There is an old expression that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” and I suspect most of us can confirm this from our own personal experience. Nobody wants advice from a sourpuss; many will even decline a helping hand offered from beneath a furrowed brow. As Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it in her poem Solitude:
Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
It turns out that cheerfulness is not simply a nice thing to offer but is a necessary component of our Vincentian virtue of gentleness.
It is true that some people, as St. Vincent de Paul once explained, are gifted by God with a “cordial, gentle, happy manner, by which they seem to offer you their heart and ask for yours in return,” while others, “boorish persons like [himself,] present themselves with a stern, gloomy, or forbidding expression…” [CCD XII:156]
But a virtue, our Catechism tells us, is “habitual and firm disposition to do good.” [Catechism:1833] Habits, good and bad, can be changed, and our disposition towards cheerfulness can be natural, or it can be acquired.
St. Vincent reminded his missioners of Christ’s great gentleness through His own sorrows, His own suffering. Throughout His passion “no angry word escaped Him,” and even at the moment of His betrayal He greeted Judas as “friend.” [CCD XII:159]
As in all things, we seek to follow Christ’s example, to accept our own suffering, as Vincent once said, “as a divine state,” confident that our true hope lies in doing His will. And if we truly seek to “serve in hope,” our very countenances should shine with confidence, hope, and good cheer – especially so every time we are blessed to serve Christ in the person of His poor.
As Vincent reminded Louise: “Be quite cheerful, I beg you. Oh, what great reason people of good will have to be cheerful!” [CCD I:84]
Contemplate: What is keeping me from smiling, and how can I surrender it to God?
Recommended Reading: Vincentian Meditations