In the reception of Holy Communion, Catholics taste and touch the Body and Blood of Christ. They sign themselves with the sign of the cross during the liturgy, and offer one another a gesture of peace with the hand. In his last moments on the cross, Jesus utters the Psalmist’s prayer to his Father, “Into your hands, I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).
Touched By God
If we admit the sense of touch in the corporeal order, then we should have no difficulty in admitting the reality of spiritual touch. What can we make of a person who is convinced that God has touched his or her soul? Is this a vision in which God has physically embraced the soul? When a soul is attuned to God, he or she acts on the touch or the prompting of grace at work within it.
For the most part, the life of faith matures from the daily response to those inner promptings that nudge the soul to virtue or restrain it from doing wrong. These promptings of grace are moral touches, which, if acted upon, will make the soul more like Christ. They are small but not insignificant, and the infirm or home-bound, attuned to them, can serve well the whole Body of Christ according to their own circumstances.
Touched to Conversion
Lives can be changed through a single, powerful, and unforgettable prompting of grace that touches the soul in the way a homilist touches his audience. Some converts have described their attraction to the faith through the lives of the saints or to the beauty of the Church’s liturgy and sacred arts. The French writer Paul Claudel was moved to conversion when he heard the Magnificat sung during Vespers on Christmas Eve at the cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris:
It was then that the event happened that has dominated all my life. In an instant, my heart was touched and I believed. I believed with such force, with such relief of all my being, a conviction so powerful, so certain and without any room for doubt, that ever since, all the books, all the arguments, all the hazards of my agitated life have never shaken my faith, nor to tell the truth have they even touched it (“Ma conversion” in Contacts et circonstances, Gallimard, 1940, p. 11).
The great European cathedrals are Bibles in stone and glass, and compositions like the Bach St. Matthew Passion are monumental expressions of faith that awaken the soul to God. Such beauty can light up the intellect and persuade the will to the assent to faith. Sacred beauty touches the whole person.
Infused contemplation extends to that area of prayer in which mystics are touched by God, but not metaphorically and not literally. Here we can only speak in analogy. It is as though a woman is seated beside her fiancé or her husband in complete darkness and silence. She does not see him, therefore, she does not hear him; she only feels that he is there by the sense of touch, because she holds his hand in her own. And so she continues to think of him and to love him (Adapted from A. Poulain, S.J., The Graces of Interior Prayer, 90).
In The Spiritual Canticle, The Living Flame of Love, and other writings, St. John of the Cross is fond of using the phrase, “touch/touches of love” especially when he sings of God’s beauty and the beauty of the soul who responds to it. The season of Lent is the season par excellence for “Love divine, all loves excelling.”
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