By Dr. Michael Griffin, Chair of Theology, Holy Cross College, Notre Dame Indiana
As a moral theologian, I always keep close at hand the axiom of St. Thomas Aquinas: gratia naturam perficiat, grace perfects nature. One implication of this principle is that the Church and society do not inhabit two separate worlds, as if you go only to secular institutions for your “nature” and church institutions for your “grace.” Rather, grace penetrates and deepens our natural activities. This is why at a Catholic school, learning science can be an occasion of grace. Catholic science classrooms can go so deep into the scientific study of nature that this study is transformed, “perfected” into an act of contemplation and wonder toward our living God.
Okay, I know, I know: “This is not Theo 101 Professor Griffin!” What about credit unions? The simple point I want to share is this: that saving, borrowing and sharing of financial resources are classic “natural acts” in the language of St. Thomas. People have always naturally engaged in this kind of activity. But precisely because this type of activity is natural, it can be deepened and transformed by grace.
So how can an act of saving or borrowing or sharing become seen as an act of grace?
I offer this answer to the question: these financial acts can become Christological acts of love. As we steward the resources we have been given as people and parishes and communities, we can always choose to act in ways that make us more one body, the Body of Christ. This is the Body that gives life, nature-graced life, to the world. Maybe that means that the thoughtful actions of Catholic credit union members make it possible to bring a poor kid into a Catholic school. Maybe it means more financial resources are put into other works of the Church. Maybe it means that members become more conscious that their “natural activities” with money — so often near occasions of sin in our culture — are actually near occasions of grace. As Pope Benedict wrote in his 2009 encyclical Charity in Truth, “If love is wise, it can find ways of working in accordance with provident and just expediency, as is illustrated in a significant way by much of the experience of credit unions.”