As I type, our state has instituted a “shelter in place” prerogative due to the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe. There are no public Masses, no funerals. Italy is trucking bodies off to the crematories, and the mortuaries can’t keep pace. What started as a questionable inconvenience has become a state of war against an invisible, rapidly spreading, and potentially deadly enemy.
If there was ever a time to drive home the importance of remaining in a state of grace, it is now.
But what is a state of grace, exactly?
Two Types of Grace
There are two kinds of grace: sanctifying (habitual) grace and actual grace. The first, sanctifying grace, remains with us as long as we are not guilty of mortal sin. Sanctifying grace makes the soul holy and pleasing to God.
So, what happens when we commit a mortal sin (a grievous offense against the law of God)? We are deprived of spiritual life, which is sanctifying grace, and we bring everlasting death and damnation on the soul. Queen Blanche told her son, St. Louis, future king of France, “My son, I would sooner see you die than guilty of a mortal sin.”
Holy Fear of God
This is not to scare anyone deliberately or flare up scrupulosity or unhelpful terror but simply to drive home the point that a healthy fear of God and a desire to rise above our failings are the first steps in leaving states of sin behind, the way a snake sheds its skin.
But when we will to do the good, our wills are moved by grace. God (who always blesses our cooperation with grace) begins “by working so that we might will it. We are only collaborating with God, for his mercy has gone before us. It goes before so we may be called. It follows so we may be glorified. Without him we can do nothing” (St. Augustine).
In short, to become a saint, you should will it, confident that God gives one sufficient grace to make what should be impossible, possible.
State of Grace in a Crisis
Why is it so important to stay in a state of grace during times of war and pestilence, when death seems to be around every corner? Simple: as it says in Scripture, “If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping” (Mark 13:36). The stakes are high, and rather than live in fear and anxiety (of which there is no short supply), we should take the opportunity to avoid mortal sin like the plague itself.
One of the byproducts of living in a state of grace is that anxiety is significantly lessened, because the man who is ready for life does not fear death. He also knows that when sanctifying grace dwells within him, he is protected, as it says in Scripture, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Psalm 91:4). He makes a home for virtue to dwell and compound, and is vigilant to keep his temple swept clean because of what is at stake, as it says in Scripture,
When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation. (Matthew 12:43-45)
No Fear of the World
When a man does not fear death, he acts accordingly. Times of war require brave men, and the specter of death should lead men to always have it before their eyes, for as it says in Scripture, “Fear Him, do not sin” (Psalm 4:4) and “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Asked about being in the state of grace, Joan of Arc responded at her trial, “If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.” If you are in a state of grace, continue to do penance, and don’t fear anything. Act bravely but with prudence and in charity as there is need. If you are not in a state of grace, let it lead you to repentance and firm resolution for the amendment of your life, so that you do not return to your sin like a dog returns to its vomit (Proverbs 26:11).