Column: I hope this will make you smile

by Fr. Mark Goldasich 

Vacation Bible School just ended at my parish and, to be honest with you, I couldn’t be happier. The week made me a nervous wreck.

It all started early Monday morning when I arrived at the parish center to set up for Mass. I was shocked at what had been done overnight to the space. I’d left things on Sunday looking normal. Now, just a few hours later, the place looked just like a jungle! There were clown fish, lions, snakes, and monkeys everywhere — some were even sporting straw hats. It gave me the willies.

I hurriedly moved around a partition to the altar area; at least that space had been left untouched. As I set out items for Mass, I had an uncomfortable feeling that I was being watched. Slowly I looked around and there, in the celebrant’s chair, sat an alligator. Even worse, he had a little pink monkey in his jaws. With no regard for personal safety, I immediately went to the monkey’s aid. As I picked up the alligator, the monkey feel free and, as he hit the floor, began to “cheep” loudly. My heart could hardly stand it. I escorted both the creatures around the partition to their rightful place in the rain forest.

And that’s when I heard them.

Birds. Chirping.

I ducked down expecting to be dive-bombed at any moment. I suspected that someone had accidentally let in one or more of the barn swallows that love to swoop outside in the parish center portico. I looked up to the ceiling, but didn’t see any movement.

The chirping grew more insistent. An idea struck me: You idiot. It’s probably a CD of jungle sounds for Bible school, to lend realism to the rain forest theme. I craned my neck to listen carefully under one of the center’s speakers. Nope, the sound wasn’t coming from there.

Eventually, I made my way to the hallway, where two large cages were sitting. Inside were live, bona fide, noisy parakeets. I retreated to the safety and quiet of the sacristy to put on my vestments for Mass. As I reached for the green chasuble, something brushed my hand. I jumped back when I realized a cobra was nesting on the hanger.

As last week unfolded, I was “surprised” each morning with a visit from some wild animal and serenaded by those parakeets. (Did I mention how noisy they were?) I couldn’t help but smile at these unusual beginnings to each day.

And, from what I’ve heard, there were smiles all around during Bible school. The kids had a great time, and parents, teachers, and volunteers were smiling at a job well done.

Smiling. That’s not a bad way to start a day. In fact, it’s an excellent way. But all too often we forget the power of a smile. Perhaps that’s why there’s National Smile Week in August. This coming Monday kicks it off.

Is it just me or does it seem like smiles are in short supply these days? High gas and food prices, terrorism and war, home foreclosures, violence in our streets, severe weather — there’s no shortage of serious concerns around. National Smile Week can remind us — as does our faith — that there’s more to our lives. While problems are real, so too is our belief in the only One who can give us the strength and courage to deal with them.

Smiling can be a small, visible sign of faith: a testament to the Light in an often dark and gloomy world. As people entrusted with the Gospel, the good news, our task is to not let the world forget hope.

Honestly, though, we may need to start with ourselves. Each morning this week, as you look at yourself in the mirror, do so, not with a sense of horror, but with a big smile. And rather than starting the day reading the front page of the paper, head to the comics section instead. Carry a small tablet with you to write down things that make you smile as you go through your day: acts of kindness that people do for you, funny situations you encounter, humorous quotes you come across.

If you still need convincing about the advantages of a smile, ponder these reasons suggested by the Web site www.smileycollector.com:

• It’s less work than frowning.

• It’s free, legal and nonfattening.

• It gives your mouth something to do when you’re not eating or talking.

• It shows off all of that expensive dental work.

• It helps you look like the “after” picture rather than the “before” picture.

Best of all, a smile is contagious. National Smile Week says it’s time to unleash this epidemic on the world.

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