Grace is a free gift that is given by God. What does one do with the grace received? When a gift is given to someone it requires upkeep or it will deteriorate and decay. In the gift of grace, we must cooperate through our own free will, or we can destroy this divine gift (Journet 2.1). Grace cleanses us from original sin, we cooperate with this grace through free will, and as a result we get oriented toward our divine destiny in the beatific vision (Hardon). The three work together in such a way that their relationship is integral to each other.
The Catholic tradition is not a type of semi-pelagian motif, but views grace as of first importance. One cannot earn their way into Heaven because without grace there is no salvation (Hardon). One cannot get to Heaven, no matter how many good works, without grace. If one is estranged from God, then grace is needed to be disposed to justification (Hardon). Once received there is the possibly, through free will, to reject this grace.
St. Augustine observed this struggle with free will and grace quite brilliantly. Regarding this Dr. Ireland writes, “When he places side by side the consequences of his sin and the effects of God’s grace in his life, he detects two wills in conflict with each other: the corrupt will turn away from God, the pristine will turn toward God” (Ireland 24). In one scenario the grace of God is rejected, and we go our own way. In another we embrace this gift, it is free, but some action was taken on our part (i.e. accepting). Charles Journet uses an analogy of two men stuck in a well. God reaches out his hand to save and one takes his hand while the other does not (Journet 2.3). In this scenario each used their free will to accept the gift or deny it. By accepting the gift of grace through free will daily we reach a higher stage in sanctifying grace. God calls us to be like him and we must be willing to take that extra step, take his hand, and be obedient to his call. Through his mercy we can accept this grace and embrace the beatific vision.
Hardon, John. History and Theology of Grace. Ann Arbor, MI: Sapientia Press, 2005.
Ireland, Patricia. Guardian of a Pure Heart: St. Augustine on the Path to Heaven. Staten Island: St. Pauls/Alba House, 2009.
Journet, Charles. The Meaning of Grace. Princeton: Scepter Publishers, 1997.