Amazing grace 

For the past two weeks the phrase “amazing grace” has reverberated through my consciousness. I heard the refrain during a litany of news reports about the horrific shootings in Charleston, S.C. 

I listened as our president sung those words at the conclusion of his remarks honoring the Reverend Clement Pinckney at his recent funeral, and was reminded again of those words this past Friday when we closed the books on the final results for the 2015 Catholic Charities Appeal with a remarkable outpouring of generosity. 

More personally, I am reminded of those words each night when I return home to greet a remarkable 12-year-old who is on the cusp of adolescence and embodies an extraordinary degree of character that befits her given name and provides me with a daily dose of gratitude for having given her that name and valuing its meaning.

I fell in love with the word grace because of a Jesuit priest I met in Philadelphia in 1978. He impressed upon me the extraordinary power of the concept of grace. It is a construct that requires one to allow for the possibility that we can be gifted from beyond our control, if we remain open to messages that require us to delve deep for meaning and purpose. We must search throughout each day for the clues that God gives us to find meaning, significance and beauty in our lives.

Sometimes this is easy to discover. Who would not be moved by the families of the victims in Charleston when they offered forgiveness to the assassin of their loved ones?  That is grace in the extreme. 

The president’s decision to sing the hymn was a galvanizing moment. It brought people to their feet in a mix of revelry, mourning and celebration of a good man taken by hate but uplifted through grace. 

I consider myself very fortunate that part of my work is to give witness to the collective grace that comes from the thousands of gifts that flow through my office on behalf of the Catholic Charities Appeal and our scholarship program. Next week we will launch a name change for that program. What has been the St. Mary’s Education Fund will be renamed officially as The Foundation to Advance Catholic Education or FACE. This has been undertaken to clarify the mission and instill a renewed focus on helping our schools to thrive. I am so grateful to the volunteer directors who have served St. Mary’s for many years and for the new board that will carry forward the mandate to make our schools the best they can be. Their efforts and their advocacy are a true grace within our midst.

Due to the extraordinary efforts of so many of pastors and parish staffs, the Catholic Charities Appeal has set a new record of more than $4.5 million dollars. This will provide more than $300,000 in additional funds for the diocese to address poverty, homelessness and the Spiritual needs of thousands throughout Southeastern Massachusetts. I speak on a regular basis with pastors who work diligently to inspire their faithful to share some of their resources in this annual effort. I have the privilege to talk with hundreds of donors and I usually ask them about their reasons for giving. Invariably the answers revolve around a sense of responsibility to care, a desire to help and an appreciation that through giving, they are “paying forward” for some of the graces in their life. 

I could not conclude an essay on grace without a personal aside to my daughter. Her mother and I chose her name because of our extreme joy about her birth. She has three much older brothers who were teen-agers when she came along. She embodies the word in her actions and her viewpoints. She is caring for others, joyful and boundless in her enthusiasm for her friends and family and as with any child, a gift from God to us.

So, to the people of Charleston, thank you for your example of grace. To the women and men of FACE, thank you for your leadership and love for our schools. To the pastors who have led our efforts to help the poor, may your work be recognized for the grace it is. To the thousands of donors who make the personal decision each year to contribute to a collective grace, thank you. And to a certain 12-year-old, thanks for living out your name. Grace, it’s amazing.

Anchor columnist James Campbell is director of the diocesan Development Office/Catholic Charities Appeal/The Foundation to Advance Catholic Education.

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