It might be missing from the paintings of saints of the past, but you can see it in the faces of the saints of today.
One of the challenges faced by people who want to share their faith is that of how to make the initial approach. You might be able to quote Scripture like a Gospel preacher or have the Catechism committed to memory, but if the person you’re trying to engage is put off at the get-go, you might be shut out completely.
A study at Stanford University conducted by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal, concluded that within the first few seconds of meeting a person a plethora of assessments are made, all forming the all-important first impression.
Impressions of how open, honest, likable, optimistic, empathetic, competent, etc, are processed and stored, creating a working thesis by which one is judged. This is the initial basis for how receptive a person is to what you will say.
So what can you do to make sure that you make that good first impression? So that a person will be more receptive to hear about why you love your faith?
Well there are things you can’t control, of course: perhaps hair color, weight, or height — but that’s okay, because there’s one thing that towers over all of these when it comes to getting a good start.
St. Teresa of Calcutta famously once said, “I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish.”
Also, “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”
She understood the value and power of a smile, as did St. Therese of Lisieux: “A word or a smile is often enough to put fresh life in a despondent soul.”
Though there might be many reasons, it’s unfortunate that so much of the artwork portraying saints casts them in such a serious light, i.e., no smiles. If one were to base an opinion of what it means to be holy upon the serious faces of so many of the saints depicted in the paintings and sculptures of the past, one might believe that holiness and piety must be accompanied by a dour countenance or a scowl.
But as St. Teresa of Avila once said, “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!”
Chances are that the holiest people that you’ve encountered smile a whole lot and are accompanied by an overarching positive attitude. That’s actually a manifestation of a gift of the Holy Spirit, namely Joy. And thanks to photography, many images of the last few decades show the joy of our more recent saints in candid settings, where they convey their joy in all it’s un-posed glory.
The benefits of approaching with a smile are truly unparalleled. It’s a sign of care, of acceptance, of optimism and approachability. But even beyond that, studies conducted by Professor Alexander Todorov, one of the world’s leading neuroscientists at Princeton University, revealed that a genuine smile makes a person come across as more trustworthy.
So the next time you encounter a person that you hope to inspire in faith, or even just speak with, remember the first thing to do before you say a single word: SMILE!
“Smile at each other. Smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other — it doesn’t matter who it is — and that will help to grow up in greater love for each other.” – Mother Teresa