Feast of the Holy Family

Have you ever wondered why the Gospels never show Jesus laughing or even smiling? Wasn’t the Holy Family in which Jesus grew up a happy family as well? And isn’t a smile the most natural sign of happiness? The Gospels tell us about many emotional moments: like the terrifying flight of the Holy Family to Egypt in the middle of the night, and their cautious return to Nazareth. We read about Jesus’ anger at the money changers in the Temple, his amazement at a centurion’s faith, and his compassion for the crowd. We witness his hunger and thirst, his sleeping during a storm at sea, and his look of love upon a rich young man. We see Jesus weeping over the death of Lazarus, and shedding tears over the city of Jerusalem, and sweating blood during his terrible agony in the garden. But there’s not one word about a little laughter or a smile by Jesus, or anyone else in the New Testament, except for the wicked whose laughter will turn into mourning. Why?

Was it, perhaps, the custom of those times that a written account of someone’s life should be entirely serious? Something like the custom of people a hundred years ago who never smiled for photographs. If their pictures were all we had to go on, we might think people in those days were quite somber, maybe even morose. But, no, it was the custom to pose for photographs with great seriousness. I imagine that after their pictures were taken they all broke into smiles and relaxed, with everyone starting to talk at once. Perhaps for a similar reason, the Gospels always show Jesus acting with the utmost gravity. Consequently, we rarely see a piece of art that shows Jesus laughing or smiling. But if the natural expressions of a good and happy heart are laughter and smiles, then Jesus must have smiled and even laughed. We know he was full of joy because he prayed that his joy might be in us, (Jn. 15:11; 17:13). Well then, when might the face of Jesus have reflected his joy with a smile on his lips, or even laughter?

When Mary took the infant Jesus in her arms and looked lovingly upon him, certainly the little babe smiled at her. As a growing boy how many times did Jesus fetch a pail of water from the village well for his mother or foster father and smile happily as they thanked him? And when Joseph took Jesus’ hand in his own and walked with the twelve year old boy through the beautiful gate into the magnificent inner courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem, certainly they smiled with joy when they looked at each other. When Jesus was at the wedding feast in Cana, and turned water into wine, must he not have smiled and been tickled at the astonished looks on the faces of the chief steward and his assistants as they tasted that best of all wines? Or, when he was at Jacob’s well talking to the Samaritan woman and revealing her past, he had to smile when she blurted out that gross understatement, “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.” What about the time when his friends reluctantly lowered their fishing nets into the lake after a frustrating night of catching nothing, and suddenly took in an amazing haul of fish? Did he not smile and maybe even laugh at their tremendous excitement, falling over each other in their effort to pull in the heavy net of thrashing fish?

Again, when Jesus stood over the bier of the widow’s only son who was lying so cold and pale and stiff in the grip of death until Jesus raised him to life, did he not watch with joyful anticipation as the color returned to the boy’s face and he sat up and rubbed a few grains of grit from his eyes? Could Jesus have resisted smiling or even laughing with happiness at the widow’s tears of joy and relief? Did she embrace her boy and then Jesus?  And when our turn comes to be judged by Jesus, what do we hope to see? His smile, and to hear him say, “Enter into your Master’s joy” (Mt 25:21). When we enter into the joy of the heavenly Holy Family we will for the first time be able to smile and laugh from sheer happiness without any mixture of sadness. St. Paul expresses the purpose of life in these words: “…we make it our aim to please him” ( 2 Cor. 5:7). So, smile. It’s an inexpensive way of improving one’s looks and giving joy to our families and friends, as Jesus did.