Last Sunday, as I stood in line to receive communion, I noticed an elderly couple across from me. Both were stooped and feeble, she more so. She also appeared to be suffering from some form of dementia. Her husband gently guided her to communion and then back to their pew.
I immediately recalled a similar couple that lived near me in the late 1990s. The wife had Alzheimer’s and her husband cared for her for many months before she went to a nursing home, where he visited her every day until she died. Each time I saw them out walking I was impressed with the husband’s patient devotion to her. In 2003 I included their story in my book, The Practice of Loving Kindness, noting that that the husband’s “patience was limitless, his gentleness constant, his example of selfless love inspiring.”
As I wrote those words, I had no idea that I would in time face the same challenge he had faced. Five years later my wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and for the next seven years, until her death, the memory of that man’s example of Christian love was a model for me.
After watching the couple last Sunday and recalling the couple from the 1990s, I reflected on the meaning of such experiences. The thoughts that came to my mind included these:
Although sacramental grace is prominent in Catholic teaching, the kind of grace represented by the elderly men in the above examples is often overlooked. It is sometimes called “actual” grace. I call it “everyday” grace because it is available to our senses, notably sight and hearing, every waking moment of our lives.
In practical terms, everyday grace may be defined as a glimpse into Divine Providence that reveals meaning and gives direction to our lives.
Such grace may be conveyed by positive or negative experiences—that is, by observing good acts and being moved to emulate them or by observing bad acts and resolving to avoid them.
The fact that everyday grace is available does not guarantee that we will receive and benefit from it. It does not come with fanfare. In fact, it is so unobtrusive that we can easily fail to recognize it.
We receive everyday grace by opening our minds and hearts to it or, even better, actively looking for it. As Jesus instructed (in a more general sense), “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matt 7: 7,8)
The greatest obstacle to receiving everyday grace is to be so preoccupied with ourselves, our internal reverie, or our electronic activities that we remain oblivious of what is happening around us.
Each of us can be God’s means for bringing everyday grace to others. We do so anytime we perform a work of kindness or mercy or demonstrate our faithfulness to God’s commandments.
A final thought: We will often be unaware of the impact of our moral example on others. For example, the man I observed in the 1990s had no way of knowing that his example was a lasting source of strength and encouragement for me. And chances are, the man I observed last Sunday is unaware of the positive impression his example made on me and is probably making on others. Even so, we should have faith that God will use even our smallest acts of goodness in ways that surpass our imagination.
Copyright © 2017 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved