This is Our Faith
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times


I have finally discovered soccer—the English Premier League, that is. Over the last few years, I’ve become a dedicated fan of the Arsenal Football Club. As I have learned more about the game, one thing that has come to fascinate me is how important the energy of the fans in the stadium is for the team on the field.

Arsenal’s manager, Mikel Arteta, speaks about the fans as if they are part of the team. Before a match against Porto, he talked about the role the crowd at the stadium plays during the game, saying “I think the impact they can make tomorrow is incredible. I don’t think that they really realize we need that noise, and we need them playing every single ball with us. We need that emotion controlled as well to understand that the game can go through certain phases and we have to be really intelligent to push in the right moments to get what we want.” In tough moments during the game, I’ve seen Arsenal players gesture to the crowd to give them more: more noise, more songs, more energy. In response, the fans in the stadium have lifted the team and, at times, helped turn a game around.
Seeing the dynamic play out between the soccer team and the fans makes me think of grace. St. Thomas Aquinas writes that grace is “divine help that moves us to will and act.” (Summa Theologica I.II.111.2). Aquinas and his predecessor, St. Augustine of Hippo, understood that the desire for the good is already God’s action, and thus the work of grace, within us.

Aquinas called this kind of grace “prevenient operating grace.” It is prevenient in the sense that it comes before any action on our part. It is operating grace in so far as it is the operation, or action of God, in our soul. We, however, are not compelled to respond to this grace. We can choose to reject the desire for the good that wells up within us. The decision, however, to respond affirmatively to that desire which God has planted deep within us is the work of cooperating grace. Aquinas writes that, through the action of cooperating grace, God further assists us by strengthening our will to follow in seeking the good and also by giving us the ability to do so.

Theologians make these distinctions when considering grace to help explain how we can desire God even though we are sinners. How, for example, can somebody who is not baptized and has not received sanctifying grace desire to be baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Augustine realized that God must already be at work in the soul of that person, moving them to desire baptism, strengthening their resolve to seek out baptism, and even making it possible for them to be baptized.

When I watch Arsenal play at its home stadium, I see something similar at work. The fans are ready to cheer and support their team even before they take the field. Indeed, this energy helps motivate the players as they prepare for the game. Once the game has started, the team responds to the emotion and noise of the fans, playing with more courage and playing through fatigue and disappointment. The energy of the fans helps the players play better.

In the Christian life, those of us who have been baptized should be like the Arsenal fans. We should be ready and eager to celebrate and cheer those who seek Christ in the Church, especially through the sacraments. Like dedicated fans, we must offer support and encouragement as each person grows in their faith and enters more fully into communion with God and the Church. In doing so, we will become channels of God’s grace in the world.

Amanda Alexander is currently the Director of the Department of Ministry Formation Institute for the Diocese and a parishioner of St. Adelaide in Highland. She has a Ph.D. in systematic theology and has taught at numerous Catholic universities.