This is the second of three posts on my reflections on virtuous topics suggested to me by other people this Lent. The first was Lord, Make Me Faithful.
The word "graceful" is defined by Merriam-Webster online as "displaying grace in form or action : pleasing or attractive in line, proportion, or movement." The linked definition for "grace" offers several meanings, and the first of them is "a: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification b: a virtue coming from God c: a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace." Then, even as the dictionary defines the word, "graceful" could mean displaying in form or action God's divine assistance, virtue, and sanctification.
To distinguish the word here from other meanings of "graceful," such as "attractive in line or proportion," I hyphenated the word into "grace-ful," meaning full of grace.
The meanings of the Greek word translated as "grace" in the New Testament, as shown in Strong's online, include that which affords joy, sweetness, loveliness; good will, loving-kindness, favour (including God's merciful kindness by which He turns souls to Christ and strengthens them in faith and the exercise of virtues); and the spiritual condition of someone who is governed by the power of divine grace.
St. John of the Cross wrote of grace as one of the means of God's presence, mentioned in a post a few weeks ago titled Nature, Contemplation and the Beauty of God:
In The Spiritual Canticle, 11:3, St. John of the Cross described three forms of God’s presence:
(1) Presence by essence is God’s presence in all creatures. “With this presence he gives them life and being. Should this essential presence be lacking to them, they would all be annihilated.”
(2) Presence by grace is God’s presence indwelling the faithful who do not fall into mortal sin.
(3) Presence by love is God’s presence to devout souls in ways that refresh, delight and gladden them.
That earlier post talked about God's presence by essence, as He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and by Him all things hold together. This post talks about God's presence as He indwells us by grace. In it, according to St. John of the Cross, God "abides in the soul, pleased and satisfied with it."
Holy Week turns our thoughts of grace to Easter. The price of God's grace was the Crucifixion. It is in taking up our crosses and following Him that we become more like Him, acting in grace toward others: "displaying grace in form or action," to apply the Merriam-Webster definition of "graceful." We reflect upon that Trinitarian grace that indwells us, and ponder the love of Christ who went to the cross to give us that grace.
St. Teresa of Avila also wrote about God's indwelling us by grace in Interior Castle, and St. Edith Stein drew from both St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila in her chapter on the presence of God in The Science of the Cross. Applying what they wrote, St. Edith Stein said, "The indwelling by grace is possible only in personal-spiritual beings, for it requires the free acceptance of sanctifying grace by the recipient." We can be grace-ful only by the free acceptance of sanctifying grace. This is seen in the baptism of infants, where the parents freely accept God's grace for their child, and the child later ratifies that free acceptance by a life of faith. The "life of grace and virtue," she says, is an effect of God's life within us.
The entire Trinity indwells us in grace, according to those three saints. The love within the Trinity, as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit love each other in eternity, thus exists within our souls.
We might think of that indwelling by grace particularly as it relates to the union with God in prayer. However, we should think too of how that indwelling works in our "lives of grace and virtue," as St. Edith Stein put it. We live grace-ful lives in relationship with others when we freely accept God's sanctifying grace toward us and then, in turn, show grace freely offered to those around us.
Jesus showed grace to the thief on the cross. He showed grace by dying for us while we were sinners. He showed grace by appearing to His disciples in the Resurrection, even to Thomas who doubted, and to Peter who had denied Him. Grace shows kindness to those who have not shown kindness to us.
St. John of the Cross' life and letters provide an example of how that grace can be lived out in our lives with those around us. During his suffering later in life, he wrote to a Carmelite nun that she should not let what was happening to him cause her grief, for it did not cause any for him (Letter 26). "Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love," he wrote to her. The love that we can be sure to draw out is God's love. He did not mean to suggest that we would get other people to like us better if we try to treat them well -- that may happen, or it may not, and it was not his point. For love given in grace is not given in neediness for something in return from the one loved.
St. John gave love where there was no love, and was thus the source of the light of Christ in the lives of others in their, and his, dark nights of the soul. He was Christ's grace for them, full of grace, in that he gave love drawing from God's presence indwelling him in grace. He sought thereby to gain a fuller indwelling of God's grace and to draw out more of God's love within himself.
We too are grace-ful when we live toward others in grace, following Christ's example of love, where there is or is not love among people, where other people do or do not love us, knowing that the love of the Trinity is within the innermost part of our being, and that we will draw out love from the Trinity as we live grace-ful lives.