Arts and Culture

Channels of Grace And Commitment

by Father Robert Lauder

Fifth and final in a series

In rereading and reflecting on Evelyn Underhill’s wonderful book, “The Spiritual Life” (Morehouse, 1937, pp. 128), I have been moved to try to think as deeply and as clearly as I can about the relationship between God and the person in grace. Writing this series of columns related to Underhill’s book has been a labor of joy for me.

I think of grace as God’s self-giving, loving presence. What effect does this presence have on the person who accepts God’s gift of self? I think of the effect as taking place on the person’s consciousness, especially the person’s conscienc, and on the person’s free will. The person’s consciousness may be influenced in the sense that the person has a new and more Christian view of self, neighbor and God. The person’s free will may be influenced in the sense that the person is more ready to allow God to take over his or her life. God’s grace – God’s loving presence – enters deeply into the person who accepts and welcomes God’s presence, and therefore, holiness is accessible to all.

God’s Active Presence

Pope Francis has stressed the truth that God is part of every person’s life. Not present in some passive or indifferent way, God is actively present, inspiring, motivating and sanctifying. To the extent that the relationship between creature and Creator, the redeemed and the Redeemer is deep, the human person will be able to achieve a unity in his or her life. St. Paul articulated this unity when he urged that Christ’s followers have in them the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5) or when he wrote “and I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

In discussing commitment, Underhill refers to the famous scene in the Old Testament in which Isaiah is called by God. Many years ago when I was a seminarian trying to discern whether God was calling me to the priesthood, this scene meant a great deal to me and helped me respond to God’s call. Isaiah’s response strikes me as very human and yet also very inspiring. Underhill writes the following:

“Consider the story of the call of the young Isaiah. It is a story so well known that we easily take it for granted, and so fail to realize it as one of the most magnificent and significant in the world; for it shows us the awakening of a human being to his true situation over against Reality, and the true object of his fugitive life. … The faulty human creature, who yet possesses the amazing power of saying Yes or No to the Eternal God, is asked for his services, and instantly responds.’ Who will go for us?’ ‘Here am I! Send me!’ There the very essence of the spiritual life is gathered and presented in a point: first the vision of the Perfect, and the sense of imperfection and unworthiness over against the Perfect, and then because of the vision, and in spite of the imperfection, action in the interests of the Perfect – co-operation with God.” (pp. 84-85)

I agree completely with Underhill that the story is one of the most magnificent and significant in the world. I also agree that it is amazing that one of God’s creatures has the power to freely say “yes” or “no” to the Creator. I am reminded of St. Augustine’s statement that while God created us without our cooperation, God will not save us without our cooperation.

There is much in our contemporary world that can distract us from our faith or even work against our faith. I find that reading good books about what really matters can be a great help. Reading such books can be a prayer. I also believe that writing such books can be a prayer. In “The Spiritual Life,” Underhill stresses how we should cooperate with God’s loving presence in our lives and the countless blessings that God sends us. Being moved as well as instructed by the book, I have been thinking about how Underhill’s cooperation with God stretched through the years to influence me.

This woman, who until recently was just a name that I occasionally saw in some Catholic magazine, seems to have influenced my faith because of her faith and commitment. We are tied together. In God’s plan, we can be channels of grace to one another. Sharing her own faith by writing this book, Underhill, I am sure, has been a positive influence in the lives of many.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.

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