I understand that the Catholic Church teaches that God gives everyone sufficient grace to accept Him and to be saved.
But does this mean that God always and at every point in our lives gives us sufficient grace, or just that at some point in our lives we had sufficient grace?
In other words, is it possible for a person to reach a point in their life where they have made such a mess of the chances God has given them that they no longer have sufficient grace to turn to Him and be saved?
I was taught in school that God has grace available and offers it all the time, but that having free will we can and do often reject it. One pre-disposes one self by doing good under the inspiration of the Spirit, that inspiration or nudge being actual grace. When we have been open to God’s gift sooner or later we accept the gift of sanctifying grace normally offered in Baptism. He continues to offer us more grace through prayer, the Sacraments, and good works. It is not that good works are sufficient to earn the Grace, but that they pre-dispose us to accept it.
Actual graces are distinguished by theologians into Efficacious and Sufficient graces. By a sufficient grace is meant a grace which confers on the recipient the capacity to form a particular good action, but which nevertheless remains without effect, because he refuses to avail himself of it. An efficacious grace, on the other hand, is a grace which not merely gives the capacity, but which through the consent of the will, effects the good act in view of which God bestowed it. Thus we may suppose a case in which two men have presented to them the arguments in favor of the Catholic religion, and God by an interior impulse of grace moves each of them towards an act of faith. One rejects the impulse: the other believes. The former is said to have received a sufficient grace: the latter an efficacious grace. It will be noticed that efficacious graces have a right to be called “sufficient”: for were they not sufficient, they could not achieve their result. But custom has fixed the sense of the words: and by a sufficient grace we always mean one which de facto is not efficacious.
These terms are often applied to graces considered as gifts of God destined in the divine purposes to bring about this or that result. We are taught both by Scripture and by the tradition of the Church that God can by His gifts of grace procur the consent of any created will, yet so that the consent shall not be by constraint but shall be a free act. “The heart of the King,” says the wise man, “is in the hand of the Lord: withersoever He will, He shall turn it” (Prov. 21:1). This truth is set before us by our Lord , where he says: “My sheep hear my voice . . . and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, which hath given them unto me, is greater than all. And no man is able to snatchthem out of the Father’s hand” (John 10: 28-29). Here he declares that nothing can frustrate the Divine purpose regarding salvation of the elect.
If this be so, it follows that God must be able by grace to direct the choice of the will as seems good to Him. We are here, it is clear, brought in contact with the profound mystery of God’s government of the world. Why in certain cases He converts the rebellious will to Himself and in others permits the soul to reject the solicitations of grace - these are questions as to which we must be content to remain ignorant, and to adore the dispositions of Divine wisdom. It must be enough for us to say with the apostle, “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways” (Romans 13:33).
The same principles hold good for actual graces, for those conferred on us when we are in the state of justification, as well as for those which we receive to aid us to the attainment of sanctifying grace.
The question as to how efficacious grace acts upon the will so as nevertheless to leave it free, has been ardently debated in the theological schools. The Dominican Order furnished the chief defenders of one view, the Jesuits of another. The controversy involves issues of no small importance; but since it does not immediately affect the revealed doctrine of grace, there seems no call to enter upon it here.