This is an interesting question. The word is rooted in the Greek word charis, which has to do with favor. It is a word Paul used to describe the changes going on in his life with his conversion. For 2,000 years, theologians have struggled to find the best way to explain what Paul was talking about. You see, things of God are beyond our comprehension. He is so mighty and powerful and oh, so smart. His ways are beyond human language. Thus, it sometimes takes us a bit to figure it out.
Over time, grace has been viewed through many lenses, and there have been varying ways of categorizing, systematizing, and understanding grace. Interestingly enough, the theologians of the last 200 years are, from my opinion and experience, starting to get it right. By this I mean, their wording is better describing my experience and giving me a better vocabulary. You see, grace is nothing but the Holy Spirit who dwells in those who have accepted the Christian way of life. He is constantly seducing us away from the dark side. He is always calling us to a greater and more perfect form of love. He is constantly calling us to share in his divine life. For you see, this is holiness – becoming less so he can become more; dying in Christ so it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.
The word charis was how Paul described the effects of the Holy Spirit within him. You see, it was the indwelling Holy Spirit that taught Paul about the body of Christ and about freedom in Christ. I think our society has a lot to learn about this charis, about how the Holy Spirit works and converts us. I know I do.
In my experience, these lessons start with awareness that our all powerful God gave us free will. He cannot, well, will not, override our will. So, he flutters in and around us trying to entice us to a greater awareness of him. He flutters about and calls us to a greater awareness of our dependence on him. As we participate in the process, we start to realize how he super charges our efforts to avoid sin. It is in being little and asking for his help that we empower him to deliver us from daily occasions of sin. It is in this manner, and this manner alone (from my experience) that we can find greater and greater freedom to choose the greater good over evil and lesser goods. In addition, he teaches wisdom, and a way of more fully living the Gospel; of more fully living life to the fullest as Jesus promised.
Spend some time today talking to the Holy Spirit, and to the extent you don’t already know, get to know this third person of the Trinity. Ask him to help you grow in awareness of his presence. Ask him to improve your awareness of what he is seeking to accomplish in you, and to help you find better freedom in Christ, and a more full life.
Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P.