As a young teen, just eleven years old, I remember how curious I was to understand how the world functioned. At home we used to have a nice library with many encyclopedias. Some had to do with the ecology, others were more technological, others were more about culture. Some of these encyclopedias were specifically written for children or youth. Completely disengaged from day to day news, which was not that important to me, I longed to have a deeper understanding of this world in which we live.

I believe this is one of the ways God calls. My heart was restless until I understood the ontological principles of reality. Of course, in my case I delved deep into Christian philosophy. It has given me a sense of confidence in the way that God manages the world.

Eventually, when I became 17 years old I started learning about the dynamics of how grace grows in our soul. Over 30 years later, I continue learning about it with great satisfaction and profit for my spiritual life.

Back some months ago, I described the original infusion of grace in our souls as a “divine seed” that needs to grow and eventually develop as a big tree and give its fruit. God will make this “divine seed” grow according to certain laws he has established. Of course, he is free to do what he wills. However, he normally will proceed according to the patterns he has designed.

The first law is that it is impossible for us to obtain God’s grace out of our own efforts. Grace, the participation in God’s divine nature, is a freely given gift of God. We normally will receive this initial grace in baptism. However, it is still underdeveloped. It will take our cooperation for it to grow.

The second law is that only God can make grace grow. It has a divine nature, not human. So, its growth does not respond directly to any effort made by our human faculties. However, God can grant greater infusions of this grace based on some things we can do. This is the foundation of the doctrine on merit.

There are two types of merit. There is merit based on strict justice and merit based on convenience. For example, an employee works for 8 hours at a rate of $10 per hour. At the end of the day, he is due $80.00. He deserves it based on strict justice and if the employer does not pay him, it would be an injustice. Then, there is the case of a boy who out of love for his dad, will take the initiative to wash his car inside and out during a Saturday morning, not expecting any pay. The dad, out of recognition and appreciation to his son’s generosity goes out and gives him a toy he longed to have. The toy is not due to the son. However, the dad rewarded the loving action of his son because it is good, it is convenient to do so. In this sense, we could say that the boy merited the toy. This latter example gives us an insight into the way that God brings about growth of grace in our souls.

What God expects is not only based on what we do but above all on how we do it. God wants us to love him with all our hearts. So, what mostly counts for God is the love with which we do everything we do.

We could have a salesman working very hard to meet his quota for the quarter. He responds to emails, makes appointments, meets people, gives presentations, writes reports and more. Why does he work so hard? He could be doing it just to feed his own ego. He may be insecure about his job and wants to give the appearance that he is indispensable. He could be doing it with resentment at how unfair his boss is, how little response he gets from customers. Or he could be doing it with a sense of legitimate care for the customer, with great love for his family, with great sense of collaboration towards his companions. The first cases do not merit anything before the eyes of God. God does not make grace grow an inch. Only in last case does God grant the reward with a greater infusion of grace in the soul. Our human efforts please God so much that he will make the “divine seed” grow.

So, what matters is the intentionality of the heart to do everything we do, small or big endeavors, with love. And the greater the intensity of our love, the greater the infusion of grace that God will give us. I think of how hard this is in a world so fast paced and with so much noise. We need to constantly focus our intention in everything we do. Otherwise, little by little our hearts lose the purity of its intention and we start doing things for selfish motives.

As grace grows and becomes stronger in our souls, the more we will be docile instruments of the Holy Spirit. Then, God himself will do his work with our cooperation. These actions of the Holy Spirit are meritorious of an increase of grace with a merit of strict justice. We are now talking of a fast paced growth that takes place in the illuminative stage of spiritual development. At this stage, the anxiety of life has subsided. We do the ordinary things in life in an extraordinary way because of the intentionality of love that lies at the foundation of everything we do. We are more joyful, more peaceful, more happy and we irradiate more confidence and security in our loved ones.

As we turn to this positive aspect of our spiritual growth we will explore further the role of the sacraments, grace and other practical means we have at our disposal to further this growth.

Questions for pondering:

1. Is my life so full of noise for me to notice the deep intentions of my heart?

2. Do I take the time to reorient the intention for which I do what I do?

3. Do I focus on specific people I love and offer up my work and the good fulfillment of my responsibilities for them?

Fr Lino Otero, LC:  Originally from Nicaragua, my family moved to Miami, Florida when I was a teenager. Soon afterwards I experienced the call to serve God without reservations. Since then, I have had experience in hospital ministry, working as a middle school teacher, leading a parish school, organizing soccer tournaments for kids, starting a radio station, training priests in leadership formation, organizing a parish community from maintenance to mission, and much more. I love spiritual direction and preaching. Years of philosophy, psychology and theological training have enriched my personal life and have shaped my message of hope. For more go to linootero.me