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Does God Smile?

Fr. Chris Saenz, Director

From the Director

By Fr. Chris Saenz

Years ago, when I was a seminarian, I was sitting in the chapel praying. Another Columban seminarian, Xavier from Korea, was also praying. At one moment, he turned to me and asked, “Chris, in the bible, when is Jesus happy?” I was caught off guard by the question. It caused my mind to race to find an answer. Eventually, I answered, “I don’t know but I am sure he did experience joy in his life.” It was sometime after that I encountered the passage from Luke’s Gospel (10:17-24) where, after the seventy disciples returned with joy from the mission, Jesus rejoiced with them. Yet, Xavier’s question always bothered me. As a child, when we entered the church, we were always told to be quiet, don’t laugh, don’t speak loudly, etc., as if God was offended that happy people came to church. Maybe because of this, it’s easier to maintain an image of God that is stoic, distant, and strict. I often asked myself, does God smile? After all, didn’t Jesus warn us about such appearances, “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face …” Matthew 6: 16

A statue of Jesus with arms spread wide in a welcoming gesture.Sometime after, I was sent to Chile for my first missionary assignment as a seminarian. I completed two years and prepared to go home. One day I told a young person from my confirmation class that I was preparing to leave Chile. I was surprised when she told me, “Thank you for everything brother. You know when you smile at me, it is as if Jesus is smiling at me.” I was shocked and didn’t know what to say. Of course, I quickly dismissed it and said, “Only Jesus is Jesus.” Looking back, to this day, it has been the greatest compliment I have ever received in my vocation.

Two years later, I had a homiletics class that taught the art of preaching. The professor divided us into small groups of four. We practiced preaching a homily in our small group later to be critiqued by our peers and professor. After I gave my homily, one classmate said to me, “You know, you did something that I never experienced before in a homily, you smiled at me.” I was taken aback. I was unaware I did so but all reassured me that it was a good thing. Sadly, a priest not smiling while preaching is a common experience for the faithful. As St. Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Spanish mystic, would caution, “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!”

“What would happen if we hid what little sense of humor we had? Let us humbly use this to cheer others.”

Some years later, as a priest, I was taking advanced studies in Boston College for a degree in Spirituality. In one class, the professor asked all to anonymously write on small piece of paper one thing we do to make a difference in the church. I thought about it and eventually wrote, I smile in church. The professor collected the notes then he randomly read them out loud. When the professor read my note, the class burst out in laugher. However, the professor said, “why do we laugh? Why is a smile so radical in Christianity?” Once again, St. Teresa of Avila reminds us, “What would happen if we hid what little sense of humor we had? Let each of us humbly use this to cheer others.”

When does God smile? God smiles when we express joy and rejoice. God smiles when Christians smile. Let us be radical in our faith and smile for God! A smile can evangelize more than any words we can say.