Vulgar Grace

Our Lord Jesus Christ gives up(1) on none. Nobody. God help us from ever holding on to any Pharisee within.

Brennan Manning writes of brokenness,

“My life is a witness to vulgar grace — a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wage as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party, no ifs, ands, or buts.

A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request — “Please, remember me” — and assures him, “You bet!”…

“This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover. Grace is enough…

“Sin and forgiveness and falling and getting back up and losing the pearl of great price in the couch cushions but then finding it again, and again, and again? Those are the stumbling steps to becoming Real, the only script that’s really worth following in this world or the one that’s coming.

‘Some may be offended by this ragamuffin memoir, a tale told by quite possibly the repeat of all repeat prodigals. Some might even go so far as to call it ugly. But you see that doesn’t matter, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand…that yes, all is grace. It is enough. And it’s beautiful.

(Taken from All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir)

We certainly must judge ideologies and the incorrigible purveyors of them, but not frail persons who fall and get up, fall and get up…we must help each other, sometimes time and again and again. For the Saints say none are weaker than ourselves.

What is vulgar grace? Jesus describes it

Matthew 7

“Judge not, that you be not judged.

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

¶ “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?

Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.'”

Not for nothing did He give himself. The religious art of Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ.

St. Francis de Sales writes

“The persons for whom I write are those only who are determined not to commit any fault deliberately, though many stumble through surprise, inadvertence, and weakness, notwithstanding their resolution.

“It usually happens that such persons are astonished and troubled at their faults, conceive a false shame for them, and fall into vexation and discouragement. These are the effects of self-love, and are much more pernicious than the faults themselves. We are surprised at falling: an evident mark that we scarcely know ourselves. We ought, on the contrary, to be surprised at not in falling more frequently, and into more grievous faults, and to return thanks to God for the dangers from which He preserves us. We are troubled every time that we are beguiled into some fault, lose interior peace, are agitated, and spend hours, even days, thinking of it.

“We should never be troubled; but when we find ourselves on the ground, arise tranquilly, return to God with love, ask His forgiveness, and reflect no more on what has occurred, unless when it is necessary to accuse ourselves of it.

“We have a false shame for our faults; we can hardly venture to discover them to our confessor. “What idea will he have of me after so many promises, so many assurances, I have given him?”

“If you declare your faults simply and humbly, he will have more esteem for you. If you have a difficulty in telling them to him, his confidence in you will diminish on account of your want of sincerity.

“But the worst of all is that we are vexed at being vexed, and impatient at being impatient. What a misery! Should we not see that this is pride, that we are humbled on finding ourselves less holy than we had imagined, that we aspire to be exempt from imperfections and faults only in order to applaud and congratulate ourselves on having spent one day or week without much matter of reproach?

“In fine, we are discouraged; we abandon our exercises one by one; we give up prayer; we regard perfection as impossible, and despair of arriving at any such height. What will this constraint, we say, this continual watching over oneself, this struggle after recollection and mortification, avail us, since we correct nothing, fall incessantly, and never become better?

“There is not a craftier snare of the demon than this. Would you wish to be protected from it? Never be discouraged, and no matter what fault you happen to commit, say:

“Though I should fall twenty times, or a hundred times, a day, I will arise at every fall, and pursue my course. What does it amount to, after all, that you should have met with some accidents on the way, provided you safely reach the journey’s end? God will not reproach you after your recovery.”

— From Consoling Thoughts on Trials of an Interior Life” by St. Francis de Sales


(1) This does not contradict Romans 1:24f. As long as we are alive we are given Actual Graces which, if followed and cooperated with, are “sufficient” to stir prayer … asking, seeking, knocking (Mt. 7:7) and eventual finding or recovery. Ezech. 18:23, “I desire not the death of the sinner, but that he should be converted, and live”

St. Bernard gives a striking summary of Hope: We have seen how every soul—even if burdened with sin (2 Tim. 3:6), enmeshed in vice, ensnared by the allurements of pleasure, a captive in exile, imprisoned in the body, caught in mud (Ps. 68:3), fixed in mire, bound to its members, a slave to care, distracted by business, afflicted with sorrow, wandering and straying, filled with anxious forebodings and uneasy suspicions, a stranger in a hostile land (Ex. 2:22), and, according to the Prophet, sharing the defilement of the dead and counted with those who go down into hell (Bar. 3:11)—every soul, I say, standing thus under condemnation and without hope, has the power to turn and find it can not only breathe the fresh air of the hope of pardon and mercy, but also dare to aspire to the nuptials of the Word, not fearing to enter into alliance with God or to bear the sweet yoke of love (Mt. 11:30) with the King of angels.”

Bernard, excruciatingly aware of the condition of the soul apart from God, nevertheless knows that every soul, without exception, however deeply mired in the mud of sin and disordered lives, is called not only to begin the journey to union with God, but to complete it successfully by attaining spiritual marriage. — Quoted in The Fulfillment of Desire, written and edited by Dr. Ralph Martin

Have you sinned? Go into church and wipe out your sin. As often as you might fall down in the marketplace, you pick yourself up again. So too, as often as you sin, repent your sin. Do not despair. Even if you sin a second time, repent a second time. Do not by any indifference lose hope entirely of the good things prepared.

“Even if you are in extreme old age and have sinned, go in, repent! For here there is a physician’s office, not a courtroom; not a place where punishment of sin is exacted but where the forgiveness of sin is granted.”

(St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church, 4th century A.D.)

“Since it is likely that, being men, they would sin every day, St. Paul consoles his hearers by saying ‘renew yourselves’ from day to day. This is what we do with houses: we keep constantly repairing them as they wear old. You should do the same thing to yourself. Have you sinned today? Have you made your soul old? Do not despair, do not despond, but renew your soul by repentance, and tears, and Confession, and by doing good things. And never cease doing this.” — Source

Have you sinned today? Do not despair.

“Let no one say, ‘I did that; perhaps I will not be forgiven.’ Because you did it? How great is the sin you committed? Tell me what you have done, something serious, something horrible, something terrifying even to think about? Whatever you might have done, did you kill Christ? There is nothing worse than having done that, because there is nothing better than Christ.

“How great a wrong is it to kill Christ? But the Jews killed Him; and afterwards many of them believed in Him and drank His Blood: and the sin which they had committed was forgiven them. When you shall have been baptized, keep you a good life in the commandments of God, so that you may preserve your Baptism to the very end.” (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 395 A.D.)

“There is no sin so grave that it could not be forgiven.” (St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church)

For Public Penitents (Maryknoll Missal, 1960)

Almighty and eternal God, in your compassion pardon your servants who confess to you, so that the remorse of conscience they suffer for their sins may be balanced by your merciful forgiveness. Through Our Lord.

Secret Prayer (Mass)

Almighty and merciful God, let this offering of salvation cleanse your servants from the guilt of sin and shield them from all harm. Through our Lord.

Penitents of Assisi

Established as a lay order by St. Francis of Assisi, their full name was viri poenitentiales de civitate Assisii oriundi (“penitents from the town of Assisi”) Eventually they became the Secular Franciscan Order.

“God is such an inexhaustible wellspring of boundless mercy and natural goodness that never was there a devoted mother who as willingly stretched out her hand to her own child that she had carried under her heart, seeing it in a raging fire, as God does to the penitent, even if it were possible that he had the sins of all men himself and committed them a thousand times every day.” (Bl. Henry Suso)

“If someone, at the Devil’s prompting, had committed every sin against God and then, with true contrition and the intention of amendment, truly repented these sins and humbly, with burning love, asked God for mercy, there is no doubt that the kind and merciful God Himself would immediately be as ready to receive that person back into His grace with great joy and happiness as would be a loving father who saw returning to him his only, dearly beloved son, now freed from a great scandal and a most shameful death.” (St. Bridget of Sweden)

“What does ignorance of God beget us? Despair! A man who ponders all the evil he has done becomes anxious about himself. If he does not know how good and forgiving the Lord is, how willing to forgive and welcome him back, he falls into despair and becomes impenitent. He does not realize that Omnipotent Goodness could manage all his affairs, not wanting anyone to perish but that the sinner could be converted and live.” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church)

“[God] promised His mercy to all, and granted to His priests the license of forgiving sins without any exception.” (St. Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church, c. 387 A.D.)

“In the Church there is no denial of a place of repentance for any crime whatsoever.” (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 5th century A.D.)

“Great is the madness of an unbelieving people, who though they have confessed that it is of God alone to forgive sins, believe not God when He forgives sins.” (St. Ambrose, Doctor of the Church)

“God is not unjust. He will not slam the door against the man who humbly knocks.” (St. John Climacus)

“If they repent, all who desire it will be able to obtain mercy from God.” (St. Justin the Martyr, c. 155 A.D.)

“Oh! With what tenderness does God embrace a sinner that returns to him!” (St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church)

“God is able whensoever He wills to forgive us our sins, even those which we think cannot be forgiven.” (St. Ambrose, Doctor of the Church)

“In the Church there is no denial of a place of repentance for any crime whatsoever.” (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 5th century A.D.)

The religious art of Franco Zeferelli. Jesus of Nazareth

Where is the foolish person who would think it is in his power to commit a sin more than God could forgive?” (St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church)

“God cannot turn away his face from those who cast themselves at his feet with a humble and contrite heart.” (St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church)

“Great is the madness of an unbelieving people, who though they have confessed that it is of God alone to forgive sins, believe not God when He forgives sins.” (St. Ambrose, Doctor of the Church)

“[N]o sin wounds the divine Heart as distrust; no fault is unpardonable except in the despair of a Judas, saying, like Cain: My iniquity is greater than that I may deserve pardon.” (Liturgical Year)

“God’s mercy, through Penance, grants pardon to sinners without any end… Penance can be repeated many times.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and “greatest theologian in the history of the Church”)

To him who still remains in this world no repentance is too late. The approach to God’s mercy is open, and the access is easy to those who seek and apprehend the truth…pardon is granted to the man who confesses, saving mercy is given from the divine goodness to the believer, and a passage is opened to immortality even in death itself.” (St. Cyprian, 3rd century A.D.)

“It is most evident from the preaching of the Lord that we have been commanded to restore the grace of heavenly Sacrament to those guilty even of the most grave crime, if, with their whole heart and by [a proper] confession of their sin, they do penance. It is certain, therefore, that you have no excuse for remaining in your sins.” (St. Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church, c. 387 A.D.)

“Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of God is able to forgive all sins. They are wretched indeed, because they do not recognize in Peter the rock and they and they refuse to believe that the keys of the kingdom of heaven…have been given to the Church.” (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 397 A.D.)

“When God gave to blessed Peter the princely power of binding and loosing in heaven and on earth, He made no exception, and withdrew nothing from his power. For he who denies that he can be bound by the sentence of the Church, must also deny that he can be absolved by its authority; and he who impudently denies this, separates himself from Christ altogether.” (Pope St. Gregory VII, 12th century A.D.)

“[T]he faithful should not despair of the infinite goodness and mercy of God. For since God is most desirous of our salvation, He will not delay to pardon us. With a father’s fondness, He embraces the sinner the moment he enters into himself, turns to the Lord, and, having detested all his sins, resolves that later on, as far as he is able, he will call them singly to mind and detest them. The Almighty Himself by the mouth of His Prophet, commands us to hope, when He says: The wickedness of the wicked shall not hurt him, in what day soever he shall turn from his wickedness.” (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

No crime, however heinous, can be committed or even conceived which the Church has not power to forgive, just as there is no sinner, however abandoned, however depraved, who should not confidently hope for pardon, provided he sincerely repent of his past transgressions. Furthermore, the exercise of this power is not restricted to particular times. Whenever the sinner turns from his evil ways he is not to be rejected, as we learn from the reply of our Savior to the Prince of the Apostles. When St. Peter asked how often we should pardon an offending brother, whether seven times, Not only seven times, said the Redeemer, but till seventy times seven.” (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

“Certainly God never threatens the repentant; rather, He pardons the penitent. You will say that it is God alone who can do this. True enough; but it is likewise true that He does it through His priests, who exercise His power. What else can it mean when He says to His Apostles: ‘Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’? Why should he say this if He were not permitting men to bind and loose?…for all of these things are commissioned not to others but to the Apostles… ‘Whatever you shall loose’, He says; and He excepts absolutely nothing. ‘Whatever’, He says: whether it be great or whether it be small.” (St. Pacian of Barcelona, c. 383 A.D.)

“Let no one say, ‘I did that; perhaps I will not be forgiven.’ Because you did it? How great is the sin you committed? Tell me what you have done, something serious, something horrible, something terrifying even to think about? Whatever you might have done, did you kill Christ? There is nothing worse than having done that, because there is nothing better than Christ. How great a wrong is it to kill Christ? But the Jews killed Him; and afterwards many of them believed in Him and drank His Blood: and the sin which they had committed was forgiven them. When you shall have been baptized, keep you a good life in the commandments of God, so that you may preserve your Baptism to the very end.” (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 395 A.D.) [Note: It should be remembered that although certain Jews had Christ put to death, the sins of all people were the cause of Christ’s death. One must also remember that the Church staunchly rejects persecution of the Jewish people.]

“The Lord said that to those sinning against the Holy Spirit, it should not be forgiven either here or in the future world [Matt. 12:32]. But how many do we know that sin against the Holy Spirit, such as various heretics…who return to the Catholic faith, and here have received the pardon of their blasphemy, and have enjoyed the hope of gaining indulgence in the future? And not on this account is the judgment of the Lord not true, or will it be thought to be in any way weakened, since with respect to such men, if they continue to be thus, the judgment remains never to be relaxed at all; moreover, never because of such effects is it not imposed. Just as consequently is also that of the blessed John the Apostle: There is a sin unto death: I do not say that prayer should be offered for this: and there is a sin not unto death: I do say that prayer should be offered for this [1 John 5:16, 17]. It is a sin unto death for those persisting in the same sin; it is not a sin unto death for those withdrawing from the same sin. For there is no sin for whose remission the Church does not pray, or which she cannot forgive those who desist from that same sin, or from which she cannot loose those who repent, since the power has been divinely given to her, to whom it was said: Whatsoever you shall forgive upon earth…[cf. John 20:23]; “whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven” [Matt. 18:18]. In whatsoever all are [included], howsoever great they may be, and of whatsoever kind they may be, although the judgment of them nevertheless remains true, by which he is denounced [as] never to be loosed who continues in the course of them, but not after he withdraws from this same [course].” (Pope St. Gelasius I, c. 495 A.D.)

And what sinners are there, be they ever so dissolute, who could despair of pardon if they repent of the evil they have done, when they see a God so in love with human beings and so inclined to do them good? Hence Saint Bonaventure said, “I will have great confidence, in the unshakable hope that he who has done and suffered so much for my salvation will deny me nothing I need.”

8 “Let us, therefore,” says the apostle, “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). The throne of grace is the cross on which Jesus sits, as if on his royal throne, to dispense graces and mercies to all who come before him. But we must quickly turn to him, now that we can find the help we need for our salvation; for perhaps a time will come when we shall no longer be able to find it. Let us go quickly then and embrace the cross of Jesus Christ, and let us go with great confidence.

Let us not be dismayed by our miseries; in Jesus crucified we shall find for ourselves all riches and all grace: “For in every way you have been enriched in him…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1 Cor 1:5,7).

The merits of Jesus Christ have enriched us with all of God’s treasures, and have ***made us capable of every grace that we desire.***

9 Saint Leo the Great says that, “With his death Jesus did us more good than the devil did us harm by sin.”5 And thus he explains what Saint Paul said before him, that the gift of redemption is greater than sin: grace has overcome the offense. “But the free gift is not like the trespass;…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:15,20).

Hence the Savior encouraged us to hope for every grace and favor from his merits. And see how he teaches us the way to get what we want from his Eternal Father:

“Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (Jn 16:23).

Whatever you desire, he says, ask the Father for it in my name, and I promise you that you will be heard.

How could the Father deny us any grace, when he has given us his only-begotten Son, whom he loves as much as himself? “He who…gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” (Rom 8:32).


The apostle Paul says “everything”; no grace is excepted, neither pardon, nor perseverance, nor holy love, nor perfection, nor paradise, “everything else” he has given us. But we must pray to him. God is all generosity to those who pray to him: “[He] is generous to all who call on him” (Rom 10:12).

10 Here I wish to add some beautiful sentiments from the Venerable John of Ávila, which he has left us in his letters,6 on the great confidence we should have in the merits of Jesus Christ:

11 “Don’t forget that the mediator between the Eternal Father and ourselves is Jesus Christ, by whom we are loved and clasped by such strong bonds of love that nothing can loosen them, so long as a person does not break them himself by some mortal sin.

The blood of Jesus cries out, begging mercy for us, and drowns out the sound of our sins. The death of Jesus Christ has been the death of our sins: ‘O Death…where is your destruction’ (Hos 13:14).

Those who are lost are not lost because they have no means of satisfaction, but because they would not avail themselves, through the sacraments, of the satisfaction given by Jesus Christ.

12 “Jesus has taken upon himself the task of remedying our ills, as if they had been his own. Thus he has called our sins his own, although he did not commit them, and has sought forgiveness for them. And with passionate love he has prayed, as if he were praying for himself, that all who wish to approach him might be loved.
And, as he sought all this, so he gained it, because God has seen to it that Jesus and ourselves are so united that he and we have to be either loved together or hated together. And since Jesus is not and cannot be hated, if we are united with Jesus in love, we too are loved. Since he is loved by God, we too are loved, seeing that Jesus Christ can do more to make us loved than we can do to make ourselves hated; because the Eternal Father loves the Son more than he hates sinners.”

From “The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ” by St. Alphonsus de Liguori

See too, I will not remember their sins

Updated, emphasis supplied throughout.