The book that taught me ‘everything is grace’

When life smoothly sails along and everything seems to be going according to plan, it is easy to fall into the temptation that we are blessed and open to God’s graces and inspirations. Yet when it comes to our failures and seasons of sufferings, how do we view them? Most of the time, our answer is not “grace!” Yet, St. Thérèse of Lisieux would argue otherwise, for she believed “all is grace.”

One of my favorite books, “The Diary of a Country Priest,” speaks to this. The author, Georges Bernanos, was a Catholic devoted to St. Thérèse. The Little Flower was so influential in Bernanos’ life that he developed the main character of “The Diary of a Country Priest,” the young curé — the priest in charge of a parish — of Ambricourt, to reflect the saint’s spirituality.

A priest and Thérèse

Bernanos’ novel is written in the form of a diary that records the thoughts and struggles of a young curé dying from stomach cancer. Despite his infirmity and being surrounded by the darkness of sin and infidelity of his parishioners, the curé sees grace working in every aspect of his daily life. Even though he regards himself to be a poor instrument of God’s grace, falsely believing himself to be a failure in his parish, the curé realizes an essential attribute of the Christian life as he utters on his deathbed, “Everything is grace.”

This reflection seems to be a very simple statement, yet it contains a profound reality of the Christian life. Throughout each day, God continually offers us grace, the gift of his very own life. The good, as well as the bad, are opportunities for us to accept his grace and are our means in growing in holiness and love of God. As grace perfects nature, every moment of our lives then becomes the means of our sanctification if we but allow it to be so.

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This mentality encompasses Thérèse’s Little Way. During her life, Thérèse showed “what matters in life is not great deeds, but great love.” She taught us to “miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it for love.” Thérèse, like the curé, found sanctity in performing her daily duties without ever feeling the need to complete heroic acts.

Yet, the events in our lives do not need to make sense for them to be sources of grace. After all, God tells Isaiah, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Is 55:8). This is why the curé and Thérèse view their sufferings as grace, for they realize they are able to grow in virtue and their love for God through these confusing trials.

Bernanos’ curé particularly shows that grace can be found in moments of darkness, frustration and suffering. Though he feels there was a “wall of darkness” around him, he writes that “human agony is beyond all an act of love.” He patiently suffers being misunderstood, ridiculed, rejected and slandered by his flock while struggling with a mysterious sickness — all as a way to demonstrate his love for God. This enables the dying priest to persist in his faithfulness to Christ, even when experiencing the dark night of the soul as he willingly offers all to God in sheer abandonment.

The way of sanctity

As Catholics, we believe that grace is the gift of God’s very life within us. We believe that at baptism, God made his dwelling in our souls and he generously pours out his grace to us throughout the day. Grace, therefore, is not limited to the sacraments but extends to all aspects of our daily life: both in moments of joy and contentment as well as sorrow, pain and frustration. However, so often the grace presented to us remains hidden in our daily interactions because we fail to realize the gift being offered to us, or because we are not open to God’s work within us.

This is why moments of quiet throughout the day are essential, for they invite us to reflect how God is operating in our lives. The hidden moments of grace are often not glamorous. They appear in the mundane workings of our daily life.

Seeing with the eyes of faith, we see grace alive and active in the conversations we have, in experiencing the kindness of a stranger, or in moments when a prayer is answered. We view our day in light of grace when we see how the annoyance of being stuck in traffic becomes an opportunity to grow in patience, or how rising to the beep of an alarm clock becomes the means of offering the day to God. Grace, again, can be seen operating when we accept the difficulties and disappointments of the day serenely and, most importantly, when in moments of darkness we make an act of faith and trust in God.

Cooperating with God’s grace brings about a beautiful transformation within. It allows us to be open to and fully rely upon him. It strengthens us in our pursuit of virtue by allowing us to sanctify each moment of the day, each joy and trial by offering them to God.

If we truly believe all the events of our lives, even the smallest daily task, are a means of grace, then our journey on earth will seem easier. We will believe and trust that our joys, sorrows and sufferings are all a means for drawing us closer to God.

Whether life unfolds the way in which we desire or not, why should it matter? For all is grace.

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