As this Easter approaches, I am recalling an experience I had more than 60 years ago when I was a student in the major seminary. I was reading in chapel a book entitled “Christ in His Mysteries,” by Dom Abbot Marmion. I even remember the color of the book’s cover. One of my professors, who was also my spiritual advisor at that time, had recommended the book to me for spiritual reading. I was enjoying the book immensely and found it quite inspiring.
At one point in my reading, I came upon Marmion’s description of sanctifying grace as our sharing in the life of God. Though I had attended Catholic grammar school, the Jesuit high school, Xavier, in Manhattan and had already finished two years of seminary education, somehow this description of sanctifying grace as sharing in God’s life was news to me. I was stunned by it. What was my previous understanding of sanctifying grace? I cannot recall, but my guess is that I thought of it as something in our souls which meant that we were free of serious sin and were free to receive the Eucharist.
The idea that sanctifying grace meant that we actually shared God’s life amazed me. I found the idea so awesome that I wondered if I was misunderstanding Marmion. Looking back now at my experience, I see it as some sort of epiphany. I was so surprised that I went to the priest who had recommended the book and asked him if my understanding of Marmion was accurate, that sanctifying grace meant that God lived within us and that we actually intimately shared God’s life. He assured me that this was the Church’s teaching. For me, this was a piece of the good news that was really new to me.
More than 60 years ago I found the truth about sanctifying grace awesome and wonderful. I still do today. That God shares divine life with us sheds light on every Catholic belief. The Eucharist is the food that nourishes God’s life within us on our journey. All the teachings of the Church are truths that should help us to live God’s life more deeply. This life that God shares with us should transform us and energize us to spread the good news.
To the extent that we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us, we can experience an enormous gratitude and profound joy. Both these experiences can be due to our awareness of being loved beyond our capacity to understand completely.
All the love we have experienced in our lives from family and friends, marvelous as those experiences of being loved are, cannot compare to the beauty and power of God’s love. Every love we have received from family and friends is a sign of God’s love, a small clue to the greatness of God’s love.
There is a sentence that I read many years ago in a book by a philosopher that I quote frequently in the philosophy classes I teach at St. John’s University. It is a succinct statement of a very profound truth. The sentence is, “What being-loved makes being do is precisely be.” The experience of being loved by close friends and family can make us whole, can help us to integrate our experiences, can help us achieve emotional and psychological maturity, can help us understand ourselves at a very profound level, can help us exist in a new way, can help us spiritually. The experience of being loved can touch us and heal us at the deepest level of our being. Love is the strongest force in the world. Bombs can destroy us physically; being loved can create us as persons.
Every experience of being loved by close friends and family, as wonderful as those experiences are, pales in comparison to God’s love for us. From the second that we are conceived in our mother’s womb God’s love creates us, literally brings us into existence, and that love surrounds us for the rest of our lives. We want to appreciate the beauty and power of God’s love for us as deeply as we can. That God loves us unconditionally is probably the most profound truth about us. No matter what we do, even if we commit the most terrible sin, God will not stop loving us. God’s loving commitment to us is forever. Years ago when I read Marmion’s description of sanctifying grace, his insight that we share God’s life, I found the truth about sanctifying grace awesome and wonderful. I still do even as I write this column. My wish and hope is that I more successfully communicate that truth to others.
Easter is the most wonderful feast on the Church’s liturgical calendar. It’s a celebration of God’s love for us.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.