In This New Year, Let Us Be Open to Grace
"In this day and age, unless Christians are revolutionaries, they are not Christians. They must be revolutionaries through grace." – Pope Francis, The Church of Mercy
The events of this past year have shown why we need to be open to grace moving in our lives. There were times when it felt like the news was continuously looping deadly shootings, natural and unnatural disasters, violent crimes, accusations, lies, mistrust, and the list goes on and on. At the risk of seeming trite and in the face of such misery, Gandhi's famous quote comes to mind, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Simple enough right? I'm trying to be the change but it's the rest of the world that needs to get busy! As easy as it is to point fingers and blame others, I still need to do the work on my own attitudes and actions if I want to affect change in others. Being "the change" the world so desperately needs must be both an individual and collective effort.
Gandhi's famous quote, that we are so accustomed to and have probably overused to the point that its true meaning is lost, is not actually a quote of Gandhi's at all. Scholars believe that the legendarily used saying may really be just a simplified version of what Gandhi was teaching in this statement; "We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him." As you can read, this quote is clearly too long for a bumper sticker, t-shirt, hashtag, tweet, or post! Yet the shortened version misses Gandhi's intended requirement that we must do more profound soul searching if we want to change the world. He says, if we could change ourselves then the world would also change.
Gandhi's full quote speaks of the personal transformation that we often shy away from; the inner makeover beyond simply wishing things would be different. Many of us would rather not do the "work" of changing. Like blaming others, it's sometimes easier to bury our heads in the sand and hope the problems of our lives, of the world, will just go away. To do the real work of examining ourselves with honesty and letting go of selfish attitudes, we will need the strength that comes from grace. To be "the change" the world needs requires that you and I bravely take a candid look in the mirror and ask ourselves, "are we reflecting the mystery of grace, which comes from God and is God, to the world?
In his book A New Look at Grace, Bill Huebsch writes, "This experience of mystery (grace) is something everyone has; it is not limited to Christians and certainly not Catholics. It can form a deep bond of human solidarity; draw us together into one; bind us tightly to one another." Solidarity necessitates that the world be open to grace. My prayer for the New Year is that we remember that grace comes from God and connects us as one human family.
How do we begin the work of change? How can we be open to grace? Pope Francis reminds us of Mary as such an example. While speaking in St Peter's Square this past December, Pope Francis said, "before calling her Mary, he calls her "full of grace," and he thus reveals the new name that God has given her, which fits her more than the name given to her by her parents," the Holy Father explained. To be "full of grace" means that "Mary is full of God's presence. And if she is entirely inhabited by God, there is no place in her for sin," the Pope continued.
Opening to grace is opening to the presence of God. Opening to grace is being vulnerable and saying "yes" like Mary, to allowing grace to permeate our lives. It is a willingness to daily make room for or create space for grace. To be open to grace is an attitudinal adjustment that aligns who we are more fully with who God wants us to be. Maybe then, we can be the "change" the world needs.
Opening to Grace in the New Year…
- Pause, take breath, and become fully aware that there is something beyond yourself. Be still and get acquainted with the holy presence in and around you. Discover that we become full only when we are empty. Trust in grace and surrender into it. "Grace is God as heart surgeon, cracking open your chest, removing your heart - poisoned as it is with pride and pain - and replacing it with his own." - Max Lucado
- Align with grace before beginning each new day. This simple act of intending to be "open to grace" at the start of each day will set the stage and weave itself through your daily activities. Notice how your intention to be open to grace changes your daily perspective of the world. "A spiritual joy is the greatest sign of the Divine grace dwelling in a soul." – St. Bonaventure
- See and acknowledge grace in others. Grace comes through powerful acts of love, selflessness, forgiveness, and compassion of those around us. "In loving one another through our works we bring an increase of grace and a growth in Divine love." - St Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa)
- Make note of your personal attitudes and beliefs (positive and negative). The real change comes when we go within and do the work of inner transformation; examining ourselves openly, honestly, vulnerably and purging out any resemblance of selfishness, negativity, or insecurity. "It is by grace that you are saved, through faith, not by anything of your own, but by a pure gift from God, and not by anything you have achieved. Nobody can claim the credit. You are God's work of art. — Ephesians 2:8