There are times, however brief, when everything seems exactly right, not necessarily perfect or even nice, but just right, exactly right. It’s like a revelation of being fully aware of being alive, and being human in this world at this moment. I realize that I, and the span of life that I am living, have never happened before and will never happen again. It’s true that this makes every moment precious, but how many of those moments are filled with trivial cares, aspirations, memories, regrets?
When I was a Catholic boy, being in a state of grace meant that your soul was unblemished and completely clear of sin, venial or mortal. I used to imagine my soul as a flat rectangle with rounded corners. It was usually kind of grey, sometimes even black, but on occasion, pure white—whiter than snow, whiter than the whitest white. That was after I had been to confession, received absolution, and knew that were I to die at that moment I would be swept up into the arms of Jesus, to spend eternity with Him in heaven. I would also have this feeling of pure grace after receiving Holy Communion, or when, at Benediction, the priest would place the host in the golden monstrance and lift it to the altar as we all sang “O salutaris hostia.” I can understand why saints and martyrs are pictured in a state of rapt exaltation.
Having long ago abandoned religious belief (but apparently not religious feeling), a state of grace is now more rare and cannot be achieved by acts of contrition or adoration. It descends upon me unannounced and unexpected.
The chirp of a sparrow suddenly emerges out of the background of noise and preoccupation, and I am aware of the poignant significance of little lives that begin and then end—sorrow and joy that clarify and bless the soul.
A state of grace may come out of nowhere or from a mental image of a long-forgotten, seemingly insignificant scene or incident. It may be in noticing the piercing beauty of the eyes of a child, or, after four hours of longing and strife, when all is resolved in the pure B Major chord at the end of Tristan und Isolde. There are moments in reading when it seems that a word or phrase was written by the author or poet speaking just to me.
It’s something akin to life and death; both are impenetrable and ineluctable. How can we anticipate or prepare for their reality?
O salutaris hostia
I can only marvel at the transience of life and its wonders.