“A book is a machine to think with,” said the critic I.A. Richards. Useful notion, that. A book as sacrament, leading you on. My confessor assigns my penance as an Our Father and three times making people smile. Not laugh. Smile.
I do that anyway. It gives me pleasure. Walking along, I search out the one coming at me, and half the time find recognition of a sort, and a smile. (Except when I’m grumpy, of course.) The two of us, young, old, male, female, handsome, nondescript, fetching, ordinary. The look does it, prepped by the gait, the carriage, the whole here-I-am-what-do-you-make-of-me coming down the street. (We give off signals, do we not?)
Penance (now Reconciliation) sacramentalizes this, gives me a two-fer. Smile as establishing familiarity, smile as sanctifying grace.
Sanctifying grace! What the heck is that? It’s old-church talk, and quite useful. Are you right with God, as far as you know? You’re in or you have sanctifying grace. On the way to getting and staying there you use actual grace, which comes in all sorts of ways, from saying your prayers to exchanging smiles with a stranger.
Get it? Like I.A. Richards’s note on a book, a machine to think with, these are very useful concepts, almost never mentioned, having been washed away in the waves of new-style Catholicism since Vatican II.