Growth in closeness to Christ through Grace

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The friend of the hero travels along the same paths as the hero, always remaining close to him, standing at his side as Aaron with Moses and Elisha with Elijah. Or, to take an example from literature, as Sam was inseparable from Frodo as they endured the perils of the journey through Mordor.

The same is true for the man who has the call to be a close friend of Jesus Christ. Just as the apostles followed Jesus Christ along the roads of Palestine, so the friend of the Hero today is called to follow him along the trails of sanctifying grace. For by his initial decision to follow Christ by baptism the follower has been initiated into a mysterious union with Him by which he has the Hero’s very life in his soul: sanctifying grace.

Here is the key to understand and live priesthood! Here is the key also to understanding how a man can dare to make the awesome sacrifices of marriage and physical fatherhood through the vow of sacred chastity: Grace!  Neither the call nor the power come from us:  they come from another world, the mysterious world of the supernatural whereby we become  divinized men with supernatural powers enabling us to act in ways superior to the merely human. This fire has been struck by no human hand but by the divine touch. It is God who takes the initiative ‒ for “in this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us…” (1 Jn. 4:10). Growth in closeness to the Heroic Christ is a matter of allowing yourself to be overcome by the reality of Jesus Christ  present mystically through grace.

“Sanctifying grace is an habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love… the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God’s call…”  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2000).  Divine grace is the regenerating action of the Holy Spirit in man’s soul, vivifying, enlightening with creativity, strengthening for endurance in the face of the onslaughts of the Enemy. In no mere human decision but in the reception of grace is where lies your way to closeness with Jesus Christ. Something else is needed besides frail human efforts to persevere as comrade-in-arms. Since sacred chastity was born not from a mere human desire but from a love not of this world, perseverance is guaranteed as long as the priest is renewed from the fountain of all holiness: the divine life (sanctifying grace) with its power for loving divinely.

For sanctifying grace is real life, as real as biological life, made present to you through baptism and intensified by the reception of the other sacraments and by actual graces. Grace establishes not merely a moral relationship with God but a “physical” union, since simultaneous to the entry of sanctifying grace in the soul is the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity – a real “physical” union between the Christian and God.

By sanctifying grace you have the “life-blood” of Jesus Christ flowing through your veins empowering you to know, love and follow Him. For it is grace, ignited by prayer, that brings about an inner fire,  that “deep waters cannot quench….nor floods sweep [it] away” (Song of Songs 8:6) – and from here, and from the specific actual graces linked to your vocation, comes the power to weather all the hardships of the journey in following the Hero.

This is why the priest is capable of living out sacrifices, notably sacred celibacy, sacrifices that otherwise would be impossible. His power comes from the Creator of the universe who has singled him out as one whose love would be wholly given over to Him who knows him from eternity: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer.1:5). Celibacy is not for all but only for those whom God has “set apart” for this mission: “Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given….there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” (Mt. 19:11-12) Our call therefore is from Him and so our strength is in  Him “who is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for or even think of, by means of the power working in us” (Eph 3:20)

And just as God “remains faithful for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13), just as Jesus promised the apostles “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt.28:20), so no temptation will ever have the power to destroy celibacy: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”(1 Cor 10:13). Thus we know that “our help is in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 124:8); thus we know that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31); thus the conclusion: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”(Phil 4:13).