Witnesses of the Faith | July 2024

June 27, 2024 | Miles Christi

Seeing the Work of Grace
Testimony from Fr. Matthew Maxwell

You might hear priests often say things like, “God is certainly at work here”, or “grace is certainly acting in his soul” and other phrases of this nature. I certainly remember hearing these things as a kid and having, at best, a very nebulous idea of what that might mean. As we grow in our spiritual life, we start to understand better what it means for grace to be doing its work in a human soul. We start to see better the things within us that are the product of our own activity, but noticing other things that we certainly can’t accomplish on our own, that is those ways in which God is working in us. As a priest and a spiritual director, we have the beautiful privilege to not only witness what God does in our own souls, but also in the souls of others. Often times, as a matter of fact, the work that God is doing stands out all the more to our eyes when it is being done in the soul of someone else. This is one of the great joys of the priesthood, being able to see with so much clarity the hand of God drawing a masterpiece in someone’s soul!

You might be wondering what it means to see the work of grace. Let me give you a concrete example that always strikes me. One of the ways I have seen God so patiently at work as a priest is when someone comes to speak to you about being baptized. This has happened a handful of times already over the past two years of my work as chaplain at a high school.

There is a sort of pattern: a student who you don’t know, whom you’ve never spoken to, comes to you out of the blue—or sometimes you run into them seemingly by chance—and they voice their interest in being baptized. You think to yourself in that moment something like, “ok, we’ll see. They’ve been taking the mandatory religion classes; they’ve heard a bit about the faith and about baptism; it sounded nice to be a part of the community; so, they are asking to be baptized, but they might not be fully on board with the faith”. And I’ll admit, a few of my conversations have gone that way and I always try to leave the youngster with a few deeper things to think about. I tell them that we only get baptized when we have a conviction that the Catholic faith is the truth.

Now here’s the crazy thing, a handful of these students have looked me straight back in the face and said, “I do believe it is true”. As I listed off different aspects of our faith—the Holy Trinity, God becoming Man, the Church as Jesus’ way of continuing to act in the world, the 10 commandments and Christian morality, the Sacraments and the Eucharist—they say after each one “yes, I believe”. A beautiful testimony of this was when I asked one of the young men, who was baptized this past Easter Vigil, the question about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, he had a huge smile on his face and said, “yes, I do believe that, as well!”. It was almost as if his smile was saying, “I know it sounds sort of wild and I can’t explain it, but I know that it is true!”

So, you tell me. Is grace at work here? How else can you explain when a high schooler, who has grown up in a practically non-religious household, comes to you professing the fullness of the Catholic faith? Can you really convince someone that Jesus is present in the Eucharist? Or that it is good to live chastity despite what the world is saying? Or that God took on a human nature? The answer is no. You can tell them and that’s it. But the conviction—the gift of faith—that God gives to those who are ready to receive it, is one of the starkest examples of grace at work in a soul.

Thanks be to God, I have been able to accompany a few high school boys and girls to baptism. The most recent encounter I had is someone who you can pray for. She is heading off to college and asked about baptism shortly before her graduation. Due to needing an official set of classes, she will need to attend her Newman Center in the fall in order to finish the process of catechesis and receive baptism. Pray that, once at school, she has the perseverance and courage to correspond to the powerful touch of God in her soul!