Inauguration Day thoughts: Shining City on a Hill
Without God we labor in vain; so saith the Psalmist. Most of us, I suspect, easily forget the everyday need for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. So it is helpful to add the phrase, “with God’s grace” to our daily imperatives to remind ourselves that we can do nothing without Him. On a larger scale as we consider the calling of the Twelve Apostles and the beginnings of the Church, it is profitable to consider the intimate and inseparable connection the Church has with God’s grace.
On the way to Damascus when Saul saw the light, the Lord said to him, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” But the Lord had already ascended into heaven and from heaven He rules as King. How does He suffer still? He suffers through his Church, the persecuted members incorporated into his Mystical Body by Baptism. Communion with Christ is the key to the mystery of the nature of the Church through the forgiveness of sins, the outpouring of grace, the restoration of a soul to God’s favor, and the incorporation of the soul into the Mystical Body of Christ by Baptism. This “marriage” of the soul to Christ by Baptism is forever, but is animated by the gift of sanctifying grace.
When a soul is “in the state of grace,” we might say God’s grace glows within it like the glow of a lightbulb. And the brightness of the glow is greater or lesser depending upon the “wattage” of grace granted by the favor of the Lord. Mortal sin may burn out the light, but the fixture remains-– the sacramental bond to Church remains—awaiting a replacement lightbulb, an infusion of grace through the sacrament of Penance. If it were possible to see the glow of sanctifying grace through the eyes of faith, presumably our church assemblies would be radiant as they shine forth the glory of God. Or so we should strive, with God’s grace.
There are, of course, limits to such a physical metaphor because such an “inner light” might be perceived as alien to man, merely implanted like a computer chip from the outside. So it is helpful to correct the metaphor by suggesting that each person cooperates with the sanctifying grace he receives and we show it forth through our respective and very individual “prisms” of our humanity.
Our humanity, permeated by grace, either adorns God’s grace in beauty (as Mary “magnifies the Lord”) or distorts the glow of grace by the stain of sin. Hence the greatness of an individual, family, community, or a nation is measured by the intensity and beauty of the light of sanctifying grace metaphorically shining forth from our hearts—if we so allow—with God’s grace. (The truly beautiful face of Mother Teresa, and the grace-filled faces of a good number of elderly Catholics come to mind.)
This metaphorical light of grace does not cease with the individual, nor with a single person’s incorporation into the Mystical Body. The incorporation also includes the outward signs and structures that hold the community of the faithful together, applying and guiding the light of the grace of Christ. Hence there is a need for a hierarchy: for family and the institutional Church. Just as parents govern and guide their families, priests and bishops govern and guide the Church. These natural outward structures are designed to impel us, with God’s grace, as members of the Mystical Body to worship and generous service.
Of course sin besmirches these outward characteristics, distorting and darkening the light of Christ, even placing souls at risk of damnation. But sin should not be allowed to cause us to dismiss the “structures” as superfluous, any more than a lamp and light stand are superfluous to the glow of a light bulb.
The metaphor helps us to appreciate the vital importance of sanctifying grace that binds the Church together as the spotless (“sinless”) Bride of Christ. The Church is holy and sinless just as the Blessed Mother, “Mary the Mother of the Church,” is without sin. And we are the Church, members of his Mystical Body, unified by his grace. But we need to struggle, with God’s actual grace, to keep the light burning, to remain in the state of sanctifying grace on our journey to heaven accompanied by the Church.
In those satellite photos of the earth, there are truly glorious images of the countries at night. Some areas are illuminated by city lights while other areas, such as deserts, are completely dark. If we had the eyes to see sanctifying grace in such a way, we might be surprised. The economically mighty countries might indeed be darkened by sin and vice, and other areas of the world where virtue and families are strong would glow with beautiful intensity.
With God’s grace as members of his Church, and only with his grace, there is much to accomplish. We can make America great again (Trump) – but only with God’s grace. We shall overcome (MLK) – but only with God’s grace. Peace and prosperity (Eisenhower) – but only with God’s grace. Without God’s grace and without the spotless Bride of Christ, the Church, we labor in vain.
After all, “You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid” (Mt. 5:14).
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