While talking to a friend this evening, I was reminded of a very important aspect of spirituality that is often overlooked. Oftentimes, those who are truly religious are depicted without smiles. We often mistakenly think that spirituality demands seriousness, and that those enveloped in the supernatural are experiencing an inhuman and unfeeling ecstasy that demands a perpetual expression of "holy awe." Genuine spirituality does not prohibit happiness, rather, it increases it.
There have been many books written on the joys of holiness and sainthood. Even I have included this concept of joy in many of my posts. However, it is necessary to explain how important a smile really is, an expression of this joy. A smile is an example of true holiness, because it is an expression of closeness to Christ in the deepest sort of happiness. Likewise, a smile is a perfect expression of love and caring. We must not underestimate the influence of a smile, and its power to display our own feelings.
When I was at the Poor Clare convent last month, I had an experience that is worth mentioning. As I was coming out of the chapel, I met a woman who customarily cleans there. After speaking to her a few moments, she said that she believes I have a vocation, and am like the sisters in the cloister. Why? Because I smiled! I was joyful and enthusiastic about my religious vocation. Rather than striving to appear holy and "contemplative," I glowed with smiles of joy. Many times people who are close to me do not understand my vocation... but it is my smile, not my holiness or conversation, that shows them that there is really a genuine happiness in this vocation.
Closely connected to this is the smile we give others... as a gift, if you will. We should wish to spread Christ's joy to others and to bring them consolation. A smile full of caring and love can mean more to a friend in need than any amount of promises of prayer and physical helpfulness. It is a sign of sincerity and true concern. It is also a bright expression to light the darkness of any personal problems they might be experiencing. I bet Jesus Himself often smiled on others as a method of bringing peace to their hearts, perhaps He smiled brightly and lovingly as He preached the beatitudes.
St. Francis' peace and joy were very great... as the picture above artistically demonstrates through his dance with lady poverty. He touched many, many hearts through his selfless and genuine joy. We should make an effort to spread good will in our own genuine joy through smiles. In this way we can touch hearts and bring Christ to others in a simple and non-confrontational manner. In this way also we can be an example of the joy of Christ which awaits all in heaven.