As he did with Mary and Joseph and so many others two thousand years ago, God is still pouring his grace upon the church. The more alert we are spiritually, the more we will be able to recognize the grace when it comes to us.
It may occur when we are at Mass and a new insight or a new feeling comes to us. It may occur as we are talking to one of our children or a friend. Another moment may happen as we are on our way to work or while we are talking a walk. Really, it can happen any time. The key is to recognize these moments as gifts from God.
In this article, we want to focus on how these moments of grace can inspire us and draw us closer to Jesus.
A Moment of Grace for Mary. We’re all familiar with the time when Mary and Joseph lost Jesus in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52). It took them three whole days of searching before they found him in the Temple, where he was talking with the esteemed teachers of Judaism. “Son,” Mary said, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” In reply, Jesus asked: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:48-49). Mary didn’t fully understand Jesus’ answer, but she “kept all these things in her heart” (2:51).
Most mothers, if their son had given them an answer like that, would have said something like: “I don’t want to hear any excuses, just get in the car.” Or, “I can’t believe you did this. Your father just lost three days’ worth of wages. You’re in big trouble, young man.” If Mary had responded like that, she would have missed the opportunity for grace that was right in front of her.
Of course, Mary was frustrated and anxious—her son had been missing for three days! But she didn’t get angry. She didn’t let her anxiety cloud her trust in God and her ability to listen carefully. The moment she heard Jesus say: “I must be in my Father’s house,” she recognized that something special was going on, and she quieted her mind and pondered Jesus’ words (Luke 2:49). She sensed that this was a moment of grace, when Jesus was revealing a little more about himself to her and Joseph, and she chose to hold it close to her heart and spend time meditating on it.
Do I Believe? Every Advent, the church recalls the wondrous events surrounding the birth of Jesus—from the Annunciation to Mary to the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. All of these stories can fill us with a sense of wonder and awe. But even as we are immersed in these wonderful feelings, it’s good to ask: “Where is my faith? Do I believe in these miracles, or do I just accept them as comforting Christmas stories? Do I believe that Jesus came into Mary’s womb miraculously? Do I believe that God can speak to people in dreams? Do I believe that he can use a star to guide lives? Do I believe that unborn babies can recognize holiness, as John the Baptist did? Do I believe? Do I believe?
On a human level, all of these events were impossible. But on a spiritual level, they were divinely appointed moments of grace. Logic tells us that they should not have happened, that they could not have happened. It can also be easy to mistake casual acceptance for deep faith since these events took place so long ago. There is nothing immediate here, no sense of urgency. It’s all ancient history, and we can just take them in stride, as if we were hearing a story or even a fairy tale. But the result is that the truths behind these events do not pierce our hearts.
By contrast, a position of faith says: “I believe that God did something very special for us so long ago because he loves us. And I believe that he still loves us today.” This is the testimony that dominates the Prologue to John’s Gospel: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory” (John 1:14, emphasis added). “From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace” (1:16).
Now Is the Time! This position of faith should lead us to another conclusion as well: What happened then can happen now! In fact, it should happen now! We should see miracles in our lives and in our church. Faith like this should lead us to be expectant. It asks us to clear the way in our hearts for God to work.
Every day, God is ready to give all of us moments of grace. He wants us all to be able to recognize these moments as opportunities that he is offering us. In fact, he wants them to become a part of our everyday lives. This can sound a bit daunting, but if people like Elizabeth, Simeon, and Anna were able to recognize them, why shouldn’t we?
All we have to do is to make Jesus the first priority of our lives. Simeon and Anna heard from God because of the time they spent in the Temple praying and fasting. Mary could accept the angel’s message because she trusted God. She placed God’s desires and his plans above her own objectives. Joseph was able to lead the Holy Family because he obeyed God’s voice instead of his own logic.
Suppose these people were too distracted. Suppose they were too busy. Where would we be today? But they weren’t. They were open to God. They were alert. And that made them more willing to obey. These people were special because they recognized these moments of grace and they accepted them. They placed their faith in them, even though they didn’t have complete clarity about what was happening. So let’s follow their example and try not to get distracted. Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and his grace.
Modern Moments of Grace. In a sermon given before the Holy Father, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household, recounted one of his own more important moments of grace: “In a prayer meeting,” he said, “someone opened the Bible and read a passage from John—‘I have called you friends’ (John 15:15). For some reason, the word ‘friends’ struck me to a depth I have never experienced; it moved something in the depth of my being, so much so that for the rest of the day I kept repeating it to myself, full of wonder. I simply could not believe that Jesus called me his friend! My Lord and my God has called me friend! I am his friend. And it seemed to me that I could fly over the roofs of the city and even go through fire with that certainty.”
A few months ago, a fellow named Don was in a tough situation. He had been out of work for a while and was beginning to feel the pinch. He was also taking care of his dying grandmother. One day, Don asked her: “Grandma, when you get to heaven, would you ask Jesus to help me find a job?” “Of course I will,” she replied weakly. Well, she died in her sleep that night, and only five minutes after she passed away, Don’s telephone rang. Right there, in the middle of the night, he was offered a good job. It may be just a coincidence, but Don is convinced that his grandmother, having just gone to heaven, interceded for him and was answered. For him, it was a moment of grace.
Ask, Seek, and Knock. Every day, God wants to pour his grace on us in both big and little ways. Sometimes he will give us insight into his love or his plan. Other times he will comfort us or encourage us. Sometimes he will give us words of warning and urge us to repent, and other times he may move us to seek out his healing power. During this season of Advent, let’s be especially open to these moments when God gives them. Let’s believe that what happened to Fr. Raniero and to Don can happen to us as well.
So be persistent when you pray. Ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7-11). Sometimes the greatest moments of grace come because we have stepped out in faith and sought the Lord eagerly and expectantly.
But more than just praying, try to be alert. If some unexpected thought comes into your mind, it just may be a moment of grace. It just may be God who is prompting you to give a word of comfort to your neighbor. It just may be God who is suggesting that you stop what you’re doing for a minute and pray. It just may be God who is asking you to give a little donation to the poor as you balance your checkbook—even though money is a little tight right now.
So during this Advent season, ask Jesus every day to pour his grace on yourself, your family, your neighborhood, and your parish. Tell Jesus, “I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Let your faith in the miracles of the first Advent stir you into believing that God can do miracles today!