When was the last time you smiled so hard it felt as if your face might crack? You know that ear-to-ear grin where you’re so committed to it you can feel the pull of every single muscle contorting your whole countenance. It would require more effort to suppress that goofy smile, if possible at all. It’s often when we try to quash the irrepressible smile when it bubbles up even more. Just thinking about those jubilant times in my life I feel the urge to break into a grin right now. But those giant beaming smiles are too rare for my liking. Unfortunately, they mark moments in time that can never be recaptured.
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.
1 Peter 3:15
A charming picture of my husband and me on our wedding day sits on a shelf in our living room. The little black and white framed photo is prominently placed on a bookcase in the main walkway. I pass it countless times on any given day. But recently something new caught my eye. I lingered on those two blissfully happy people wrapped in a romantic embrace. The joy on their faces is undeniable and would be obvious to even a stranger. But as one of the subjects of the photo, I also understand the beautiful love story that eventually led up to that candid moment snapped by the wedding photographer that crisp evening 14 years ago.
In the midst of my day-to-day drudgery, on those seemingly endless trips to the kitchen to load the dishes, start dinner, or on my way to swap out the laundry… I began to zero-in on those smiles with renewed interest. I mentioned to my husband that I realized I was smiling so widely, toothy, and open-mouthed, I had actually achieved an underbite. It seemed my bottom jaw couldn’t help but offer that extra nudge forward as if physically affirming all that happiness staring into the eyes of my beloved. I wondered when I had smiled like that since? I pondered the source of that physics-defying expression; all that hope, promise, joy in anticipation of a dreamy, heavenly future together. The boundless goodness was radiating from both of our shining, ecstatic faces. All of that was communicated by those smiles.
Perhaps there’s another reason I have begun to reexamine that snapshot. It is the memory of another ebullient, triumphant smile that has been playing over and over in my head these last few weeks, monopolizing my thoughts. But this memory, rather than softening the shell of my heart has been haunting me and making me feel so weary and hardened.
Painfully tattooed in a corner of my mind are the gleeful smiles of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his fellow lawmakers on the ominous anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Cuomo appears the lively Cheshire cat as he picks up a pen and glances behind him. With giddy delight, his colleagues, in turn, smile adoringly at the back of his head. They share an almost doting connection of mutual love and respect—uncannily similar to the tender gaze in my wedding photo. Mr. Cuomo, a professed Catholic, can’t contain his smile as he happily signs the most barbarous abortion law in the history of this great land. With a sweep of his pen children up to nine months gestation, just moments before their inevitable birth can be put to death… all with a smile. Ironically, Cuomo’s smile cannot be suppressed. Yet to his mind, new innocent life will be extinguished. He and his cohorts seem to smile so big, their faces might bust. What is the context or sad story that has led to these uncontainable sinister smiles? Smiles, for God’s sake! Even if they celebrate in their misguided minds for the mother who chooses to kill her own flesh and blood—to smile at such darkness seems equally inhumane as the abortion law itself. It is the self-satisfying, “victorious” smile I imagine the serpent wore when he convinced Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit.
When was the last time you smiled from the depths of your soul? Not just one of those wan smirks when we read something pithy online, but a big toothy grin that overtakes the whole face and bubbles up from the source of all goodness—those times when we witness the fascination of a tiny baby who has recently discovered his own toes, the preschooler who laughs so hard that noodles shoot from her nose, a loving couple that pledges their whole selves to each other before God, or a spouse who awkwardly dances with abandon to his own ring tone. There are countless good and decent reasons to smile.
That digital memory of Andrew Cuomo’s horsey smile will stay with me. Sadly, it will infuse some melancholy into any future happiness. But smile we must. For life will prevail. Christ is victorious! Our Redeemer will make all right again. We are part of an unfolding love story full of hope. We Christians must encourage one another to continue to smile from our souls which were created to LIVE eternally. Despite our hearts being deeply wounded, we must defend all human life from the womb to the tomb. God can work with our brokenness if we will just allow Him to lead us. Pray for the conversion of those performing abortions and the women who mistakenly think there’s no other option. Pray for Andrew Cuomo. And let us pray without ceasing that we keep smiling in anticipation of a heavenly future with God. We may not be able to recapture those blissful moments from our past, but we must strive to create new reasons to smile again and again. St. Gerard, patron saint of expectant mothers and the unborn, pray for us!