I was recently privileged to join the Year 13 class at Sacred Heart College, Lower Hutt for their Leadership Mass at which students are commissioned in various leadership roles within the school. They covenant with the rest of the school that they will, in various named ways, build on the past tradition of the college while adding something unique and special to its present history.
They fulfilled their covenant even as the liturgy unfolded but most of the students would not have been aware of it. This unique and special contribution was visible only to those who were on the stage and facing the congregation. What was originally designed simply as a way to distribute communion that would allow the reverence of that moment to be respected turned into a liturgical movement, a dance that was mesmerising for the brief period that it lasted. As alternative rows moved in opposite directions, a wonderful rhythmic flow was created all through the tiers at the back of the hall that was quite beautiful to behold. For a few moment I was content to simply enjoy this “unplanned” gift.
Afterwards I found myself pondering once again the “accidental” nature of grace”. Grace is by nature a gift. It is not something we make happen but rather something that can be triggered by what happens to us, around us or in us. Things are happening all the time. Some of these are bad – hatred, greed, conflict, violence towards people and the earth, indifference, envy and other variations on the deadly sins. Some are good –random acts of kindness, generosity, care and concern, the mysterious workings of our bodies, sunrises and sunsets and other wonders of the natural world. Sometimes we don’t even notice these happenings which is why one of the first steps in the spiritual life is often described as “waking up” or becoming aware of what is going on around us and in us.
In this season of Lent we are called to turn away from sin and believe the good news. The first part of this call involves being awake to what sin looks like and where it is happening. “Turning away” does not mean denying the reality of sin or closing our eyes to it. We are to see it clearly but refuse to collude with it, make compromises with it or cooperate with it in any way. The second part concerns what we turn towards which is living and witnessing to the gospel. This part involves being awake and alert to grace, a short hand term for the presence and activity of God in our world. We need to be able to recognise that presence and activity wherever it is happening and to cooperate fully with what the Holy Spirit is doing. Sometimes we find grace in unexpected places and unlikely people. It can be missed sometimes because we are asleep, or looking in the wrong direction or because we had no expectation that grace would appear where and as it did.
In a world that is sometimes obsessed with control, with making things happen this little experience of gift At Sacred Heart College was a reminder to me that we live in a graced world. Yes sin is a reality in our world which we must turn away from but St Paul suggests “grace abounds even more” and it is vital that we are wide awake and turning towards it.
Fr Pat O'Shea lives at St Columbans Lower Hutt, New Zealand.