Powerful song lyrics or eloquent quotes from literature often serve as compact vessels for complex truths. They give us nuggets of truth, which we can internalize like the seeds of faith that can be watered over time. I know this to be true in my own life. A Franciscan visiting my confirmation class, who in one sentence defined God as love, helped to birth my vocation.
One of our faith’s complex truths, the notion of grace, is one of these complicated dogmatic issues. Theologians have pondered for centuries the relationship between God’s grace and our actions. Is God a sort of puppeteer who gives us grace right before we choose on our own to do the right thing? Does His grace help us to make that choice in the first place? These are all good questions.
A well-known song by the name of “Amazing Grace” certainly provides us with song lyrics powerful enough to pull our heart strings and enlighten our minds about this complicated issue. The song is definitely a tear jerker. During this time of Lent, when we as Catholics engage in a series of disciplines, it is helpful more than ever to understand grace. The song “Amazing Grace,” may however do more to confuse than clarify the truth about grace.
In this famous anthem we sing, for example, “How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.” This lyric suggests that grace appears only after I believe. Although it is true that there is a sort of cause and effect in our our relationship with God, this version of causality seems to present some problems. Our Lenten practices exemplify just why God’s grace must always precede our redemptive actions. When I fast during Lent, my action is meant to draw me closer to God. But can God be any closer to me than when it is actually His grace that is moving me to and sustaining me while I fast?
How we understand our relationship with God is a fundamental key to opening up our faith. And although the mechanics of grace seems to be one of the most misunderstood concepts of our faith, we see yet again that Lent shows us the way towards understanding the truth. As we pray, fast and give alms this Lent, we do so knowing that these acts draw us closer to God. But it is also God who prompts, directs and sustains us to do these things in the first place. What a God we have!
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
By Ryan Bilodeau