The sacramental smile

“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. 

Yes, Virginia and all you ships at sea, there is grace, and you can call on God to supply it when you’re in trouble.  Not how we talk these days, but is that so bad?

In Pennsylvania, a Quick Shot of Peace, on a Budget – NYTimes.com

This writerly woman with no religion in her life but lots of stress went on retreat, explained herself to the good sister-director at the Jesuit Center, Wernersville PA:

Sister Barbara listened closely and then said, What I hear you saying, Susan, is that you feel forsaken.

Not dealing with abandonment issues: forsaken. Sister Barbara did not then press me to process my relationship with, say, my mother or to consider that I should own my feelings.

Bingo. Biblical language did it for her. She knew the difference. Words matter.