When I was in boot camp, I had to climb a tall diving board and jump off, just as if I were abandoning ship. If I survived the fall and belly flop, I then had to take off my shirt, tie the sleeves and hold on, as I quickly swept the shirt over my head. (Ever try to that in water?) The air captured in the shirt was supposed to keep me afloat, although I took on enough water to almost visit Davey Jones’ locker – the bottom of the sea, the resting place of drowned mariners. We should have had the test on deep sea diving.
I imagined myself transported instantaneously to the bottom of the ocean. What’s the very first thing I would do? That’s right: die. I would die because I don’t have the right breathing apparatus to live underwater.
It’s much the same with our soul. In its natural state, it isn’t fit for heaven. It doesn’t have the right equipment, and if you die with your soul in its natural state, heaven won’t be for you. What we need to live there is supernatural life, not just natural life. That supernatural life is called sanctifying grace.
A recent Sunday gospel reading was centered on grace. Christianity is supremely a religion of grace. Grace teaches us that God does for others what we would never do for them. We would save the not-so-bad. God starts with prostitutes and then works downward from there. Grace is a gift that costs everything to the giver and nothing to the receiver. It is given to those who do not deserve it, barely recognize it and hardly appreciate it. In the end grace means that no one is too bad to be saved.
It’s so easy to take grace for granted. After a time we come to demand grace just like the workers of the Sunday parable. In the kingdom of God, there is no such thing as merit. God’s grace is granted according to His good pleasure. Many of us identify with the employees who put in a full day’s work, rather than the add-ons at the end of the day. We like to think of ourselves as responsible workers and the employer’s strange behavior baffles us. But, let’s not miss the point of the story: God dispenses gifts, not wages. God’s favor is a gift. Like a gift, the only thing we can do with grace is to receive it.
How do we find God’s grace? Just ask for it. That’s all. It’s really that simple. When we get to heaven, there will be no contest to see who was the most deserving of God’s grace because no one deserved it. There will only be one contest in heaven.
When we look back and see what we were before, when we see the pit from which he rescued us, when we recall how confused we were, when we remember how God reached out and hired us into His family, and how He held us in his hand, and when we see Jesus who loved us and gave himself for us, the only contest will be to see which of us will sing the loudest, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
Father Dennis Meinen serves as chaplain at Holy Spirit Retirement Home, Sioux City, for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the diocese and Calix; and Faithful Friar of the Garrigan 4th Degree Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, Algona.