Roy was going through the most difficult period of his life. He had just lost his wife to a long fight with breast cancer. His children were all struggling in their marriages. And, after being promoted to a managerial position in his company, he now had to decide which of his employees would be laid off.
Feeling sorry for himself, he took a long drive listening to the radio as loud as it would go. At a stoplight, he noticed a bumper sticker on the car in front of him which read “Grace Happens.” The words struck him to the core of his being, and he began to sob. He took it as a message from God that no matter what problems he had to face, his Heavenly Father would always be with him providing him with all he needed to make things work out.
Many of us have had similar experiences. Just when we thought we could go no further, someone comes along to encourage us and support us in our struggle. When we had given up hope and thought our efforts were futile, someone came along to tell us just what a difference we had made in his or her life. When we were confused and could not make sense of what was going on in our lives, we read a Scripture passage that puts it all in perspective for us. That is grace at work in us. It is God whispering to us in His own gentle way, encouraging us to not give up, letting us know that He has not forgotten us and reminding us that we are not struggling alone.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life....(CCC 1997).” Through grace, God Himself lives within us. This is what Jesus promised His disciples at the Last Supper as we hear proclaimed in today’s gospel: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
Grace, therefore, is not something but somebody. It is God Himself - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - living within us, inspiring us, moving our hearts with love and raising our thoughts to good and holy intentions. Jesus assures us that this will be the case when He tells us in today’s gospel that He will be sending us the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. This Spirit, living within us, teaches us about our dignity as children of God, reminds us of the words of Jesus and gives us whatever we need to carry out the will of our Heavenly Father. This wonderful gift is like God putting His own heart to beat in our chests, His own breath in our lungs and His own thoughts in our minds.
That is why Jesus can tell us as He tells the apostles at the Last Supper to not let our hearts be troubled or to fall into fear. He is always with us. Whatever may happen to us, He will always be by our side. There is nothing we can face that God cannot handle. Because He is within us, we can confront all life’s challenges with confidence. There is nothing we cannot overcome when we rely on the power of God at work within us.
What is the result of this mighty work of grace within us? It is the gift of peace. When we are aware of God’s presence within us, when we trust that He has all things under control, we stop worrying over the situations that we have no control over. We stop turning everything that does not go our way into a catastrophe. Instead of complaining or looking for someone to blame, we start taking charge of the circumstances in our lives and making the best of the opportunities they provide us with knowing that nothing is impossible for us if we can plug into the power of God at work in us.
The other result of this mighty work of God’s grace within us is love. Jesus tells us that we can only have friendship with Him and the Father if we keep His word. And we know that the greatest of all commandments is love. When we welcome the Father into our heart, we begin to overflow with love for others. When we realize just how much mercy He has shown us in choosing to live within us, we cannot help but show forgiveness to others. When we realize how much He has given us, we cannot help but share what we have with others. Our desire to help others becomes so intense that we stop making excuses for ourselves, stop paying attention to all the obstacles that stand in the way, and begin doing what we can to make a difference no matter what the cost.
Finally, the work of God’s grace within us produces abundant joy. We cannot help but rejoice when we realize that our Heavenly Father loves us so much that He wants to make His home within us. As His love helps us to cast out our fears, doubts and anxieties we live with new freedom and enthusiasm that becomes contagious.
Grace happens. It can happen to anybody. It can happen anywhere and anytime. All we need to do is open our hearts to God’s presence in our lives and allow Him to take care of the rest. It can come from a bumper sticker, a kind word from a stranger or a random thought that pops into our minds. Most especially, however, it comes from the sacraments. The sacraments were instituted by Christ to give us grace. And the greatest sacrament of all is the Eucharist which we will now be preparing to receive. There is no better time to welcome Christ into our hearts than when receiving His Body and Blood. Once we have done so, the gifts of peace, love and joy will come streaming in, grace will happen to us and we will never be the same.