We have nothing we have not received.  We are debtors, primarily to God. This debt is paid only in praising God for his ineffable mercy and in confessing that everything is his work.  Grace is not merely a gift but also a task.  As Flannery O’Connor noted “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and to change is painful.”

Grace, however, is difficult to define or even describe.  In this it is like many things about which we speak rather glibly.  We think we know what they are until someone asks us to define or explain them.  The dictionary offers seventeen meanings of the word grace. The first meaning listed (favor) is especially helpful in reflecting an important characteristic of grace.  Grace is a gift, always having the connotation of something freely given.   Saying grace is free and unmerited does not mean it is rare.  In fact, it is a gift in the light of which all human life,     all human action take on new meaning.  Some say grace is approximately synonymous with God’s love or God’s own life within us.

There is an old Irish saying according to which there is an ebb and flow to every-thing except God’s grace. Grace is always and everywhere available but it does not impose itself.  It does not come unsought.  It is one’s free decision that opens the way to grace.  To put that a bit differently, grace is not magic.

Over the centuries great controversies have arisen about grace. Does it merely cover our defects, the evil with in us as a result of original sin, or does it intrinsically heal us and raise us up?  An even deeper controversy centers of the relation of grace and free will.  Does grace leave us free, and if so, how?

Rather than focus on the difficult theological investigations and controversies we would do well to think of grace simply as God’s love for us.  It is not that he loves us because we are good.  Rather we are good because God loves us.

Church doctrine holds that no one can have definitive assurance   of being in  the state of grace.  We are reminded we are still on the way, that we must work out our salvation “in fear and trembling.”  St. Joan of Arc affords a wonderful example of the proper attitude in that regard.  During her trial Joan was asked: Do you consider yourself to be in the state of grace?  The question was aimed at trapping Joan.  If she answered yes, she would have convicted herself of heresy.  If she answered no, she would have confessed to her own guilt.  Her astonishingly simple and beautiful answer was: ‘If I am not, may God put me there; if I am, may he keep me there.”