On the last day of our French language course at France Langue in the quiet Rue Saint Didier, not far from Champs Élysées and the iconic Eiffel Tower, Mademoiselle Caroline asked what our impressions of Paris were. When my turn came, I replied: “Please forgive me for saying that Paris is just like Manila. The streets are littered with trash, the subway smells of urine, and there are able-bodied beggars who can work instead of begging. The only difference we have is that Paris has beautiful buildings everywhere, whose architecture and classic design force us to look up, and to keep looking up. And because we’re so busy looking up and marveling at the abundance of beauty and art against the clear royal blue sky of Spring, we fail to notice the litter on the streets, the smell of urine, and the unapologetic beggars. We leave Paris awed and inspired. In Manila, we don’t have beautiful buildings that captivate and hold our attention. Instead we’re so busy looking down on the street, navigating through vehicles, people and litter, trying hard not to step on dog poop.”
So how does this anecdote relate to God’s grace? To me, the buildings of Paris, so rich with beautiful classic details, draw our eyes to look up toward the sky. In the same manner, grace helps us to look upward and to keep looking upward to God, the Author and Finisher of our faith. The Orthodox Church defines grace as “the gift of God’s own presence and action in His creation”. It is not merely “unmerited favor”. Through grace, God is present in the here and now, and He is actively at work in the world and in the life of each believer. He forgives us of our sins and failings and transforms us into His image and likeness. This work of grace takes place day in and day out, 24/7. And through the Sacraments of the Church, God bestows or gives to us an even “greater” grace—His uncreated ENERGY: His life, strength, vigor, stamina, vitality, determination, intensity, resilience, power, excitement, and so much more.
With God’s grace, we are being changed and purified, no longer weighed down by spiritual grime, stench, and excrement of sin, of society and of the world. Instead, grace aids us to keep looking upward, to be awed by God, and to be inspired to live righteously in a city with no beautiful buildings.