“And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16 RSV-CE).
Growing up as a Protestant from a very non-sacramental background, the notion that sacraments gave us grace from Christ, and especially notions of infant baptism or that the sacraments work ex opere operato (that is, “by the very fact of the action’s being performed”), were very hard to believe, or even to take seriously. This was compounded by the myriad examples of faithless Catholics, who maybe went to church at Christmas and Easter but who otherwise didn’t care about their faith. If baptism makes one a born-again child of God, forgives all sins up to that moment, and fills them with grace, the virtues of faith, hope, and love, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and if Confirmation renews and reinvigorates the graces received at baptism as the confirmandi declare that they are choosing to live for Christ as Catholics, and if the Eucharist is itself Jesus Christ received bodily through the mystery of transubstantiation, well, shouldn’t that have some sort of positive effect on a person? Granted that the Catholic needs to have properly disposed himself to receive the sacrament for its full effect to be realized, nevertheless, it seemed to me that the sacraments couldn’t be much more than symbols if they didn’t actually accomplish anything in the lives of so many people.
My best friend, who is a university campus minister, was chatting with me the other day about the amazing things he has been experiencing in his ministry—about students whose faith is suddenly coming alive after having lived the moderately Catholic lives described above. It was as though they just needed a little nudge, or a push, to make them realize the truth, beauty, and goodness of the faith they’d taken for granted for so long! Simple conversations, opportunities for prayer and service, and solid catechesis from Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, frequently led the nominal to have great devotion, bringing them to an encounter with Jesus that they had somehow missed out on before now. My friend commented about how he almost feels bad that he doesn’t have to do more, that his job almost seems too easy. Instead of hours of planning and programming and scheming the most impacting approach to evangelizing (he has a background in marketing and fundraising), he instead finds the most impact when he is simply being present to those who come to him—through talking with them, eating with them, playing ping-pong with them, and praying with them.
My friend compared them to piñatas, who have been stuffed with graces from God from their baptisms, their confirmations, and all their many confessions and communions, but with no real understanding, no genuine encounter with Jesus and His Holy Spirit, they had no outlet for the grace that He had given them. It’s those graces received that have made my friend’s job seem so “easy”. He has the opportunity to, as it were, break open the piñatas so that the abundant graces can flow freely out and impact the rest of the campus community!
The reality is that we don’t always see the way that God’s grace is working in someone’s life—especially, dare I say, in the lives of our families. But rather than despairing about children who seem so far from God, hope rather in the graces they have received, and pray that God will bring someone, like my friend, into their lives who can give them that spiritual whack needed to break open the grace-piñata.
If publishing article online please attribute source Serviam Ministries with link to original article.