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Surprised by grace

The other evening I was present during a pre-Vocations Sunday sharing of stories and a discussion about discernment. One young woman asked the speakers what had most surprised them in following their vocations. Responses were varied, covering aspects of personal growth, experiences of faith or hitherto unimagined possibilities. I didn't say anything, but if I had, I would have shared the first word which came into my head when I heard the question - grace.

In many ways, I realise that being surprised by grace is a surprise in itself! After all, grace - God's freely given gift - isn't some kind of fringe or new-fangled belief, but a longstanding central part of my faith. Whether we have personally experienced its truth or not, Amazing Grace is one of our best-known and most enduring hymns. But even so, it is both humbling and surprising to realise that, over the years, I have been the recipient of an abundance of this amazing grace; at times unexpected, at others fervently prayed for, but always freely, generously given. Grace which can seep in like a slow, barely perceived infusion, or which can flood me in a few words or a moment of awareness. Grace which has enabled me to say YES, to transcend my limitations, to love, to trust, to persevere, to dwell in the certainty of God.

A large part of this surprise is an awareness of not having done anything to deserve it - even though I also know that grace is nothing other than gratuitous, unmerited gift.  And, of course, I realise I'm not alone in this: that same grace which ambushes and amazes me doesn't abide by different rules for everyone else - and it has been so for millennia. Throughout the centuries saints and sinners alike have been surprised and overwhelmed by God's liberality, expressed in so many ways - but always abundantly.

And I somehow imagine that God rather enjoys this; that he delights in our delight. And somehow, too, it would not be the same if God were to be entirely predictable. So may I - may we all - go on being surprised by the lavishness of God's gifts... especially by grace.


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