It is important to grasp that sanctifying grace is a real transformation of the soul! Luther taught that the soul in grace is wearing the garment of Christ’s merits, which cover the soul like a cloak covers a leprous beggar. The church teaches that the very substance of the soul is renewed. The soul is affected in its very being so that it can genuinely be called a “new creation.” Sanctifying grace gives a new life to the soul, a life with its own new abilities, powers, and destiny, given as a gift from God. Thus, the baptized Christian can now perform actions at the level of its new being, actions which because they are supernatural, merit a supernatural reward. (cf. 2Cor 5:17; Titus 3:8; Eph 2:10.)
When God attaches supernatural value to given acts, it is called merit. He offers man a reward in the order of grace, not in the order of nature. This means that it is not earned naturally, nor is it a “this for that.” There is no equivalent between the action and the reward. It is God’s divine generosity attached to the given act that gives it its merit or value. It is his pure gift, done to enable his adopted children to really live as sons and daughters of God; to accommodate us to life in his divine kingdom. Thus, we are not saying that man, on his own can establish a right toward God or toward heaven. Rather, God offers us grace to perform divine or Christ-like actions, which then are deemed meritorious and supernaturally valuable because of their Christ-likeness and are thus rewardable and valuable to God. As St. Augustine was fond of saying, it takes grace to get grace!
We come to realize that the grace in our soul is a result of the indwelling Trinity. It is God’s action in our souls; yet, it is also about the soul’s reaction to God’s action! The intellect has the new powers of faith and the will possesses the new powers of hope and charity.
We have already used the example of a light bulb when we discussed actual grace in the previous Catholic Times article. Let us continue that analogy with regard to sanctifying grace. Our soul is like the filament wire in a light bulb: when the bulb is not turned on, we can see the wire. When the switch is flipped by actual grace, now we see nothing but light, as if the filament wire is gone. It is still there, but is now luminous from sanctifying grace and this brilliance conceals the wire for the light!
Coming up next issue: The role of the sacraments in the Interior Life – source of grace.