The Virgin Mary appeared to Sister Catherine Laboure twice in the year 1830 in Paris. During the second apparition (November 27), Mary showed Catherine the design for what would be called the Miraculous Medal. Mary promised that all who wore the medal would receive great graces.
The front of the medal depicts Mary standing atop the globe, crushing the head of the serpent. From rings on her fingers great rays of light are streaming. Mary explained to Catherine that the rays of light symbolized graces she obtains for those who request them. Catherine noticed that some of the rings on Mary’s fingers were dark. Mary said the dark rings symbolize graces that are available, but that no one asks for.
What are graces? The plural, I think, is appropriate because God gives us graces in many forms. The Catechism of the Catholic Church includes multiple definitions of grace:
- “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” (CCC, 1996)
- “Grace is a participation in the life of God.” (CCC, 1997) This is a mystery we can understand in part through the Holy Trinity. “[Grace] introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life.” (CCC, 1997) As God is one, and at the same time a communion of love between three distinct persons, when we experience God’s grace we enter into, in however small and incomplete a way, the communion of love that abides between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God always takes the initiative. Our faith is itself a gift of grace, a gift we can freely choose to accept or reject. “Grace escapes our experience,” the Catechism explains, “so we can only know we have received grace through the gift of faith. “Reflections on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.” (CCC, 2005)
What does grace look like in your life? When is God giving you His grace? There are surely many times we receive God’s grace and don’t realize it, even after the fact. For me, when I’m patient with my children, that’s a moment of grace. It has to be, because I’m often not patient with my children. Why am I calm this time? Why am I remembering that things only get worse when I get worked up too? Where is this coming from? Or if I’m talking about my faith with someone. Writing this blog is easy, but having conversations about the faith with people I know or especially people I don’t know well is hard for me. The secular world wants us to keep our faith private – but that’s no excuse for us to do so! Why did I speak up? Where did that courage come from? Where did that rare indifference to what other people might think of me come from?
It has to be God’s grace.
Bishop Robert Barron writes quite a bit about the “loop of grace.” I’ll do my best to explain what he means. Grace is a gift, and the paradox of grace is that to keep this gift, we have to give it away. We have to share it with our brothers and sisters. If we try to cling to it, we lose it. If we give it away, the more grace will be given to us. The miracle of the loaves and fishes illustrates this point. The apostles have five loaves of bread and two fish, nowhere near the amount they need to feed the huge crowd. They give their meager offering to Jesus, and He transforms it with His grace. Then they share it with the crowd. Not only do they now have enough to feed everyone, they leave with twelve baskets full of leftovers, far more than they started with.
Ask God to give you the grace you need to serve Him each day. The more you trust in Him, the more graces He will give you. The more you share His graces, the more grace He will give you. He is longing to give you His grace.
Image: Pentecost by Jean II Restout (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).