“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” This is a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The smile was just as important as the work that she did with the poorest of the poor. Mostly known for her work with the rejected and destitute, Mother Teresa could also be known as the apostle of the smile. The smile emits God’s presence. It is said that if one of her sisters could not smile on a particular day, Mother Teresa preferred that she remain in community home that day instead of going out to serve the poor on the streets of Calcutta.
I had a small, simple experience of walking down a seminary hallway one personally grumpy day, nothing seemed to be working out for me. The coffee wasn’t hot at breakfast, I found out I had failed a public speaking class, and I’m sure there were other things that made it even more grumpy. A fellow seminarian crossed my path in that hallway. He smiled at me. Nothing more, no words, just a smile and it changed my day.
It would seem Mother Teresa did not allow her sisters to have a bad day. The bad day, though, is a most human experience. Mother Teresa, ever human, herself must have had bad days. Was it not Mother who experienced the absence of God over many years of her life? She set the example, not just for her sisters but for us all as well. She smiled through it all.
Smiling and Suffering
She exemplifies the reality that the smile and suffering are not incompatible. The experience of sadness does not have to dampen the wideness of the smile. We can suffer and smile. We can smile in the face of suffering. A true smile is grounded upon the purpose of life. Why do I exist? So often we feel we can only smile when life is working out, when the kids are getting good grades and setting the table, when the boss rewards us with a raise. We must feel the happiness to produce the smile. Mother Teresa knew that her life was a gift that was meant to be offered back to God. In the middle of any suffering, sadness, or experience of joy and elation, the purpose of our life never subsides.
For Mother Teresa her purpose in life does not end with a bad day because Christ’s day does not end with a bad day. I once asked some high school students if Jesus was happy on the cross. Of course, their response was no he was not. How could he be? I cannot tell you whether or not he was necessarily smiling but unhappy he was not. He knew why he was there, he never lost sight of his purpose, that he was glorifying the Father, that he was loving us out of our sin. And not many of us could have a worse day than Good Friday.
St. Mother Teresa, pray for us. Help us to smile.