We sing “Amazing Grace,” but do we stop to reflect on just how amazing grace really is – and how it’s present in our lives?
“We love stories of grace,” said Father Patrick Woods, Redemptorist Provincial of the Baltimore Province, who was giving a mission at St. Mary, Annapolis, from Dec. 2-6. He cited the story of soldiers on a flight home from Iraq where first-class passengers voluntarily gave them their seats, and the story of Rosa Parks “who one day was just too tired to give up her seat on the bus.”
“Grace is really our relationship with God,” he said, explaining that it takes two forms, sanctifying grace and actual grace.
“Sanctifying grace is an ongoing permanent relationship with God.” It’s similar, he said, to the bond he shares with his sister, one that isn’t broken despite distance and differences.
“She gives me advice whether I need it or not,” he said. “That’s actual grace – that’s the nudges. The spirit continues to come in and constantly nudge us. God is often constantly nudging and touching. If you look at your lives you’ll see God nudging you every day: ‘I should send a card, I should call her, that’s a wake I need to attend.’ We need to follow and see where that grace is.”
In 1983, he recalled, his sister was in the hospital but his family told him it wasn’t serious. On impulse one weekend, he decided to go home. “Why that weekend,” he said. “It could have been the next.” When he arrived, another sister insisted they go immediately to the hospital. He visited with his ill sister, anointed her – and she died the next morning. Seeing her, he said, “was a great grace.”
He finds grace in his life “and we priests don’t have that interesting of lives,” he said. “You have more interesting lives. Look into the stories, look in there to see the [Christmas] star, to see the presence of God.”
Father Woods presented the mission with Father John McGowan, retreat director of San Alphonso Retreat House. The Redemptorist order has a reputation for fine preaching, and the mission, titled “Embracing God’s Gifts,” did not disappoint the parishioners who gathered at the St. John Neumann Mission Church.
“It’s wonderful,” said parishioner Mike Brenny. “Every night has been very good; every night has been very inspirational.”
Parishioners weren’t deterred by the season’s first snowstorm on Dec. 6 – some 210 attended noon Mass and double that returned for the evening service.
Longtime parishioner Maureen Vernon had just planned to come the first night, “but here I am,” she said on the fifth night. She was so inspired she juggled her family’s schedule to be able to attend the entire mission.
“It’s been wonderful,” she said. “It’s very inspirational. It gets you in touch with the true meaning of Christmas. They actually give you something to take home – it’s a great mix of solemnity and humor.”