Dear Brothers and Sisters,
How many of you wouldn’t like to hear God saying to you, “Welcome to Heaven?” Today’s Scripture readings offer us a standing invitation to the everlasting joy of the Heavenly Banquet and a loving warning to stay ever ready for this Heavenly Banquet by constantly wearing the wedding garment, i.e. remaining in a ”state of grace”. A few weeks ago I said that ultimately we have only two options, either heaven or hell. If we are in a state of sin at the time of death, we will go to hell. So always be in the state of grace! I came to know that living in the “state of grace” and “state of sin” are very traditional terms that are not used now a days. People would rather not hear about them. But this is the truth of our destiny. I think we should be well aware of it, whether we like it or not. So what is grace….and how do we live in the “state of grace”? The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines grace as “favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons and daughters, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” ((CCC 1996)
To understand the “state of grace,” let us examine two crucial matters often overlooked. First, how should Christians understand their condition on earth? And second, what is the connection between our earthly lives as human beings and the only two possible final outcomes: endless happiness and total fulfillment in eternal life (Heaven) or the perpetual horror caused by freely choosing something other than God (Hell)? Let’s begin by correcting one terrible – but very common – misunderstanding. Many people define the “state of grace” as the absence of mortal sin. Yes, grave sin is incompatible with the “state of grace,” but this minimalistic understanding is similar to saying, “I’ve been hugely successful in life because I’ve never gone to jail.” There’s more to life than not getting convicted of crimes; and there’s more to the “state of grace” than avoiding mortal sin. To grasp the beauty of living in the “state of grace,” we need a clear definition of “grace.” As cited above, “grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons and daughters, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” Grace actually transforms us into “gods” by adoption. The presence of this “grace” – God’s own life – restores us to God’s own “Image and likeness” thereby empowering us to become truly “God-like,” notably through his mercy and love. Moreover, “grace” draws us into the life of the Trinity. This “state of grace” which begins on earth at the moment of our Baptism, extends forever into eternity. Here we find the essential connection between grace and liberation from death. By nature – by the sin Adam and Eve – human beings all eventually die. There’s no escape. However, when God touches us through “grace,” we begin to share in his divine nature, one of which is immortality. So being in the “state of grace” liberates us from eternal death.
Now, let’s consider the opposite condition. A person who falls out of the “state of grace” through mortal sin loses the necessary link with God and is necessarily excluded from the joy of eternal life. This seems horribly unfair, so we need to understand “mortal sin”. The glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains a mortal sin as, “a grave infraction of the law of God that destroys the divine life in the soul of the sinner (sanctifying grace), constituting a turn away from God. For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must be present: grave matter, full knowledge of the evil of the act, and full consent of the will.” (CCC 1855, 1857) It is a choice against the goodness of God. Note well: God does not move away from the sinner, rather the sinner, through his or her free act of the will, blocks off God’s life-giving grace. This, of course, kills the relationship with God who is the source and preserver of life.
Now, how do I know whether I’m in the “state of grace”? Frankly, we can never know this with absolute certainty. Nor should we conclude that any other person is not in the “state of grace’. ”….We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved….”(CCC 2995) While we can’t have certainty, the regular practice of Confession will compel us to see habits, attitudes, and specific sins, and particularly serious sins that pull us away from God’s goodness, thereby blocking God’s life-giving grace. But as I mentioned at the beginning, the ”state of grace” is not just the absence of sin, it is also the amazing opportunity to live as a child of God, sharing fully in God’s life now and forever. The “state of grace” is the holiness and righteousness of the wedding garment that we need to keep wearing all the time. And to help appreciate it, we need to make use of the provisions for God’s grace found through the participating in the life of the Church. We received a “wedding garment” of sanctifying grace in Baptism, and we receive additional graces to retain it through the other Sacraments. We need to regain the grace in the Sacrament of Confession, if we have lost it. Our participation in the Eucharistic celebration, and in personal, and family prayers, help us to recharge our spiritual batteries and enable us to lead grace-filled lives. Our call is to be saints, if not it is a great tragedy. We need to wear our wedding garment for the Eucharistic banquet each time we come to participate in it. According to St. Gregory, men and women who come to the wedding feast with hatred in their hearts do not wear the acceptable garment spoken of in the parable. Faith and Love cannot be cold for they are the righteousness and holiness of men and women who wear the wedding garment pleasing to Jesus Christ, our King. Let us examine whether we have fully responded to God’s invitation to the Messianic banquet, remembering that banqueting implies friendship, intimacy, trust, and reconciliation.
God bless you,