What is grace? In everyday language, grace means a freely bestowed gift, worthy of admiration and associated with the idea of blessing, beauty and salvation.
As a special divine action, grace is also an unmerited gift from God. The Bible and Catholic liturgy overflow with references to grace, and theology has a complex taxonomy of grace. Nevertheless, the various names and types of grace share one key idea: a second birth into a new and holy life, like a seed in the ground that grows into a plant and bears fruit.
In this new life of sanctifying grace, a human being participates in the life of God, becoming an adopted child of God. St Augustine, as a young man in the Roman Empire, speculated about the existence and nature of divinity. Only after his baptism into the life of grace, however, did he speak to God in personal and passionate terms, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved you!”
How does contemporary research help us understand the idea of grace? A new metaphor I propose from psychology is that grace removes the spiritual autism towards God with which we are born. The acceptance of grace is like drawing back a veil, enabling a person to know God and to live in the hope of seeing God face-to-face.
On this account, grace imprints the development of a person’s moral, intellectual and spiritual dispositions. We start to relate to others as potential or actual children of God, and life takes on a sacramental and liturgical character. Given the far-reaching consequences for works of mercy, art, law, music, science and much else, grace is key to our salvation and happiness and, as a bonus, helps us to understand our civilisation.
From more on grace, see the video Grace, available from St Anthony Communications