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Actual Grace

From the Lectures of Father Messias D. Coelho
on the Message of Fatima (August, 1967)

Editor’s note: Fr. Messias D. Coelho, an outstanding authority on the message of Our Lady, was the editor of the Portuguese religious newspaper, The Message of Fatima, as well as professor in the seminary at Fundao, Portugal. Although his English is not the most fluid, his words are an important historical commentary on the Fatima Message. This article is the fifteenth in this series of lectures, transcribed by Howard Earp from audio recordings. We believe that this is their first appearance in a periodical.



To do supernatural actions, to do apostolic work, to do works that are ordered to God's glory, these things must be offered for God’ s glory. I am sure that this may seem difficult and strange to you, but this is what theology teaches us. Let me tell you how actual grace is necessary for us and for those who have no grace.

Let us consider two different things. Let us consider, first of all, the necessity of this grace for those who are not living in the grace of God — poor sinners. This grace is necessary for those who have no faith, who do not have the grace of God, in order to prepare the soul to receive sanctifying grace. For the beginning of faith, the beginning of hope, the beginning of the love of God, we need this grace. This is a dogma of faith. This has been defined in a Council many, many years ago.

Secondly, this grace is necessary at the very moment that a man comes to a priest and says, “ Let me go to confession.” It is one grace when he decides to go to confession, when he thinks, “I should go to confession; I will go to confession; I am willing to go to confession.” When he says, “Let me go now to confession,” that is another grace. Without these two graces no man can be converted. This is of faith; it has been defined as a point of faith. This is a most difficult point in theology.

Let me tell you a story of something that happened to me to help you understand this. Once I was at Strasbourg in a summer course in languages in French and German. Those of us attending were free on Saturdays and Sundays. On those days we had tours with our teachers and professors to see the things that were interesting in Strasbourg and around the town.

Years earlier, when I was a twelve-year-old boy — I remember it so well — I was in the seminary, where I had read a book that I found most interesting. It was a book on the wonders of the world. There was a wonder that impressed me deeply: the astronomical clock of Strasbourg, which is a marvel. Have you seen it? It is a clock that strikes the hours, minutes and seconds as does every other clock, and also the days of the week, the months of the year, the days of the year. It never fails even on the 28th and 29th of February in leap years. It indicates eclipses, phases of the moon, the dates of Easter and Pentecost, and so on. Everything is indicated in time, and also the distance between the earth and the sun — everything. It is wonderful.

The clock compares human life to a single hour. A child strikes the first quarter of the hour when he comes to play. A young man, an archer, strikes the second quarter of the hour, striking twice with an arrow. The third quarter is struck by an adult, a man with a sword, indicating that life is a battle. The last quarter of the hour is struck by an old man with a cane who is bent with age, who lifts up his cane and strikes the time. Finally comes the form of a skeleton, who strikes the hour with a bone. During the night the boy, the young man, the man, and the old man do not appear; only the skeleton appears, striking every hour.

At noon there appears Christ sitting on His throne in the upper part of the clock. One by one the Apostles come before Him and He blesses them. When He blesses the last Apostle, a cock, which is in the upper right corner of the clock, stretches his beak and crows three times — this is exactly at twelve o’ clock. It is wonderful.

When I first read about the Strasbourg clock I was twelve years old, and I was so much impressed that I wished I could go to Strasbourg to see it. Then I found where Strasbourg was on the map — oh, it was so far away! Yet I was always interested in this clock.

Years later I went to Strasbourg. I was living in a house called the House of the Catholic Spirit, which was just in back of the cathedral. Every day I went to the cathedral to offer Mass. The Strasbourg clock is in the cathedral in a side chapel — yet I did not think of the clock!
On the last day I was in Strasbourg, as I took leave of my friends I said, “I am going; I have my ticket ready.” One of them said, “Have you seen everything in Strasbourg?” “ Yes, I am fed up with Strasbourg; I want to go home. I am homesick.” “Have you seen the Palace of Nations?...” They asked me about many of the sights in the city. Then one asked, “Have you seen the astronomical clock?” “What?” “Have you seen the astronomical clock of Strasbourg?”

It was 10 o’ clock. I was to leave Strasbourg at one, and I had just realized that the clock was there in the cathedral! I went as fast as I could to the side chapel where the clock was located. The portal, the inside door, was closed, so I went around the cathedral to get there the outside way. It was a Sunday, and was very crowded with cars and with people getting tickets to see the clock. I realized it was impossible to get a ticket because there were so many people, and the chapel is so small. I was disappointed.

A sacristan was taking tickets at the door and I waved to him. He was a very pleasant man, and he understood and called to me, “Hurry up, hurry up!” I passed through the crowd without a ticket to see the clock.

The point is this: why had I missed the clock? I knew that it was in Strasbourg. But what happened? I did not receive the actual grace during that time. Do you understand? This actual grace was a natural grace, of course. But this happens to many, many people who know all about heaven and hell. They want to go to heaven, and they do not want to go to hell. But they are so busy with other things that they do not realize that they can lose heaven. The time comes when they have to go, as with the train leaving for Paris or for Portugal, and, yes, everything is lost.

This is of faith; we are obliged to believe this: that without actual grace, no one can receive sanctifying grace. But, you may say, “This is not for us. We all live in the state of grace.” So let us consider how this grace is necessary for those of us who live in the state of grace.

For those who live in grace, actual grace is necessary for each act of virtue that leads to salvation. That is why Christ said to the Apostles, “If you do not live in Me, and if I do not live in you, you shall not be saved.” St. Paul explained this very well when he said that without this grace we cannot have even one good thought or one good act. It is impossible. St. Augustine gives us a clear example: “If you have sound eyes, very good eyes, without them it is darkness inside. You cannot see anything at all in darkness without light, with exterior light.” Without this light, even if we have our soul in grace, our soul in life, we cannot do anything, we cannot see anything without this grace of God. Do you understand? St. Augustine was called the Doctor of Grace because he was the one who explained this most clearly. This grace is necessary for each act contributing to one’s salvation.

Second, we need these graces to persevere in sanctifying grace, to live for a long time in grace. Without this grace no one can remain for long in sanctifying grace. This is also a doctrine of faith which was defined in the Council of Orange. That is why Christ says, “Pray, watch, or you shall fall into temptation.” That is why Our Lady says here, “Pray very much, pray always,” and the Angel said,“ Pray at every moment, offer sacrifice at every moment.” We have seen how this is easy and how this is important. And why? Because of original sin, and the inclinations of our fallen nature towards evil. We have a force within us that is always inclining us to evil. If we have not this other force to counteract this tendency, we cannot stand, we cannot live in grace.

Third, we need a special grace, a special actual grace to persevere until the hour of death. This has also been defined as a doctrine of faith by the Council of Trent. You know the importance of the Five First Saturdays, and the grace that Our Lady promises to those who make this devotion. She promises to either keep them in the state of grace or to obtain that grace for them at the moment of death. Finally, fourth, we need this grace to avoid venial sins. This was defined as a point of faith in the Council of Carthage. That is why at Fatima Our Lady always asked here for prayers: “Pray, pray very much!” What she wants is sanctifying grace, but no one can live in sanctifying grace or increase in it without actual grace. God, Who gives sanctifying grace without asking anything from us — He gives it to a child, He gives it to a sinner — does not give actual grace free of charge.

Prayer is the most effective means of obtaining actual grace. Christ said in the Gospel, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find....” But our prayer must be humble, because this is a grace from God. We can never merit it, and God resists the proud.

Sometimes prayer is not enough. The Gospel tells us this. We need sacrifice, penance. There are devils that cannot be expelled except by prayers, fasting and penance. The greatest penance is to accept what God sends us with submission, as I told you. Something wonderful happens when we do this. When we offer prayer and penance in reparation to Our Lady, she can do marvelous things in us and in others.

Let me tell you what happened with Douglas Hyde. Douglas Hyde was a Communist. He was here in Portugal during a Congress that was held in Fatima. This man, who was against Our Lady, against Fatima, against everything religious, had a cousin who was a Carmelite who prayed very much for him. She also asked her Sisters in the convent to pray for Douglas, who was always writing against religion, against God, against everything holy.

One day he received a book from Fatima and was asked to criticize it, which he did. But after this he felt something inside himself so that he could not be at peace. When coming home one day he passed by a church. It was a very old church, and he went inside and sat down to rest. In his book, I believe, he tells this story, the story of his conversion. He said, “It was the place where I felt more comfortable, in that church. Everything was so silent, so quiet, and this is what I needed. Then after half an hour or a few minutes I went out and went home.”

One day he was much troubled with all his problems. All this time his cousin was praying for him and sacrificing herself for him. One afternoon he was going home from the office of the Daily Worker, the Communist paper, and he again entered the same church. Soon there came in a poor young servant girl carrying a bouquet of flowers. Douglas saw by the face of this young girl that she was much distressed with some heavy problem. She took the bouquet of flowers to the altar of Our Lady and placed the flowers at Our Lady’s feet. Then she lit a candle and took a prayer book in her hands and began praying. She probably did not realize she was being watched. A stained-glass window was next to the girl and Douglas saw how her face was changing during prayer. This lasted only for ten minutes and then the girl went out. As she was leaving she faced Douglas who was sitting in the last bench of the church, and he saw how different her face had become. At this he wondered to himself, “This girl must be very ignorant, and I am a learned man. I give lectures, I write books, I direct plays. Why can’t I find the peace that this young girl found here?” He looked around, and seeing that there was no one in the church, he went to Our Lady’ s statue, lit a candle, and put a coin into the box. Then he said, “Well, I must say something!” But he did not remember any prayers; he did not know even the Hail Mary. He tried to remember any poem, because sometimes there are poems like prayers, but he could not even remember any poems. Finally he found himself singing a song he used to dance to in his twenties. It was a song from an operetta; in this play a servant who was going to be expelled from a house knelt before her mistress and sang, “Oh lady, be good to me.” He began singing this song that he had danced to when he was twenty. He became ashamed when he realized that it was irreverent, but it was the nicest thing he could think of to do.

Do you know what happened when he left the church? He was converted. He went home and said to his wife, “I am going to leave Communism.” She said to him, “I have also been thinking of leaving Communism for a week but I was afraid to tell you.”

What made this man make this resolution? Was it the prayer he said? No, it was the prayers in the convent of his cousin and the other Sisters praying.

The same happened to Louis Budenz, the American. For almost twenty years his wife and his children had knelt down and said the Rosary for him every day. Yet he became worse and worse. One day he entered a cafeteria. Monsignor Fulton Sheen happened to be in this cafeteria at the time. This would have been impossible in Portugal because bishops never enter cafes in Portugal.

As soon as he saw Monsignor Fulton Sheen, whom he did not know was a Bishop, Budenz said, “Father, I think that we should work together for a better world. This is a very old world and it has so many injustices all around. Do not you agree?” “Yes, I agree.” Then they sat down at a table to discuss it. Monsignor Fulton Sheen said to him, “To have a better world you should point out a human model, someone who has no defect at all, someone we should imitate. Try to find this model.” “That is what I ask of you, Father; give us a model to have a better world.” “Yes, I have this model; it is Mary of Nazareth.” Monsignor Sheen began to explain how Our Lady cooked, how she washed, how she lived. He explained that when the Angel came to tell her that she was to be the Mother of God, she did not go to the hairdresser to have her hair done; she just went on with her life and the things around her. Budenz said, “When I was listening to that man and thinking about Our Lady, it was as if I was hearing the greeting of the Archangel Gabriel, ‘Hail, full of grace!’ , the prayer I learned in my childhood.” As they left, Budenz was repeating in the deepest part of his soul this prayer, the Hail Mary. Immediately he went to the Church of the Sepulchre in that area to join the instruction course to be baptized. And now you know better than I that he is a wonderful man.

Why did this happen? It was because of the prayers of his wife, who was getting discouraged because she had been praying so much for so many years.

This is actual grace. It is the most wonderful thing that we have. And the means to attract are prayer and penance. We have been here for five days studying the message of Fatima. This message is supernatural. We are not simply interested in history. We are interested only in knowing what Our Lady wants from us, what she came here to say to us. This is supernatural.

Actual grace is the only help, the only light that enlightens our minds to supernatural things; you could not understand one word if you did not receive this grace. If you understand many things, you received many graces. If you wish to change your life in some way, to improve your prayer, your Rosary, to make your consecration, you need a shower of graces.

But if these graces are conditioned to prayer and penance, and if God sends them only when someone is asking them, let me ask you, who was asking for graces for you?

Now is the time to reveal a secret to you. Do you know who was praying for you during all these days, and even today? A group of sixty priests from Oporto who made the last conference at Fatima made a promise of being in prayer and penance for you during this conference. Oporto, as you know, is the second largest city in Portugal. I have here a bundle of letters sent by them that came today; I can show them to you. One of these priests wrote that he said a Mass for you, and that he said a Rosary on August 22 for you. “And during all this week,” he wrote, “from August 21st to the 27th, which is a very busy week for me, I will live in the best way, the most perfect way possible, accepting and offering for this course all the sufferings, all the difficulties, of my life.” This letter is from a parish priest; there are fifty-nine more.

So you may trust very much in this grace to understand these things properly and to live your own consecration, and to help you in your apostolate later on. Lucia, now Sister Mary of the Immaculate Heart, and all the Carmelite nuns at Coimbra were also praying all this week for all the results of this study. You may be very confident in this grace and trust God. This is the only thing that matters when you want to do something important, because without this grace, when we work and speak, we are only making noise, nothing more.

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