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On grace depends our salvation, but we have neither a right to grace nor the power to compel it. Grace must reveal itself to us, and only then will we recognize it…

Today’s offering in our Timeless Essay series affords readers the opportunity to join Romano Guardini as he contemplates the mystery of grace. —W. Winston Elliott III, Publisher

Through your creation, O Lord, goes a voice that reminds us of something that is above everything created. The things and their ordering, earth, sun, and stones, seem to be pure reality, but our heart knows that they proceed from your holy freedom, and are gifts that should always be accepted afresh. And so they point away from themselves to something higher than they are; but what they might be they do not say.

This indication is stronger in our own life. Plants and animals grow from their own nature and perfect themselves in it; not so men. Only in joining with this other does he come to himself; he gains his own being only when he gives himself to the other. But there is nothing mortal that could be the last fulfilling encounter for him, and so he is always wandering and searching. 

But what he in fact seeks, he never gains through his own strength. Only grace can give it to him. On grace depends our salvation, but we have neither a right to grace nor the power to compel it. Grace must reveal itself to us, and only then will we recognize it. Grace must give itself to us, and only then will we possess it. And in it alone do we receive our own true self, which you, O God, assigned to us as you created us.

In the work of your redemption, O Lord, you started a fresh work. You yourself came and called to man. Your being, veiled from all creation, “shown out to him in the face of Jesus Christ.” You showed him how he was lost, and offered him forgiveness. Your love and holiness streamed out to him; now he can accept them and share them.

All that is your free gift, and yet the answer to our innermost need. We cannot conceive it with our own strength, but when you reveal it, we feel that it is the truth upon which we live. We must preserve it from the claim of the world and from the contradiction of our own inadequacy. But when our heart is open, the truth speaks within it and bears up our existence.

Awake within me a holy disquiet, O Lord, so that at all times I may search for you. Teach me to understand the mystery according to which you made my being: that I can only live from that which is above me, and that I lose myself as soon as I place myself within myself. Take my hand; help me to cross over to you, so that I may truly find myself in you.


This essay in our series of “Timeless Essays” was first published here in March 2013. It was originally published in Prayers from Theology by Romano Guardini (Herder and Herder, 1959).

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