A Living Smile

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Part 25 of This Present Paradise

A Series of Reflections on St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

(Start with part 1 here.)

It was a Saturday in the spring of 2020, the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, and I waited outside behind my strip of blue tape for my turn for confession.  When I entered, the masked priest motioned me to a table across the room from him, so far away that I had to raise my voice to be heard.  I’ve never shouted a confession before, I thought, as I took a seat.  But these are strange times we are in.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” I hollered. I cleared my throat and shifted in the chair.  “I haven’t been the easiest person to live with these last few months.”

It was true.  As the weeks had turned into months of quarantine and isolation and I resigned myself to my new role of homeschooling mom, as my college son had returned home and my husband began to work from the kitchen table, as all eight of us saw one day blur into another, into one long stretch and one (very) short fuse, well, let’s just say I hadn’t exactly risen to the occasion.

I had tried, I’ll give myself that.  I lowered my expectations and intentionally embraced the time together.  I napped when I needed and snuck out for walks when I could.  I tried to take care of myself so that I could take better care of the family.  But too often I had ignored the unraveling edges of my spirit, rubbed raw in the unaccustomed stress.  And sometimes I had made no attempt to hide my fatigue, irritation, and worry.  

Sometimes we need to ask for help, and that’s ok.  But sometimes, as we slam the pot lid or the door, or let a large sigh escape when we know they are listening…well, sometimes we just want everyone to know just how much we are suffering. And that’s not exactly what the saints would have done. 

St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote, “Often a single word, a friendly smile, is enough to give a depressed or lonely soul fresh life.”  In the harsh conditions of the convent, how much life she must have radiated to the sisters, so often surprised by the ‘saint of the smile.’

I can absolutely see her smile, too—photographs of the Little Flower always portray a tiny upturn a the corners of her mouth, a look laced with mischief and some wonderful secret.  In contrast, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity always looked grave and thoughtful in her pictures, pondering deep things behind her eyes.  Yet she too lived as a smile.

Sister Elizabeth, as a young novice, was nearly overcome by her interior agony that first year after taking the habit.  She confided her sufferings to her superiors, and that was good and necessary.  But the other nuns had no idea of the turmoil going on inside her heart.    But on the outside, St. Elizabeth was completely tranquil.  She quietly went about her work, prayed deeply and devotedly, made herself utterly and openly and joyfully available, and never let it slip how she was suffering.  Jesus knew.  There was no need to burden others.

“Sister Anne-Marie…would give a beautiful cameo portrait of Elizabeth in action:’When one approached her, she was always smiling and always ready to do what was asked of her.’  Yet even this praise falls short of giving the whole picture, for Elizabeth went further–in two ways.  Firstly, she did not just smile when accepting a task: she went so far as to give the impression that the person asking for help was doing her a favor!” (Joanne Mosley, Elizabeth of the Trinity: The Unfolding of Her Message)

“Try to put joy—not the joy you can feel but the joy of your will—into every irritation, every sacrifice,” she wrote to her mother. (Letter 317)  She knew that it was impossible to be happy all the time, to not be affected by the sinfulness or thoughtlessness of others.  But it is a small but supreme act of charity to willfully choose to smile despite any hurt or disappointment in our hearts.

A smile is a sacrament of joy.  It communicates God to others and reflects back to them something of their own innate goodness.  

Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC shares his discovery of the pamphlet the “Apostolate of Smiling” in his book, You Did it to Me: A Practical Guide to Mercy in Action.  It reads, in part: 

You are an apostle now, and your smile is your instrument for winning souls…

YOUR SMILE…

Can bring new life and hope and courage into the hearts of the weary, the overburdened, the discouraged, the tempted, the despairing.

YOUR SMILE…

can help to develop vocations if you are a priest, a brother, or a sister.

YOUR SMILE…

can be the beginning of conversions to the faith.

YOUR SMILE…

can prepare the way for a sinner’s return to God…

SMILE, TOO, AT GOD…

Smile at God in loving acceptance of whatever he sends into your life, and you will merit to have the radiantly Smiling Face of Christ gaze on you with special love throughout eternity.

 

And because Jesus also suffered, and her trial was united to His, Elizabeth could indeed smile—although maybe with a quiet tear or two—at Jesus.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Jesus can demand a great deal from us.  It is precisely in those instances when He demands a great deal from us that we should give Him a beautiful smile.”  

Maybe, if we are in the world, we suspect that it is much easier to smile at Jesus than each other. But Mother Teresa tells the story that “Some time ago a big group of professors came to our house in Calcutta. Before leaving, they said to me, ‘Tell us something that will help us, that will help us become holy.’  And I said to them, ‘Smile at each other.’  …And one of them asked me, ‘Are you married, Mother Teresa?’ I said, ‘Yes, and I sometimes find it very difficult to smile at my spouse, Jesus, because He can be very demanding.’”

But smile she did.  At everyone.  And she made it clear that part of her missionary work was simply…to smile.  

“Let us always meet each other with a smile…for a smile is the beginning of love,” she said.”We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.  We speak of our God, good, clement, and understanding; but are we the living proof of it? Those who suffer, can they see this goodness, this forgiving God, this real understanding in us?  Never let anyone come to you without coming away better and happier.  Everyone should see goodness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile.” 

Smile at God, from whom every gift comes to us;

smile at the Father with ever more perfect prayer;

smile at the Holy Spirit;

smile at Jesus who you approach at Mass, in Holy Communion, and in Eucharistic adoration;

smile at the person who represents Christ on earth: the Pope;

smile at your confessor, the one who personifies God even when he challenges you to reject sin;

smile at the Blessed Virgin, to whose example you must conform your life, so that, seeing you, people might be led to holy thoughts;

smile at your Guardian Angel, because this angel has been given to you by God to lead you into Paradise;

smile at your parents, brothers, and sisters, even when they challenge your pride;

smile always in forgiving offenses;

smile in associating with others, banishing all criticism and murmuring; 

Smile at everyone the Lord sends you during the day.

            —St. Gianna Molla

“A soul united to Jesus is a living smile that radiates Him and gives Him!”- St. Elizabeth of the Trinity (Letter 110)

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