Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Smiling Matters

Joseph smiling! Here is his statue found on  the facade of the 13th century gothic cathedral of Reims in France. We might imagine that Joseph has just seen Mary from a distance and is smiling to greet her. Or that he is delivering the good news of having found a shelter for his pregnant wife in Bethlehem. Or that the young Jesus has just spoken his first word.

A human face contains forty three muscles which makes us capable of tremendous unspoken expression. One could say that our ability to smile is among the very important aspects of being human. But our minds control our smiling, so like our thoughts, our smiles can be used for good or ill. Joseph is surely smiling for good in the Reims statue.

But smiles can also be used wrongly. A smile can trick or manipulate. A smile can be used to conceal hate or dishonesty. A smile can be a smirk: "I know something you don't know." 

I had a pastor years ago who smiled even when people were objecting angrily to some decision  he made. It left them feeling as if he wasn't hearing them or didn't take their concerns seriously. 

But a real smile communicates pleasure, friendship and affection. Remember the gospel scene where Jesus met the young man who asked about following as a disciple. And when Jesus realized the fellow wasn't up to it, that he couldn't give it up, he "looked at him with love."  (Mark 10:21) No doubt Jesus' look was accompanied by a kind smile.

There's an awful lot of scowling today, eye-rolling, scrunched brows, tysk-ing and frowning. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. wrote: "I would have considered a vocation to the ministry, except that so many of them resembled more the undertaker." We need more smiles: genuine, open and warm.

But of course, how we smile depends upon what's going on inside us: what we're thinking about, how much we are distracted or controlled by resentments. Complainers, grumblers and critics usually don't smile - warmly anyway. We don't have to suffer such discontent! 

And let's be honest - if we don't smile at people, we have no cause  or right to expect others will smile at us. 


  1. There is a warmth that comes with a heartfelt smile. It fills you with happiness.

  2. I smile a lot when I’m with other people. I smile if I’m enjoying myself. But I also smile if I’m in a situation that I don’t like but can’t escape. It's reflexive. I wonder if people can tell the difference that I feel on the inside?

  3. Babies learn a lot of behaviors and sounds from watching the people around them, but babies are born with the ability, since even blind babies smile. Real smiles occur when babies are awake at the age of four-to-six weeks, but babies start smiling in their sleep as soon as they’re born. That says something about smiling, does it not? That God intends for us to be able to show our happiness and joy?

  4. From across the miles, I think of your smile Father Stephen. Love you.

  5. A smile as an indicator of manipulation and deceit. The worst thing is when someone looks you in the eye every day, smiles and acts as your friend, only to turn around and hurt you. That pain runs deeper than any other.

  6. Indeed! And Judas kissed Jesus in the Gethsemani Garden! Google: Giotto Kiss of Judas.

  7. I boarded the train as I do every weekday, scrolled through my Facebook posts and saw St. Joseph smiling up at me. My lips must have curved upward as I opened the post because my traveling companion asked my why I had a big grin on my face. Thank you Father for brightening my day. I immediately thought of all the things that make me happy and content. And that brought a sense of peace.

  8. Delighted! I love knowing that the posts are read on the railroad, early in the morning going off to work or in the evening, returning home. God bless your traveling - keep everyone safe!

    1. Thank you for your response and blessing Father. I really do enjoy reading Pauca Verba on the train after a long day at work.

  9. Working through depression off and on for more years than I can remember I have learned to wake up , be aware of my mood and when it's difficult I force my face to turn up my mouth. It has worked wonders many times!