Last Sunday, I shared that my favorite passage in the Bible was found in our Second Reading from St. Paul, where he explains his unworthiness to be called an apostle, especially in comparison to all of those to whom Jesus had appeared after the Resurrection. Despite that unworthiness, though, St. Paul comes to the following conclusion: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me has not been ineffective.” (1 Cor 15:10) These words were an encouragement to me as I was beginning seminary formation, and they continue to be so now for me as a priest.
At the heart of this passage is the phrase: “the grace of God.” God’s grace, which is a sharing in His very life, makes all the difference in our lives. His grace enables us to do what we would otherwise not be able to do on our own. With that understanding, St. Paul is also able to say the following: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) This passage is a very popular one, and often quoted by Christians as a sign of our faith in the power of God’s grace, despite our weakness and unworthiness. In a blog article that I recently read, I came across an explanation of this passage that really resonated with me:
This verse is so misused because many Christians interpret “all things” as “anything,” not “all the things Paul has talked about.” It’s not a blanket endorsement that God will support anything we set out to do and empower us to do whatever impossible things we can imagine. It’s an assurance that we can do whatever God calls us to do, not whatever we decide to do. (https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/philippians-4-13)
This is an important clarification. God’s grace is always sufficient to help us in accomplishing His will. A central part of that will is to follow His commandments. What He commands is never impossible, for with God’s grace, all things according to His will for us are possible.
I bring this up in particular with regards to the Church’s teaching on the 6th and 9th Commandments that deal with our human sexuality. Many in society protest that what the Church asks of her children in this area is unreasonable and, in fact, impossible. Because living a life of chastity can be so challenging in a hypersexualized world, the conclusion that our culture draws is: “You are not capable of living what the Church teaches, so we should just lower our expectations, make permissible that which the Church teaches against in the area of sexual morality.” I will admit, there is something true about this conclusion. You and I and not capable of this by our own strength. This is where St. Paul’s words come in: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” It is God’s will for us to live the virtue of chastity well according to our state in life, and His grace makes it possible. The Church seems to be the only voice in our culture that tells us this is indeed possible – with the caveat that we understand that His grace will be sufficient and thus effective in our living this virtue and every other virtue His will invites us to live.
And so the question with which I leave you is this: “Do you believe this?” Perhaps we would do well to consider the scene in the Gospel of the man who brought his son to Jesus to heal him. Jesus tells the father (and us) the following: “All things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23) Let our response to the question about believing that God’s grace can make possible what seems impossible in living chastity that same response the father had to Jesus: “I do believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)