Am I really sharing a post on prevenient grace and… Netflix? You betcha. Indulge me.
When a friend suggested a few days ago that he planned to begin a 33 Days to Morning Glory trek toward renewing his consecration to Mary this Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, I told him I would do the same. Having done it using that method, as well as according to the traditional method given by St. Louis de Montfort, I opted for a third way in hopes of discovering some fresh insights. That method is Totus Tuus: A Contemplative Approach to Total Consecration Through Mary.
The author of Totus Tuus is Father Nathan Cromly. He’s something of a “rockstar” among my wife and her friends, as well as several other folks I know. According to my wife, he gives amazing retreats. She should know. She’s been on two in consecutive years. I hope she goes on more. Shoot… I think we all should go on more retreats, especially ones led by the Holy Spirit and great priests. That’s a bit of an aside, but the point remains that Father Nathan blazes a trail in the Church today, and when I recalled he put together a book on Marian consecration, I figured it would be very good.
Two days into the path to consecration, and the lessons blow me away. That’s no easy feat, mind you. With a Master’s degree in theology, a catechetical diploma endorsed by the Vatican, 15 years of experience teaching religion, and theological study as a hobby of choice, exposure to something entirely new to me is rare. Oh, how I love it when I am, though! It reminds me of those heady days in my 20s, when I felt like I was learning something new about God, His Church, and myself in relation to these things everyday.
What blows me away? Prevenient grace. Stick with me. This is good stuff!
What is prevenient grace?
I learned about prevenient grace in my formal theology studies, but as you might imagine, I forgot about the term. Prevenient has latin roots and means to “come before.” To understand prevenient grace, look no further than the Immaculate Conception. The grace of God given to Mary when she was conceived in her mother’s womb protected Mary from the stain of original sin and kept her free from sin her entire life (the latter of these with her free cooperation, of course). This meant that she was still saved by the merits of Jesus’ death on the Cross, but those merits were applied to her before hand (since to God, all time is present in the eternal now).
What does prevenient grace have to do with us?
My goodness, this is where it gets interesting! Scripture tells us in many places that God has prepared things for us. Before we were in the womb, He knew us (Jer 1:5). He always knew/knows the plans He has for us (Jer 29:11). “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). How is this all so? It is so by the grace of God and not by anything we’ve done ourselves (Eph 2:8-9). You see, Mary isn’t the only one who has received prevenient grace. We all have.
Prevenient grace is for everyone.
Not a single person in the universe is without the prevenient grace of God. The atheist may not know it, but God’s grace is there for the taking. The sinner… oh, the sinner (that’s you/me)… well, God knew we were going to sin each and every time we sinned. Guess what, though? He planned for it. The grace of forgiveness is ready to go! He is always a step ahead of us and all we have to do is just walk right into the grace He prepared beforehand for every occasion.
Walking in God’s Mercy
On my walks the last two days, I find myself reflecting on this wonderful mystery. I feel enveloped by Him. Acts 17:28 tells us that “in Him, we live and move and have our being,” and I’m experiencing that in a very palpable way. No longer am I thinking about my next slip-up and thinking that I’ll have to go to God yet again for forgiveness, as if He’s some big banker in the sky Who waits for us to come and make withdrawals of His mercy. Instead, He’s more like Ed McMahon, showing up at my doorstep waiting to give me the full sweepstakes amount His Son Jesus earned on the Cross! Sure, I still have to accept it. Signing for it is still essential (make use of Confession, people!), but He anticipates it and He comes knocking, looking for me as He did for Adam. He comes running to me before I can get to where He is on my own… like the Father of the Prodigal Son. He wants to shower me with mercy, and all I have to do is walk in it.
Prevenient grace and… Netflix?
Today I saw a petition regarding Netflix and an new show they produce, called F is for Family. It’s a raunchy cartoon comedy by the makers of the Simpsons, set in the 1970’s. Like a lot of the stuff on Netflix and television in general today, it’s tasteless and irreverent. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen on Netflix or anywhere else in mainstream showbiz, however, this show crosses lines that, thankfully, still shocked me enough to knock me right out of my scandal-induced stupor. Christianity is directly mocked. Sexual sacrileges and blasphemies abound. A crucifix is used mockingly. A boy “gets off” while looking at a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s incredible, and by that I mean it’s actually unbelievable.
Not wishing to throw stones or point out splinters in others’ eyes without acknowledging the beam in mine, I must admit it was a wakeup call. Though I could tell you what is good vs. what is bad on Netflix/TV, I was desensitized and accepted it. I subscribed to Netflix knowing it meant paying for some things that were inappropriate in order that I might have access to the better things. After awhile, it was even easy to excuse watching some of the inappropriate stuff too, because the better parts of each show are more frequent than the inappropriate parts. That sort of justification just results in a downward spiral.
When I read the petition today, a sense of nobility came over me that I can only describe as supernatural. Recalling that a person walking in God’s grace and grateful for His mercy without wishing to abuse it acts swiftly and with great trust in Him, I didn’t question the inspiration and I:
- Signed the petition.
- Cancelled Netflix and personally contacted them to tell them why.
- Signed up for Pureflix, a Christian alternative.
What makes this all the more interesting is that our family catechesis this week keeps coming back to the importance of authority figures doing the right things and the power of scandal when they don’t. I’m not going to go on a crusade to uncover all the companies that promote unacceptable things. I am, however, going to pay more attention. When something comes up that won’t allow me to continue walking in the grace-filled path which God has prepared for me, I’m going to cut it out and replace it with something good. It’s God’s will that Christians act this way, and “as for me and my house… we shall serve the Lord” (Jos 24:15).