"Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Life is gracious

Michael Whelan SM


   The fundamental polarity of human life between what is and what ought to be, between lack and fulfilment, between determination and freedom, is not abnormal; it is the norm. Every person is exposed to it because of the inescapable structure of human formation. (Adrian van Kaam, The Transcendent Self, Dimension Books, 1979, 172.)

We grow well when we interact well with the grace of living, in the midst of the tension “between lack and fulfilment, determination and freedom”. Grace is everywhere! Facing your limits, submitting to the truth of your limits, is potentially a particularly rich experience of grace.

There is a timing to life. Grace has its pace. We must respect that. Waiting is a necessary component of living. Our best qualities as human beings are not those won by mastery or force but those enabled by facilitation and cooperation. Human nobility is marked by grace and freedom.

   If I cannot listen to the subtle manifestation of rich reality in my environment, I will necessarily try to impose my wilful codes on others. If I am not open to reality and do not obey the voice of reality, a terrible distortion takes place. Sooner or later I will turn the whole relationship around: Instead of listening to reality in people and events, I become convinced that reality in people and events should listen to me. (Adrian van Kaam, The Art of Existential Counseling, Dimension Books, 1966, 80.)

The moments of true triumph are when we get out of the way and let God be God in us. The deepest and most beautiful moments of relationships are moments of surrender, not conquest. One of the greatest paradoxes of all is that we gain control – and a sense of control is essential – by letting go.

   Spiritual formation cannot be forced, only prepared for. Hence its means cannot be those of conquest, but only of facilitation and preparation. (Adrian van Kaam, Studies in Formative Spirituality, I, 2 (1980), 303.)

Good relationships do not grow by manipulation or mastery or rational intent – helpful as these may be. Good relationships grow because we have cooperated with grace rather than impose our way, because we have learned to participate rather than compete.

   Self-centredness, the refusal to be human and not God, is the core of the demonic in human nature. (Adrian van Kaam, The Demon and the Dove, Duquesne University Press, 1967, 46-47.)

The way we relate with others is shaped by the way we relate with ourselves. The central issue in our relationship with ourselves is honesty. “Above all don’t lie to yourself!” (Fr Zossima, The Brothers Karamazov). Commit yourself to the way of listening and awareness and submission to what is true. The journey beyond self-centredness is a life-long journey of dying to yourself.

Unless the grain of wheat fall in the ground and die it remains but a single grain. But if it dies it yields a rich harvest (John 12:24).

Even our capacity to die to self is gift. Shift the focus from will to grace, from what “should” be to awareness of what is, from mastery to surrender, from becoming “holy” to being loved into freedom.

Once you have tasted God everything else will look after itself!

(You may be interested in reading these tangentially related articles by the late Brian Doyle. "All the way to Mass is Mass" and "Pay fierce attention to the holy of everything".)