The expression which forms the title needs a preliminary justification, and this justification lies in the fact that it was pronounced by a Saint.
On the 5thJune, 1897, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus turning to the sisters, said: “If one morning you should find me dead, do not grieve. Might it not be God the Father who had come to take me away? Certainly, it is great grace to receive the sacraments, but when God does not permit this, it is equally a grace, everything is a grace.” (NovissimaVerba.)
This audacious and suggestive expression, so rich in meaning, provides matter of fundamental interest in the spiritual life which can be usefully developed.
The sanctifying grace which constitutes the substance of spiritual life, from its beginnings up to its full expansion, is, as the name reveals, a free gift of God, who through His supreme and merciful will, imparts lovingly His divine life to souls. This divine life, while surpassing every need and every level of the human nature to which it is offered, at the same time respects the liberty and personal dignity of the soul. Thus the gift of God is at the same time a vitalizing reality in so far as supernatural life operates through it, and a vital fact in that it is realized not from without, but from within the living rhythm of human liberty and responsibility. It is for this reason that the Christian is capable of merit and personal sanctity.
But as sanctifying grace thus becomes an intimate reality for man, and a principle of divine life, it is for that very reason also ordained to action.
Now, as man, through perfectly capable of leading his natural life, cannot do so actively without the continuous cooperation of God; so the Christian, though invested with habitual grace, can make no act of grace without divine cooperation of a supernatural order which makes actual the power of sanctifying grace in the individual soul. And this divine cooperation is what we call actual grace.
Theologians minutely analyze the structure of this divine help which excites, warns, accompanies, sustains, disposes, elevates, corroborates and gives power to the life of the Christian. Here, we need only stress the fact that all the personal powers of man are influenced by this intervention of God, which works as much on the spiritual faculties, such as the intellect and the will as on the sensitive faculties, such as the imagination and the sense.
No part of the living man can escape this dynamic force of actual grace if a personal action of the Christian be the fruit of sanctifying grace or even only a positive disposition towards it.
Thus, the fruitful harmony between the double grace, sanctifying and actual, constitutes a fundamental aspect of Christian life and sanctity where both graces are interwoven, not in equality of function, but through an identical necessity.
And here the Theresian expression which we have taken as our starting point obliges us to pause for a more precise analysis of actual grace.
THE WILL OF GOD AND GRACE
The immediate source of actual grace is the divine will. As God mercifully and freely desires us to be sons, creating for us sanctifying grace, so, mercifully and freely by an act of His will, He offers us actual grace. But while the first has the characteristics of a permanent and stable gift, the second is transitory, intermittent, incessantly being renewed, thus rendering possible the translation of the first gift into action.
A comparison will make this thought clearer. Imagine that sanctifying grace is a heart. This heart, in order to carry out its mission of life, needs the unceasing beats of its magnificent rhythm. This is the perennial rhythm of actual grace.
The will of God is therefore employed differently in the bestowed of the two graces. While for sanctifying grace, a permanent reality must be created, for actual grace, it is necessary for God to renew the vitalizing impulse to good works continuously.
At this point, the question arises as to how God actually offers these impulses to souls and in what manner he lets the power of these impulses reach them.
In the first place, every actual grace proceeds from a real and true, efficacious will by which God offers positively, in concrete form, definite help to a definite soul in order that it may perform a definite meritorious action. Consequently, if we consider the gratuitous nature of this actual grace, we must affirm that its bestowal takes place in accordance with the designs of a special divine providence, planned for each Christian.
This question is of obvious and decisive importance, for it fixes the attention on the crucial moment of the whole process of actual grace, which from its transitory nature must be either recognized at once and grasped, or remain unrecognized and be lost.
God, therefore, must make manifest to us all in a very simple and clear manner the mysterious offers of grace which He makes, if He wishes, as indeed He does, that we should respond.
We might be tempted to believe that God had instituted some extraordinary method of making His individual graces known, but in reality, it is quite simple. Actual graces are the gestures of the divine will. God, therefore, manifests them to us in the same manner in which He makes His will known to us, that is by divine providence.
It might be objected that not everything that takes place in the compass of divine will is actual grace, for in any case much is the simple permissive will of God, while grace is a positive efficacious will. But this objection falls if one considers that the acceptance of all providence is desired by God as a duty for us. This acceptance is therefore God’s positive will for us, and as such, our filial duty.
But God does not impose any duty upon us without offering grace to carry it out, and thus every act of divine providence, even if only of a permissive nature, becomes for us an objective and definite offer of actual grace. Here, at last, the audacious affirmation of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus shines forth in its full meaning: “All is grace.”
Grace remains that specific and mysterious supernatural reality, comprehending everything which enters our life through the law of Providence. It is in fact the thought of St. Paul, “Diligentibus Deum Omnia cooperantur in bonum”: and St. Thomas, commenting on the Apostle, adds: “Etiampeccata,” which may appear disconcerting, but is not if one but thinks of the secret wisdom with which God permits our misery in order to impose upon us duties of humility and prayer.
Looked at in this perspective, the providence of God is no longer the mysterious and bitter law which weaves our life of few joys and many sorrows, overshadowed by the dark problems of evil and suffering, but becomes transfigured into a perpetual heralding of a rain of merciful graces upon our souls. And in life, through providence, everything becomes truly a grace.
The actions of external providence, life, death, family, country, grief, joy, our state of life, friendship, illness, privation, struggle, adversity, study, work—in short, everything from the cradle to the grave constitutes an infallible offer of numberless graces.
The actions of internal providence, illuminations of the mind, invitations to the will, emotions of sentiment, the light of knowledge, struggles of conscience, the battles of the heart, the splendor of life, the misery of passions and sin—in short, all that man knows in his inmost heart, all that he experiences and suffers, shows forth with consoling certainty, the presence of graces capable of making our life victorious for all eternity.
ACCEPTANCE OF GRACE
Thus, through divine providence, external and internal, in a more or less immediate manner, the riches of actual grace are offered to us continually. But every offer place before us the alternative of acceptance or refusal. Either we accept providence and make use of grace, or we refuse providence and grace is lost.
It is easy to say that our sanctity does not consist primarily in our personal efforts, but rather in the working of grace within us, and that spiritual life should tend to leave the field free for the initiative of God. But it is always very necessary to warn souls that the action of grace and the initiative of God are expressed in definite workings of divine providence is the presupposed basis of every authentic surrender to grace. Not without reason was the Saint of total surrender the authoress of the now famous saying: “All is grace.”
And here it may be of use to lay some stress on the demands which the acceptance of providence makes on us.
Padre Anastasio del SS. Rosario, Rome
(Taken from SicutParvuli, Vol. XIII, April 1951, No.2, Pgs 68-79)