The Subtleties of Grace

January 28, 2024
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Readings for Today

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In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet!  Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. Mark 1:23–26

It’s interesting to note that this unclean spirit immediately knows Who Jesus is. This is because each of two opposites emphasizes the other very clearly. For example, the color black is most clearly seen when it is placed in front of something white. Or something hot is most noticeable after experiencing something very cold. And a loud noise is most jarring when someone is sitting in silence. And so it is with Jesus and evil. Jesus, the Holy One of God, is most clearly seen when He comes in contact with an unclean spirit.

This fact gives us some wonderful insights into our journey toward the heights of holiness. Oftentimes, when one experiences a profound and transforming conversion, it is because they were first living a life of sin. When one who is living in sin encounters the saving grace of God, it is quite noticeable. And that is good.

But there is also another spiritual insight we can take from this. To further the analogy, it is also true that when the color black is put next to something dark blue, or something hot is touched after holding something quite warm, there is less notice taken. So it is with the spiritual life. When we are striving to obtain true holiness of life, and when we are already living the many virtues to which we are called, the next step closer to God might not be nearly as noticeable. Instead, growth in perfection for one who is already striving for perfection will be very subtle. And that is also good.

This is important to understand because sometimes, when a person has gone through a powerful conversion earlier in life, they want to return to the experience they had when they initially converted. But that should not be our goal. Instead, we should continually strive to experience these more subtle changes that take us from a life of holiness to one of even greater holiness. In this case, if you do not sense a powerful contrast of spiritual experiences within you, that may be simply because there are no serious sins you are trying to overcome. Thus, the ideal for every Christian is to eventually experience less contrasting spiritual experiences and more that are gentle and subtle as our Lord continues to gently perfect you in many ways.

Reflect, today, upon your own spiritual journey toward holiness. If you do see serious sin in your life, know that God wants to profoundly free you and draw you through a major conversion. If you do not see serious sin in your life and if you already strive daily to become holy, then rejoice if your spiritual consolations and communications from God are much more subtle and, at times, undetectable. Keep working at perfection and rejoice that you are on the correct path.

Lord of all holiness, please continue to draw me into the life of perfection. Help me to grow in every virtue and to continually be aware of every gift of grace I am given. Please help me, especially, to be attentive to every small and subtle grace and to respond to those graces with a truly open and grateful heart. Jesus, I trust in You!

Books for Lent:

More Gospel Reflections

Divine Mercy Reflections

Scripture Meditations for Ordinary Time

All Saints/Feasts

Saint of the Day – Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor—Memorial
Not celebrated as a liturgical memorial this year since it falls on Sunday

Mass Reading Options

Featured image above: Jesus Chases a Possessed Man from the Synagogue By James Tissot, via Wikimedia Commons