Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Full Measure of God's Grace

I was struck by this morning's first reading from Ephesians 4:7-16:

Grace was given to each of usaccording to the measure of Christ's gift.Therefore, it says:
He ascended on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men.
What does 'he ascended' mean except that he also descendedinto the lower regions of the earth?The one who descended is also the one who ascendedfar above all the heavens,that he might fill all things.
And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,for building up the Body of Christ,until we all attain to the unity of faithand knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhoodto the extent of the full stature of Christ,so that we may no longer be infants,tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teachingarising from human trickery,from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming.Rather, living the truth in love,we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ,from whom the whole Body,joined and held together by every supporting ligament,with the proper functioning of each part,brings about the Body's growth and builds itself up in love.
Normally we are so caught up in looking at this reading as being about the various ministries raised up by Jesus Christ that we completely miss the main point Paul makes in the beginning about grace.

Let's hear that first verse again. "Grace was given to each of us according to the full measure of Christ's gift." In Greek it is "Ἑνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν ἐδόθη χάρις κατὰ τὸ μέτρον τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ." Literally this means "To each one of us has been given the grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." As in English, so in Greek, "the gift of Christ" can be either, "Christ's gift," i.e. whatever Christ chooses to give (which may tempt us to think that Christ is arbitrary and plays favorites), or "the gift that is Christ." Given the context that Christ is to "fill all things" and that "we all" are to "attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the extent of the full stature of Christ," again all of us not some of us, the reading seems pretty clear. Though Christ has given different ministries of service and hence different "graces" to different people, we are all given the same measure of grace to attain to perfect maturity in Christ Jesus, a measure as deep as the infinity of the Godhead, everlasting and immeasurable, as is the height and depth and length and width of the love of God, who has given us himself by giving us Christ Jesus (cf. Eph 3:18). Truly then, by not sparing Christ Jesus, but rather giving him up for me and to me (especially in the Eucharist), God the Father has truly graced me with all things besides along with gracing me with the gift that is Jesus (cf. Rom 8:32 the Greek uses "χαρίσεται" "to give graciously, give freely, bestow" i.e. "to grace" where most modern translations use "give".). We remember that "grace builds upon nature and perfects it," according to the scholastic axiom. Therefore, in giving me Jesus, the Father has given me every grace according to the fullness of His very Godhead, not only in regard to my own sanctification - how I can fail to become a saint is now only a matter of what can stand in the way of my receiving the full measure of this grace, my vices and sins and especially my unbelief - but also in regard to the sanctification and salvation of everyone else. This seems a bold statement even as I think it and write it, but I am reminded by the upcoming feast of All Saints that the intercession of the saints indeed distributes to others grace from Christ as if it were the possession of the saints because Christ has indeed shared with them his salvific mission. They are completely united in him. Won't I, then, in heaven, and certainly more perfectly than here below, be one who distributes to others grace from Christ? Then what is to say that very role does not start here? Why else would the Church ask its members to lift up prayers of petition and intercession for themselves and for the world?

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." Mt 7:7-8. How true this is when one is asking for the good of others just as one has already received in Christ as much grace as the depths of God himself!

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