Amazing grace, a gift poured out from God

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That’s it. That’s how it happens. That’s the only way it happens, in fact, what Ezekiel said happened to him. He heard a voice: “Son of man, stand up! I wish to speak with you.” And then it happened, what Ezekiel said: “As he spoke to me, the spirit entered into me and set me on my feet” (Ez 2:1-2). That’s how he found his vocation, his strength: God spoke to him as his spirit entered him, setting him on his feet. As I said, that’s how it always happens, and not just for the likes of Ezekiel. But even for me and you.

St. Paul talks about something similar, the same thing really, when in his letter to the Romans he wrote about faith and grace, how faith gives us access to grace, giving us hope in turn, inviting God to pour his love into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:1-5). It’s grace by means of which we are adopted by God and enabled to call him “Abba” (Rom 8:15). It’s the grace that gives us our destiny, the “love of God in Christ Jesus” from which we can never be separated (cf. Rom 8:35-39).

St. Thomas Aquinas called what I’m talking about the “New Law,” the grace God gives to those who have faith in Christ. It is a lex indita, an interior law that God writes upon the hearts of the faithful. It is the grace of the Holy Spirit present in the heart enabling the faithful to live out the truth of the Gospel from within, following the commands of the Gospel not as an external law. Paul called it a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). Another word for it is freedom.

Interior strength

Now I dwell on this to underline this truth: This is the source of whatever strength we possess as Christians, the grace that is poured into our hearts. It is an interior gift, an interior source of strength that comes not from us but from God, the only one able to give us a gift so intimate. And only this gift gives us strength, nothing else. It’s the only gift strong enough to make Ezekiel strong, the only gift strong enough to strengthen Paul.

July 7 – Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ez 2:2-5

Ps 123:1-2, 2, 3-4

2 Cor 12:7-10

Mk 6:1-6

Which clearly is strength the faithful need — prophets and apostles and us. Only that sort of strength could make Paul strong even in his weakness, no matter the “insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints” (2 Cor 12:10). Only that sort of strength could give him the courage to continue. Ezekiel was called upon to confront a “rebellious house,” a people “stubborn of heart” (Ez 2:4-5). Jesus had to confront the unbelief and stubbornness of those who should have known him best (cf. Mk 6:1-6). That seems to be the flipside to the strength God gives us in grace; it’s the reason why God gives us such strength. Because those God calls to serve his will and purpose can expect to encounter opposition. As Paul wrote elsewhere to the Corinthians, “a door has been opened for me wide and productive for work, but there are many opponents” (1 Cor 16:9). That’s just the truth of the game; that’s why we need strength.

But how does one begin to discover this grace, this strength? Here the Scriptures are crystal clear. If you read on in this passage from Ezekiel, you’ll read about how God handed him a “written scroll” just as in the same breath he said, “As for you, son of man, hear me when I speak to you” (Ez 2:8-9). Paul put it this way: “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the words of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Jesus began his preaching once by simply saying, “Listen” (Mk 4:3, RSV). You see what I’m getting at? That’s how you can find this grace, by seeking out the word of God, listening to God in the Scripture. Which — and it’s not any more complicated than that — is all you have to do: open your Bible and read; go to Mass and really listen. For really that’s how it happens. That’s the only way it happens.

Father Joshua J. Whitfield

Father Joshua J. Whitfield is pastor of St. Rita Catholic Community in Dallas and author of “The Crisis of Bad Preaching” (Ave Maria Press, $17.95) and other books.