Have you ever felt an urge to suddenly pray or do something good, even if you were going to do something terrible? Or have you ever wondered where the desire to grow closer to God comes from? That’s actual grace in action!
So, just what is actual grace?
This article will explain what the Catholic Church teaches about actual grace. We’ll cover:
- The difference between actual and sanctifying grace
- Biblical examples of actual grace
- How, when, and why God grants these graces
- How actual grace works to help us avoid evil
- How to increase actual graces in your life
What is Actual Grace vs. Sanctifying Grace
There are two main types of grace:
- Actual grace – God’s supernatural help and prompts in the moment
- Sanctifying grace – God’s life dwelling in our souls
Sanctifying grace makes us righteous, holy and adopted children of God. We receive it through the sacraments, especially baptism. Sanctifying grace is like an ongoing, close friendship with God.
Actual grace, on the other hand, gives us a temporary help or nudge. It’s like God sending you a quick text to encourage you to do good.
Actual graces serve to strengthen sanctifying grace. They help us respond to God’s will right now.
So sanctifying grace = God’s presence in us over the long term. Actual grace = God’s help in specific moments when we need it.
Biblical Examples of Actual Grace
There are many Bible stories where people received an actual grace from God, even if that exact term isn’t used. Here are some examples:
- Moses and the Burning Bush: When Moses saw the burning bush that wasn’t consumed, he felt an urge to investigate this supernatural sight. This desire came from actual grace! It led to God speaking to Moses and calling him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-12).
- Jesus and the Apostles: The Gospels show how Jesus inspired people with his teaching and miracles. Huge crowds felt drawn to Christ. They likely experienced actual graces tugging at their hearts to pay attention to Jesus and his message. Even the Apostles received promptings of actual grace to drop what they were doing and follow Christ.
- St. Paul’s Conversion: The most dramatic example is St. Paul (formerly Saul) being literally knocked off his horse by God on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). This actual grace utterly transformed Paul’s life from chief persecutor of Christians to the Apostle to the Gentiles. God gave Paul the actual graces he needed to cooperate with this pivotal moment.
So, in many episodes in Scripture, we see God intervening with specially-timed graces to prompt people towards the good – and ultimately – towards salvation through Christ.
Why, When, and How God Gives Actual Grace
You might be wondering: Why does God give us these “nudges” of actual grace? How do they work? When and how do we receive them?
Let’s dig into the purpose and mechanics behind actual graces:
Why Does God Give Actual Graces?
God wants all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). To achieve this, God freely chooses to help all of us with divine assistance. This includes non-Christians, sinners, and believers.
God provides this transient help out of his generosity. While we don’t deserve grace, he showers grace upon the world to prompt souls toward him.
As the Catechism answers the question, what is grace: “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call”. (#1996)
Without grace, we would be totally helpless against sin and unable to do any eternal good. So actual grace is a vital means for us to:
- Grow closer to sanctifying grace/greater union with God
- Avoid evil and practice virtue
- Progress spiritually and reach heaven one day
Or, to use a sports analogy, think of actual graces like a coach yelling encouragement from the sidelines to urge the team onward to victory!
When Are These Graces Given?
God dispenses actual grace whenever and to whomever he wants.
These supernatural helps get conferred:
- When we need them
- As long as we need them
- To both sinners and devout souls
So don’t think God limits grace to those that seem “worthy”. He is exceedingly generous! His actual graces have no limits of time or person.
However, we can take steps to open ourselves more to receive actual grace (see below section).
How Does Actual Grace Work?
You can’t physically touch grace or detect it with scientific instruments. So how does this supernatural help get transmitted?
Think of actual grace as God shedding light into our mind and strength into our will:
- Mind: An actual grace enlightens our intellect so we can realize what God is asking of us right now. We’re able to discern his will better.
- Will: The grace also motivates and strengthens our will so we have the power to carry out God’s wishes rather than selfish desires. Our will gets lifted to accomplish something supernatural.
Actual grace doesn’t just make us think about doing good but also gives us the power to take action. So, actual grace works from the inside out.
Take an alcoholic struggling with the desire for a drink. An actual grace might simultaneously encourage him to pray AND give him strength to grab a cup of coffee instead of liquor.
This shows how grace elevates both mind and will together to achieve something spiritually valuable.
Actual Grace in Action: Helping Us Avoid Evil
An actual grace sounds good in theory. But how does it play out in real life? Let’s explore with some concrete examples.
Imagine you’re having a really bad day when everything goes wrong. You failed an exam, got reprimanded by your boss, and had a big fight with your close friend. You come home feeling furious, miserable, and desiring revenge.
The old self might start posting nasty complaints on social media. But right before you type hurtful words, a gentle thought enters your mind: “Posting angrily will just make the pain worse. Pray instead.” And a desire follows this idea to go to your room and talk to God.
Congratulations – you just experienced an actual grace! In that difficult moment, God gave you:
- Enlightened Intellect: The idea of praying instead of posting angrily
- Stronger Will: Desire for prayer over vengeance
This actual grace allowed you to overcome the strong temptation to lash out through social media sinfully.
We need a steady stream of actual graces like this to avoid evil and choose God’s will day after day. One supernatural nudge won’t cut it for a lifetime!
Actual grace truly makes an eternal difference. Imagine if that person ignored the grace to pray and instead committed suicide in anger and despair. So always accept and treasure any promptings of grace, no matter how “small” they may seem. They can save physical and spiritual lives.
How to Increase Actual Graces in Your Life
While actual graces get dispensed whenever God wills, we can take steps to open ourselves to receive more:
- Pray frequently: Talking with God opens us to receive what we ask for – including more actual graces!
- Participate in Sacraments: Channels of sanctifying grace like Mass and Confession heighten actual grace. The Eucharist is an especially vital way to unite more with Christ and his graces flowing from that divine union.
- Read Scripture: God’s word is living, active, and inherently graced. It excites graced thoughts and desires.
- Perform acts of charity like feeding the poor or visiting the sick: What you do for others out of love, you do for Christ. And uniting your will to God’s increases all graces.
- Avoid mortal sin: Deliberately rejecting God destroys sanctifying grace and blocks actual graces from entering. Confess mortal sins promptly. Venial sins also impede grace’s work, so limit those, too.
- Develop deeper trust in God: His gifts flow most lavishly to those who rely completely on him with childlike confidence in his care.
So keep pursuing these grace-filled actions. The more you open your heart, the more God can fill your soul through his actual and sanctifying graces!
Frequently Asked Questions About What is Actual Grace
Still trying to understand how actual grace works? Check out quick answers to common questions:
Is grace absolutely necessary to do good and get to heaven?
Yes, grace is essential to make any progress towards salvation. Our human nature is too weak from original sin to take eternal good actions without God’s supernatural assistance. Both sanctifying grace and actual graces provide abilities exceeding natural capacities. Trying to get to heaven solely by human strength would be like trying to lift a car over your head! But God comes to our aid with graces to make this possible.
As Jesus declares: “Without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). With God, though, even small actions done with grace have huge significance for heaven.
Do sacraments like baptism confer actual graces too?
Besides sanctifying grace, the sacraments also provide “sacramental graces.” These graces give you the right to receive actual graces later when fulfilling duties from that sacrament.
For example, baptism doesn’t just cleanse original sin and make us adopted children of God (sanctifying grace). The waters also impart promises of future strengths (sacramental graces), like graces to resist temptation, evangelize, become a priest or nun, etc.
So baptism sets you up with a lifetime supply of actual grace “coupons” God wants you to cash in!
Can someone resist or reject an actual grace?
Unfortunately, yes, humans can resist God’s actual graces due to our free will. We may ignore promptings of grace or purposely do the opposite due to sin, laziness, pride, etc. That’s why we must guard our hearts not to stifle God’s works within us.
But fortunately, God keeps pursuing us with endless supplies of actual grace. He wants to flood and transform every soul possible! So if you fail to accept one grace prompting, ask God for the humility to follow the next one.
Do only Christians receive actual grace, or do non-believers too?
God provides every person actual grace to guide them towards salvation in Christ Jesus. Non-Christians receive lots of initial promptings aimed at their conversion. For followers of Christ, actual graces continue leading toward their final end in God.
An example is Cornelius from Acts 10. Though pagan, his charitable deeds showed God graced Cornelius towards finding the truth. This led to Peter preaching the Gospel to Cornelius, so he and his whole household got baptized, thanks to cooperating with actual grace!