, Lord. I will follow you," before your eyes close for the last time. (Did I touch all the bases?)
If His Grace is suffcient, why do we have to do anything?
I must confess to not reading the book for this project, I am working off of the executive summaries (I know. Bad blogger). Going from the summary, this chapter seems to focus on those entering the Church as adults, but of course, that's not my experience. And because of that, I am much more concerned about evangelizing my fellow cradle-Catholics. Catholics as a group, have gone from knowing we're supposed to be at Mass, but not knowing why, to not being at Mass and not knowing why we should be. We've gone from bad to worse.
That's danger that we, as uninformed and undercatechized Catholics, face. We see the Grace. In fact, that's all we can see. We know it's there for us and many receive it every week. And it's so convenient. Why worry? God gave us His grace and that's enough, right? If I mess up, God's got it. If they even think it through this far, they might even stumble towards a confessional. But most don't because somewhere along the line they got the idea that Confession isn't important.
As a tween, I can remember being told by a well-meaning adult, "You know that part at Mass where we say, 'Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.'? That's all ya need, right there." Oh boy. And I believed him.
Those of us who grew up with the Sacraments have a tendency to take them for granted. Not knowing what those Sacraments do for you, some cradle-Catholics drift away to find places where they are "fed". Sometimes that's another church where they can get some answers. Sometimes it's just being "spiritual but not religious" because all those rules are too hard to follow. (There's that obedience thing again, doggone it.)
Many of us who still attend Mass just kind of go with the flow. We show up for Mass on Sunday without a sense of why we're really there. Are we there to hear some good music? Are we there to see some pretty statues? Are we there to hear some good preaching? Maybe we are there because that's what you do on Sunday morning. Maybe we are there to "get the grace". But then what do we do with it? We're there in body, but our souls have not been turned toward Christ. The lights are on, but nobody's home.
But we are there to do something, not just sit there soaking up the ambiance. Active participation became a big buzz-phrase in the 70's and 80's. We were encouraged to "Sing!" and "Say the responses!", but Active Participation happens on a whole different level. Active participation doesn't always involve opening your mouth. It involves the opening of the heart. We are there to listen for the still, small voice of God calling us to further conversion, calling us to come closer to Him. Then, at Communion, we do just that.
And now, The Great Quest...
So I guess the question that I would have to ask is, what is God calling you to in the life-long process of your conversion? He's not just calling you to go back to doing whatever it is you were doing before. He's calling you to follow Him. And make no mistake, He has a job for each one of us. It will take courage. It will take obedience. It will take grace.
It's not everyone's job to teach in a classroom. It's not everyone's job to sing. It's not everyone's job to be a Priest or consecrated religious. But it is everyone's job to live their Faith in real and tangible ways, showing with our actions and words, what work God's Grace is doing in us. Our end of the bargain is to keep turning toward God and to work toward the good. That is cooperation with grace. With it, we evangelize by simply doing our job. Without it, our Faith is dead.
One of the songs that kept playing in my head as I was writing this is "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind". It's a perennial favorite of mine and I wrote a post about it last year at about this time on my music blog. If you like to hear it and read the hymn text (which is a beautiful meditation on discipleship), please click here.