From Jars of Clay to Vessels of Grace

My current read, which might just make it to my ‘Books to Read Again and Again’ list, is Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen. To call it inspiring would be to say the least about it. The former archbishop touches on the very beautiful topic of human frailty and its intersection with the magnificent grace of our Lord. He talks candidly about it in a very personal manner, speaking both like a spiritual director and like a trusted friend.

A few of my favorite quotes in the book include:
“God does not make anything with the purpose of destroying it. There is no waste in life. Childhood is not a waste. It has relationship to the rest of life.”

“That portion of us w/c is tried and tested, w/c is subjected to many trials, is not a waste. The tears, the agonies, the frustrations, the touls are not lost. All of these, w/c seem to militate against life, are worked into new forms.”

“Life may be marred into a broken thing, but God can make it into a thing of beauty.”

As the Conversion of Saint Paul is celebrated today by the Catholic community and today’s homily focused on the mandate given by Jesus to the eleven apostles in today’s Gospel, Treasure in Clay immediately came into my mind. Indulge me as I write down and share a few of my thoughts with you.

The Conversion on Saint Paul

Caravaggio

Here is a beautiful depiction of Saint Paul’s conversion by the Italian artist Caravaggio.

My good friend, Wikipedia, has this to say about the painting,

“The painting records the moment when Saul of Tarsus, on his way to Damascus to annihilate the Christian community there, is struck blind by a brilliant light and hears the voice of Christ saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?…And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid, but they heard not the voice…” (Acts 22:6-11). Elsewhere Paul claims to have seen Christ during the vision, and it is on this basis that he grounds his claim be recognised as an Apostle: “Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” (I Corinthians 9:1).”

Caravaggio

Another beautiful depiction of the conversion by Caravaggio, aptly entitled “Conversion on the Way to Damascus”.

Wikipedia describes,

“The painting depicts the moment recounted in Chapter 9 of Acts of the Apostles when Saul, soon to be the apostle Paul, fell on the road to Damascus. He heard the Lord say “I am Jesus, whom you persecute, arise and go into the city” (see Conversion of Paul).

How often have we heard that each one of us is called to holiness? And how often have we dismissed it with a “Nope, not me, I’m too sinful to even come close to H in holy” statement? Oh my friend, many of us have said and done so for we are all jars of clay – ordinary, common and easily broken. Our feet of clay cause us to fall and stumble repeatedly many times. Terribly unflattering yet humbling at the same time, don’t you think so?

The good news is that the Lord tells Paul, as recorded in 2 Corinthians, “Paul, my grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in weakness.” Our weaknesses and failures are not reasons to abandon our love for our Lord. In my personal experience, it should push us to cling even more to Him – allow his mercy to touch our sinful hearts and his love to mend our broken spirits so that his grace is made perfect in our weaknesses.

Archbishop Sheen writes in Treasure of Clay that the Lord chooses the “weak instruments in order that His power might be manifested; otherwise it would seem that the good was done by the clay, rather than by the Spirit“.

I treat every day that I have the opportunity to wake up from my sleep as a call for conversion, another chance to kick bad habits and replace it with good ones. Some days I make it, some days I barely make it through and other days I completely fail. However the day turns out, I know that I will end it by kneeling in front of the Father – apologizing for falling yet again, thanking for the day’s blessings regardless of the things I did and did not do for the day, and begging for the grace necessary.

Yes, you read that right, my friend. Beg for the grace, amigo, for you never do anything alone by your own strength. Everything is through and for Him.

It’s easy to get discouraged especially when you think you’ve been making good progress and then you stub your toe and stumble or fall. But you have to remember that every moment of our life is an opportunity for conversion. If you fall, be honest and admit your mistake. Then get back up on your feet and start over again. Our Lord’s grace will pull you back up and sustain you.

Holiness is not just about following the Commandments to a T. Holiness also includes our struggle to do our Lord’s will and to please Him just because we love Him.

We are jars of clay on our own but there is a treasure within us and that is Christ. When we allow our Lord to take hold of all of us then the jar of clay is transformed into a vessel of grace.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7

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