The grace of place…


Sr. Kathryn Press, ASCJ

Seeing God in everyday life takes practice. It is a lens that colours what we see and how we see it. The key is to recognize that it’s God who takes the initiative, not us. He is the giver of all good gifts and it is our job to recognize and receive them. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, this is the work of grace: “being looked upon by God, our being touched by his love.” 

The teacher in me likes categories. The theology teacher in me likes defining grace according to category: sanctifying and actual. Sanctifying grace makes us children of God and sharers in his divine life. We see this especially clearly through the sacrament of baptism. That’s good and beautiful and I’m thankful for it. But it’s the actual graces that have captured my attention lately.

Actual graces are all those other ways God assists us in life. This kind of help is totally free and completely undeserved. A gift of the Holy Spirit shared at just the right moment. A charism exercised for the good of the Church. Other examples include graces given to parents to help them rear children, to leaders to help them serve those entrusted to their care. Here I’d like to propose an additional kind of actual grace: grace of place. Are there physical, geographic locations we find ourselves where, when we are open to them, God gives us an outpouring of divine assistance?

When the Israelites wandered through the desert for 40 years, they received manna daily until they reached the Promised Land. Sounds like a grace of place. Surely St. Joseph experienced this grace when the Holy Family fled Nazareth to Egypt. He would have had to have found work to support Mary and Jesus during their time there, a kind of divine assistance unique to that place in his life.

As a young girl, Edel Quinn wanted to join the Poor Clares. When poor health made this impossible, God called this young Irish missionary to serve as an ambassador for the Legion of Mary. She gave her whole heart to the people of East Africa and is buried in Kenya. Grace of place. Mother Teresa writes about teaching in the Loreto convent in Kolkata and how her heart yearned to be with the poor in the slums just outside her door. Her “call within a call” was a grace of place. The shanties and hovels were holy ground for her. It’s where God longed to meet her and she God.

Three years ago, I returned to Ireland as a missionary (having previous lived here as a student in Maynooth in my 20s and then again as a sister from 2016-2017). Moving and changing ministries in the middle of a pandemic had its challenges. When I look back on this time, I’m struck by how many graces God has given me and I name them as graces of this place.

I don’t especially like meeting new people or talking to strangers. Making small talk doesn’t come easily to me. In Ireland, God gives me the grace of joy in the encounter. I like knowing what I’m doing and doing it well. The grace of place for me is the freedom to be in the present moment. I like planning, punctuality, and efficiency. Here God gives me flexibility and peace.

For each of my natural desires or preferences, God has given me a strength beyond. (I know, because I’ve tried on my own faculties!) The graces he’s given me these past three years seem more tangible than ever before. Maybe they’ll last and become habitual graces. Maybe they won’t. Either way, I’m thankful.

St. Patrick tells us in his Confession how the voice of the Irish people came to him in a dream and begged him to “walk again among us.” He writes, “Where did such a great and life-giving gift come from then, to know and love God, even at the cost of leaving homeland and parents?” It was a grace of place!

As you pause to pray and reflect this month consider – 

  • Where and when has God given you the grace of place? 
  • Allow these times/places to surface in your heart.
  •  In prayer, offer your response to God for the graces received.

A version of this reflection appears here: 

Sr. Kathryn Press is originally from Georgia, USA and has been an Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus since 2009. With a Master of Divinity and a background in religious studies, she has taught every grade from creche to secondary school. She currently serves the Lord with a joyful heart in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore in the sunny southeast in areas of pastoral service and evangelisation.,

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