A kind smile can improve almost any situation. When not being flippant or smug, a smile communicates a warmth and a kindness that helps overcome many barriers. Smiles are rooted in love and joy. Each of us should make it a point to smile, especially when we don’t want to. This is reflected in Pope Francis’ recent insight that “sourpusses” harm the Church’s mission (source).
Joy is an essential characteristic of any true Christian. The Latin name for the third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday (literally, Rejoice Sunday). How can you not smile when saying that? Gaudete is the first word from Philippians 4:4-6: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice. Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” With Our Savior’s birth at Christmas only a few days away it is appropriate that the Church’s liturgy commands us to rejoice.
Hypostatic union is a theological term which refers to the union of human and divine natures in the person of Jesus Christ. Simply put, Jesus is both God and man. At no point while Christ was on earth in the flesh was he without his divine nature—even as an embryo in the womb of the Blessed Mother through the time of his suffering and death. This means that Our Lord as God was never outside of the communion of the Trinity or the beatitude of Heaven. This is why Our Lord had to be the most joyful man. Think of the tender smile which must have been on Our Lord’s face as he blessed the children in Judea (cf. Matthew 19:13-15).
Simply defined, joy is the feeling aroused by the possession or expectation of some good (source & fuller definition). Since God himself is the highest good we should have the most joy when we draw close to him. This is why the longer we walk with Jesus the happier we should become. The more we enter into his friendship, and receive the grace he gives, the more we come to trust in his promises and look forward to enjoying the company of God and all the angels and saints forever. This is why it is appropriate to smile in church.
In the Gospel at Mass this weekend, we heard the Baptist cry out, “make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23). As individuals, we should hear this as being addressed to ourselves. In order to heed this message we need to remove obstacles which prevent us from more fully receiving and clinging to the Good News. Basically, the Good News is this: Our Lord Jesus Christ was born for us, lived for us, died and rose for us because he loves us. Even now he comes to us and gives himself to us in the Sacraments because he loves us. Our response, then, should be to live out this reality with joy. The Good News is nothing to frown about!
Obviously, we can’t escape suffering in this life; the Babe of Bethlehem was destined for the Cross of Calvary. As Christ had a cross so too we have crosses, sufferings and sorrows. Sorrow looks back to what has already happened: losses, misfortunes, sins, etc.—joy looks forward in expectation. Our Lord’s words bear witness to this: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your sorrow will become joy” (John 16:20). If we put our sorrows in the context of our supernatural vocation to holiness and eternal life in the kingdom, then we see that Our Lord’s words are true. So, if we are true Christians every one of our sorrows will turn to joy because we will see it in God’s light.
As we await the birth of Our Savior at Christmas may we smile as the joy of expectation increases in our hearts! Gaudate!