By Ben Gerigk,
Saint Brendan Catechist
Each week, we will summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you will learn more about how God’s grace and prayer relate to each other.
First, it’s important to understand that grace is not a thing. Grace actually is a relationship with God. Through the favor of God, we are invited into his life of love. Grace is that free and undeserved gift from God that draws us more and more closely to him.
The experience of grace develops as we become more fully aware of God’s presence, particularly at pivotal moments in our lives. A German Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, reminds us, for example, that “grace is present in our experience at times when we live beyond our limits, when we hope beyond our hope, sacrifice our safety for our fellow neighbors, or when we seek the cause of truth and justice.”
Grace and prayer are intrinsically intertwined. They depend on and cooperate with each other. The more we turn towards God in praise and thanksgiving, the more the Lord’s grace silently works within us to turn us even more consciously towards God.
It is a kind of cooperation between the human freedom to choose God or to reject him and the grace the Lord gives us to be able to choose him in the first place. As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux put it, “every good act which fosters our growing union with the Father through Christ in the Spirit and the love of our world is brought by God’s grace and in human freedom.”
In other words, the more God pours out his grace on us, the more disposed towards prayer we become, and the more we pray, the more God’s grace is set into motion when we pray. This relationship between grace and prayer continues to grow and deepen until that day when we are gathered fully into God’s kingdom and this world is transformed into a new heaven and a new earth and God “may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). On that day, “cooperative grace” becomes “consummating grace.”
The practice of asking for God’s grace in prayer can be found in the famous Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Each week, retreatants are directed to pray for God’s grace to make them more penitent for wrongdoing, to deepen their love for Jesus and their desire to know him and share in his mission, to experience the suffering and death of Christ, and to share in the joy of the resurrection and new life in Christ.
Grace supports and fulfills us as we pray, and we can and should ask for an outpouring of God’s grace in our prayer. This week, try asking the Lord not so much for the specific things you may seek in life, such as health or material blessings. Rather, try simply asking for God’s grace to fill you completely and deeply, and then watch how over time you experience his presence more fully.
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