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Amazing Grace; A Haunting Hymn about the Supernatural Realm

The poetic lyrics and alluring melody of “Amazing Grace” make this song beloved by many of the faithful.  By the line, “I once was lost, but now am found,” there is rarely a dry eye in the crowd.


I recently learned that Amazing Grace is performed about 10 million times annually, making it one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world.


Amazing Grace

John Newton (1725-1807) was the poet and clergyman who wrote this hymn, although the melody that we associate with it wasn’t added to the lyrics until 50 years later.  To discover what makes this song such a classic, I did a bit of research into the life of John Newton. 


His father was a Catholic shipping merchant from London.  His mother was a devout Independent, but unaffiliated with the Anglican Church.  She died when John was only 6.  At 11 years old, he became an apprentice on his father’s ship and eventually joined the Navy.

After deserting the Navy to visit his lover, John was traded as a crew member onto a slave trading ship. 


Sailors are known for their rough language, but Newton was admonished by his captain for using the worst words the captain had ever heard and even created new ones to exceed the limits of his vulgarity.


Despite his early years of religious upbringing, he openly opposed the faith of his youth and even mocked others who displayed theirs, denouncing God as a myth.


But a sliver of grace pierced his heart during a fatal storm.  While tied to the ship’s pump to keep from being washed overboard, like a member of the crew already had been, he prayed, “Lord have mercy on us!” 


Shortly before the storm, he started to read The Christian’s Pattern which was a summary of one of my absolute favorite books, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis.  He remembered that prayer of desperation long after the harrowing event, and came to believe that God had sent him a profound message. 


John Newton, who authored the hymn, "Amazing Grace."

Long story short, he became the curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire in 1764.  The lyrics to “Amazing Grace” were likely written in late 1772 and were used in a prayer meeting on New Year's Day 1773.


What I found to be so fascinating about this story is that someone who was once a master of verbal debauchery used his skills as a wordsmith to craft a hymn that almost lifts the veil of the supernatural.  Only someone who experienced such a profound conversion can cry from the depths of his heart to praise the One who saved him. 


His words resonate with all of us because we are all in need of a Savior.


Because I’m a down-the-rabbit-hole kind of gal, my next question is, what is grace?  I’ve now researched the back story of the song, so what about the content of it?


Grace. 


Divine grace is a spiritual reality that we receive from the sacraments.  It is a free and undeserved gift that God gives us as a share in God’s own divine life. 


That seems so 10th-grade confirmation class, doesn’t it?  I feel like when I read something like that my eyes glaze over and my brain shuts off.


Let me attempt to break that down.  We humans are not completely material, nor are we completely spiritual beings.  Our body is material, meaning that it belongs in the physical reality.  Yet we possess a soul that belongs to the spiritual realm. 


We belong equally to both realities, yet it is more difficult to relate to the spiritual side. God uses material that we can see to give us something spiritual that we cannot see.  And that spiritual reality is divine grace.


The grace that our friend John Newton is singing about is actual grace.  This is a supernatural gift from God, in a specific moment, that shows God’s love at work.  Newton's experience on the ship during the storm was actual grace moving his soul towards conversion.


The other kind of grace is sanctifying, and it is this form of grace where God uses material to show us something spiritual.  This is the main grace we receive upon receiving the sacraments.


water pouring over babies head during baptism
Baby Getting Baptized

Think of the water used at baptism.  It is a physical thing we can see and feel to represent the mark placed upon our soul for all eternity, which is something that the human eye cannot see.


We, as Catholics, have the opportunity to partake in the sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ, Himself, in order to give us the grace we so desperately need to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him.


 The sacraments are God’s plan for us to obtain grace, which is our participation in the spiritual realm in our souls. 


When Jesus died on the cross, He won for us, or you could say, He merited for us the graces we would need to obtain Heaven.  The main channel through which we receive those graces is through the sacraments. 


Some of the sacraments we may receive only once, like baptism, but others, like the Eucharist or Penance, we can receive often, and in doing so we are receiving the grace we need to obtain heaven.


We need grace because we can’t do anything that is good, virtuous, or noble without divine grace.


Through grace, we discover God’s Holy Will, and once we know His Will, we need divine grace to carry it out.  We need grace to do absolutely everything that God wants us to do.  We can’t even pray without the grace to do so!


This week, I challenge you to participate in an extra sacrament, either by going to a daily mass or confession on Saturday night to receive the grace to discover the Will of God in our lives, and to give us the ability to act upon it.


Thank God for His gift of grace in our lives!



Daily Prayer Invoking 9 Special Graces


O Father! O Son! O Holy Spirit!

O Holy Trinity! O Jesus! O Mary!

O blessed angels of God,

all Saints of Paradise, men and women,

obtain for me these graces,

which I ask through the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ:


1. Ever to do the holy will of God.

2. Ever to live in union with God.

3. Not to think of anything but God.

4. To love God alone.

5. To do all for God.

6. To seek only the glory of God.

7. To sanctify myself solely for God.

8. To know well my own utter nothingness.

9. Ever to know more and more the will of my God.


Mary most holy, offer to the Eternal Father the most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ for my soul, for the holy souls in purgatory, for the needs of Holy Church, for the conversion of sinners, and for all the world. Amen.

 

Until next time, your sister in Christ,


Leah

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