First story: The teacher had prepared a wonderful lesson that he was sure would interest the students. But when he got to the classroom he saw two boys not wearing the proper uniform. Now, if there was one thing that lit the teacher’s fuse, it was slovenly dress. He gave them a furious ticking off and then gave them a note to take home. By this time it was too late for most of the lesson and anyway he was not in the mood … / … Second story: She had not spoken to her sister since the day of that terrible argument and now she was determined to make up. Surely, now at the graveside of their father, it was time to put the past behind them. But every time she tried for a quiet word with her sister, someone would interrupt, or lead one of them away to meet an old friend. The day slipped past and suddenly the chance had passed … / Third story … Now in their retirement, they were going to make time and space for God. Weekday Mass, plus a quiet time of prayer before supper. A bible study group. Volunteering with the SVP. But somehow they were more in demand for babysitting than ever, and the gardening seemed to take longer. Somehow, that special time with the Lord slipped away.
So often we set out with good intentions and find that our intentions are frustrated in some way. In case you are wondering, I made up those three example because I was struck by our opening prayer today, where we ask God that his grace may ‘at all times go before us and follow after’. Grace that goes before us is sometimes called prevenient grace and it means exactly that: grace, as it were, ahead of us, active even before we get there, making things possible, God’s gracious provision.
All of us at times have intended to do the right thing and then been baffled at how it did not work out. This is a common human experience, wanting to do something right and good and proper and yet not managing to achieve it. There are many reasons why this could be so. Sometimes our ego gets in the way. Sometimes our good will is not matched by the good will of others. Sometimes we did not do enough preparation. Sometimes there is just bad luck. Sometimes we were not able to adapt to a changing situation.
The lesson we have to learn is that it does not all depend on us. We need prevenient grace – grace that goes ahead of us. It means asking God to be there in our hearts as we go forward. It means asking God to be there in the situation. Especially we need the go-between presence of the Holy Spirit helping us to communicate with others. We need to plan and prepare – and then sometimes to let go, asking God, perhaps, that where the situation changes, that he may be there with us, showing us the way. And we can ask that we may have the grace to persevere, or to discern what to do next. There are many ways in which the divine nudge or inspiration or energy can help us. It is God’s grace, already there ahead of us. May this grace accompany us always.