The Personalist Project

So I am reading an article—an op-ed piece at Politico defending Brit Hume’s recent public suggestion that Tiger Woods consider Christianity with its theology of repentance and forgiveness as the solution to his troubles. The author opens with a moving vignette:

Thirty years ago, as she accepted her Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa told the story of a group of American professors who’d come to see her doing the Lord’s work in Calcutta. Before taking their leave, they asked for a bit of wisdom to take home with them. “Smile,” she replied, “for the smile is the beginning of love.”

I think to myself: “That’s true! How beautiful and true! I must smile more.” Then I am jarred by the next line.

Mother Teresa’s contention was that the first duty of a person who believes in Christ is to show others that you are happy—that Christianity is working for you.

Was that her contention? The personalist in me doesn’t think so. Not at all.

Mother Teresa did not say, “Smile; it’s your first duty as a Christian; the best way to promote Christianity is to show that it’s working for you.” She said to smile because “the smile is the beginning of love.” Her interest is not in winning converts, but in growing love between persons.

I’ll go further. To smile in order to show that “Christianity is working for you” runs the risk of violating of the very essence of smiling. A true smile involves both a revelation of the self and a response to value—especially to the value of the person before you. It is an opening of myself to the good of the other—an opening that allows the other to see the good of me, viz. the beginning of love. (Listen to Maria Fedoryka’s talks for more on this mysterious dialectic.)

A genuine smile entails, then, a certain self-exposure, truthfulness and vulnerability.  A sales-pitch smile, on the other hand, involves making a presentation in order to get another person to act in the way you want them to act.  This is a bad beginning for love.

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