10 September 2018

What are Signal Graces?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, can you tell me what a "signal grace" is? Does it mean God is sending us a "signal" like an image of Jesus pointing the way or causing a bell to ring or something? Thank you.]]

Sure. A signal grace is a grace which is exceptional and stands as the "originating grace" for many others. Thus, for instance, in my own life the chance to attend Mass with a high school friend was a signal grace which led to my first vision of what the Church is as well as to my catechesis and conversion. The opportunity to study theology under John Dwyer was not simply a grace, but a signal grace which became the source and even foundation for many, many other graces --- not least my love for Scripture or the ability to reflect theologically on things (like c 603!), and especially Paul's theology of the cross -- which has allowed me to live my entire adult life in light of God's promise of new life. The prayer experience I have described here which occurred @ 1985 at the prompting/invitation of my director was a signal grace as was my director's consent to act as my delegate with and for the Diocese of Oakland. My stumbling across canon 603 in 1983-84 while checking out the Revised Code of Canon Law was a signal grace which led me to eremitical life and all the graces that have come from this --- not least the recent work I have undertaken with the assistance/accompaniment of my director or some work I am currently doing re canon 603 itself. And finally, of course, eremitical profession itself has been a signal grace along this same stream of graces for which I thank God daily.

Signal graces are not usually actual signals like a vision of Jesus literally pointing to a door or causing a bell to ring as a signal to us. (Though if either of these were to happen to us they could also be signal graces in the accepted sense used in this post. Merton, for instance, once had a dream in which he heard the bell of the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani; that dream was a signal grace for him, possibly in both senses.) In this post's (and ordinary theological) usage, however, "signal" is an adjective meaning notable, as in a signal event or achievement. Given this meaning we look back at the stand-out graces in our lives, the really pivotal graces which represent a kind of turning point leading to innumerable other graces we might otherwise never have known. Each of the graces I mentioned above represented a turning point, a grace in light of which I and my life would never be the same. Each led to further graces (further experiences of the powerful presence of God),  and a kind of fruitfulness which can only be described in hindsight. (We might or might not know a grace is significant at the moment it occurs, but signal graces are recognized in hindsight as we look at the subsequent pattern of graces associated with or originating from them.)

I hope this is helpful.