I have seen the following point brandished about on several occasions, and I want give a critique of it:
“The reverse is in fact true, the IC doctrine is most illustrious example of irresistible grace (to sound Augustinian). Here’s the objection: if God CAN do that to Mary (in my view this isn’t a logical possibility even in the garden, unless God were to “create” an uncreated hypostasis), why doesn’t he just do this to everybody and save us all a whole lot of trouble?
To answer frankly, I don’t have an answer to this question. I don’t know why God created the world the way He did, or how this hell hole we live in is the world best suited to carry out God’s will. Nevertheless, I do have a few objections to this paragraph.
To get the quibbles out of the way first, I don’t think that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception completely blotted out Mary’s freedom to participate with said grace. If she was sinless, it was because she cooperated with that abundance of grace that she was given. Of course quibbles aside, the substance Mr. Jones’ objection is that if God could give Mary enough grace that she possibly could (and did) avoid sinning, why doesn’t He give others the same grace and save us all a bunch of trouble? Mr. Jones presumedly thinks it is easier to deny the Immaculate Conception than to be stuck with such a problem.
The problem is, Mr. Jones seems to be objecting to something that seems empirically obvious, something not necessarily related to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. It seems self-evident to me that God gives some people an abundance of graces that He does not give other people, graces which, with the cooperation of individuals, saves them from a multitude of sins. St. Paul was about to kill a great number of Christians before God intervened. The effect of that theophany was a complete change of St. Paul’s life. He no longer persecuted Christians, and the very fact that He encountered God in this way served as a springboard towards virtue. Mary, whether she was immaculately conceived or not, was given the privilege of seeing angels and bearing our Savior in her womb (I doubt Mary could ever doubt God’s existence after that one!) The Apostles–who were scared out of their minds after the death of Jesus–were given the opportunity to see the resurrected Christ in his risen glory.
Some modern day examples: I am a convert. God did not “compel” me to convert, but He revealled Himself to me in a way that so many of my numerous struggles with my faith immediately fell away. I would probably not be Catholic today had Christ not intervened so directly in my life: and yet, most people do not receive the metaphorical ”smack in the head with a 2×4″ like I did. In addition, some saints seem to be graced from their youth with gifts from God, such as the ability to be an instrument of God’s miraculous intervention in the world e.g. St. Padre Pio. In his later years, Padre Pio sometimes said that he does not know what God is thinking, but God sometimes allows him to “look off of His notebook.”
God might not be able to guarantee that a person will cooperate with His grace so fully that they never sin (i.e. even a sinless Mary needed to cooperate with grace), but it seems obvious to me that God graces some people so much that, at the very least, they reduce their sinfulness drastically (in the case of St. Paul) and allows them to grow more deeply in virtue than they could have without the theophany. These gifts are gratuitous, and have nothing to do with how well the person had previously cooperated with God’s grace e.g. St. Paul was no saint before God chose him to be the Apostle to the Gentiles; but of course, he reached sanctity afterwards, something that probably wouldn’t have happened without God’s gratuitous intervention.
On the flip side, I also know several people who seem to have had few opportunities to encounter Christ in their daily lives. Not only do they not see miraculous things, but they see only the worst side of life. At my current ministry, several of the kids grew up in AIDs-infested homes. They encounter gang-violence every day, often watching their own relatives die before their eyes. Most of them had sex before they ever entered high school, and some have seen such evils that they are self-proclaimed atheists by the age of 12. So it seems like God gives some people so much grace that they would be idiots not to turn their lives around, and there are some people who seem like they are “on their own,” so to speak, to seek out and find Christ.
So here’s my question for Mr. Jones: if it is possible for God to make such a difference in people’s lives–even without God compelling them to be virtuous by forcing consent of their wills, but by presenting Himself in theophanies to people–then why doesn’t He do so more often? Why doesn’t God give every struggling atheist or militant persecutor of the Church the opportunity to hear his voice like St. Paul did? Why doesn’t He allow them to “read off his notebook” like He did for Padre Pio? As a matter of fact, why doesn’t God rearrange the stars in the sky so that they read “I, the Father, Son, and Spirit, exist” in every possible language? Sure, some people may still be unconvinced by such miracles, but I’ll bet a lot of people would be convinced, becoming ardent Orthodox in the process. To use Mr. Jones’ own words, this would save us all a whole lot of trouble.
Mr. Jones and I may disagree on whether God could give a person as much grace as Catholics say He gave Mary, but Mr. Jones seems to fall prey to his own objection. I am at a loss as to how my objection here is substantially different than his objection to the Immaculate Conception. I don’t understand why God does a lot of the things He does. But one thing is certain: there are a lot of things within God’s power that He chooses not to do. This seems undeniably true, whether we are talking giving people enough grace that they potentially (or actually, in Mary’s case) remain sinless, or giving people the grace to cease doing many sinful things.
I probably won’t ever know the answer to a lot of things on this side of the eschaton. All I can do is have faith that God has all of our best interests in mind, and that He is leading all of us to our ultimate happiness, as long as we cooperate with Him. Thus far, I have seen God’s providence working so clearly in my life that I have not yet been disappointed. I don’t expect that to change.