St. Teresa of Calcutta’s Secret to True Peace of the Human Heart, Explained by a Parish Priest

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We have heard Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “Peace begins with a smile.” What does that mean?

We talk much about kindness, compassion, and mercy as essential human qualities, but how come we still see so many people without peace?

We see a lot of people advocating for world peace and justice, but how come those initiatives and campaigns sound so nice, but no one seems to be able to smile and be joyful of what they are advocating?

I believe this immense power of the smiling peace has to come from our relationship and knowledge of God’s own peaceful smile upon us and His creations. This subtle sense of peace has to be found in God as we spend, and even sometimes, waste time with Him in order to be in His loving delight.

Only when this happens can we be able to share this same delightful love and peace with others, perhaps simply with a smile.

Please allow me to explain:

I remember reading in a Catholic magazine about a conversation between Mother Teresa and a reporter who asked her about her prayer life and how to pray. (Forgive me since I cannot remember the exact timing since it was so long ago.)

However, her simple, but powerful, message stuck with me ever since.

This is Mother Teresa‘s answer when she comes into prayer: “I look at God, He looks at me… We smile (at each other)!”

In a similar way, when I was taught how to pray in the Ignatian (St. Ignatius of Loyola) way, my spiritual director at the time told me: “Prayer begins with you beholding God as He beholds you.”

These two statements, for me, are the simple secret to prayer. Why does peace begin with a smile? Because it begins with us knowing that God smiles on us! This sense of peace is powerful because it begins with our essential relationship with God.

Prayer (and its peace) is simply not an apprenticeship, companionship, or codependency, but a true relationship that is grounded in love. Our relationship with God is founded in His immense and everlasting love for us.

This is not a relationship that is based on manipulation, benefits, or politics, but one that is based on the scriptural, prayerful, and personal knowledge of God who takes delight in us. God made His creation perfect, and we as human beings are the pinnacle of physical creation.

Even when we have sinned, He did not abandon us.

Time and time again, He found ways to reach out to us–to call us back to Him–even if it means having His only-begotten Son live among us. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to show us what it means to live in the fullness of grace through His own life, examples, and teachings.

He gave Himself up to death when people were too worried about their own agendas and wanted to silence Him.

His suffering, death, and resurrection are the greatest signs that divine love for humanity cannot be silenced or ignored, even if the powers of this world tries to do so. Salvation history reminds us that we are worth loving (and saving) in the eyes of God our Creator.

Therefore, to understand, embrace, live, and give ourselves to the immense and powerful love of God is what will give us peace. To live in His love does not mean to live life without struggles or problems, but to know that no matter what happens, God will never abandon us!

Therefore, it is a great joy to delight and be delightful in God.

If we cannot have joy in our relationship with the Lord, we can never give joy to others. If we cannot delight in God, we cannot be delightful to others. If we do not have peace in our love for God and His love for us, we can never know and share true peace.

I believe the problem with our world is that we have too many people trying to work for justice, equality, and world peace.

Yet, no one can agree because I think too many people try pushing their political, ideological, or personal agendas upon others in order to pervade their ways of life or thinking, make a name for themselves, or to do something to be proud of.

However, too many things remain self-centered — hence, selfish. I think many have good intentions, but I believe many will fail because good intentions without proper, prayerful discernment and filial obedience to the will of God will lead us to short-lived ventures or destructive tendencies.

Sadly, we tend to only worry about making up new policies and rules to make us feel like we have achieved or done something good, but will any of those things have enough depth, accountability, and sustainability for many and for the future generations as well?

Peace begins with a smile because it should already begin with our smile to God.

Peace begins when we are able to smile and delight in His wonderful and loving gaze with our own personal awe and reciprocal affection. I think this is important because we have to be able to come to the Lord and enjoy our time with Him, instead of only treating it as a last resort–something mechanical or even dreadful.

If we cannot smile or be joyful with the fundamental and essential relationship with our Creator, the One who loves us, then we cannot really be joyful to anyone else. There are too many who are too worried about what to do and how to do them.

Many are too depressed, cynical, lonely, or gave up on this world and others because they never spent the time or wanted to discover the original source of joy. Therefore, we are quickly saddened and disturbed because we allow the things of this world to be the sources of our joy.

Yet, with the ever-changing fluxes of life, nothing is really substantial and worth holding on to unless we seek the transcendental, everlasting, and never-changing love of God. Joy begins with our love for God, with a smile!

So, what can we do? “Waste” Time with God!

Perhaps come to prayer with a smile and learn to waste time with God! We do not have to come with a list of things to say, demands to request, or expectations to be met. We do not have to come just to express our concerns, frustrations, or anger.

I think this will be hard for many, as it is hard for me sometimes, too, because we are so used to coming to God with something to say or ask instead of simply spending time with Him: beholding Him who beholds us kindly, gazing on Him who gazes at us lovingly, smiling at Him who smiles at us tenderly.

I think we can all try to come with a simple heart of a child — a heart that smiles — so God can smile at us and us at Him.

Ask yourself: when was the last time you took things lightly, enjoyed life as it is, and took delight in what is happening? If that cannot happen, we cannot smile at ourselves and pass on that smile to others!

Yet, simple joy is important and a smile is contagious.

I think our world would be much better if we gave and received kindness and loved genuinely, care for one another deeply, and gave each other the true gift of ourselves with what we have — all with a smile.

If we can smile and give to one another the true gift of kindness from within, we would not worry about self-righteousness, pretentious, or self-centered motives. If we can genuinely smile at others, we cannot. in our right mind, hurt them.

If we are motivated by kindness and care for others, we then do not have to be so uptight or worried about getting things our way. If we all recognize that God loves and takes delight in us, we should all work together so that He can be proud of our loving care for one another.

If God is smiling at us, we should all personally and communally try our best to live and extend that smile toward others and among ourselves.

Therefore, peace begins with a smile — not just any smile — an actual and heartfelt smile that comes from loving God and others.

Therefore, let us try our best to share and live in peace with one another so that our Heavenly Father will continue to smile upon us–we at one another as the Body of Christ, through the power and working of the loving Spirit of life.

If we can truly understand, appreciate, and live that out, we will truly be able to understand the powerful reality that peace does begin with a smile.

This article originally appeared on Fr. Khoi Tran’s “‘I Thirst’ (John 19:28)” blog.

[See also: The Surprising Little-Known Story Behind St. Thérèse’s Famous Joan of Arc Photo]

[See also: Think You’re Too Busy for Prayer? Try This–It Might Change Your Life!]

Fr. Khoi Tran
Fr. Khoi was born in Vietnam, but immigrated to the United States in 1994. He is parochial administrator for three parishes in the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas. You can learn more about him on his blog.