It was a genuinely lovely affair, a gathering of gracious people our friend has built up around herself simply by being the joyful, prayerful and kind person that she is.
The wine flowed and the rooms filled with warm laughter and thoughtful conversation, punctuated all evening by hugs of welcome or handshakes of introduction for new arrivals.
You get a little lift being in such company, but I wouldn’t have thought any more of it had I not learned of a conversion that took place as a result.
One of the newer members of this community of friends almost didn’t come because her husband was so negative on the idea.
“I am too old for another event where gossip passes for socializing and acid remarks take the place of genuine wit.”
“Freezing a smile on my face and pretending to like it while people brag about their kids and their careers is what I do all week in business. I can’t bear to do it more on my own time.”
He made such a good case his wife lost her taste for the party, too. Good will towards the birthday girl was all that dressed them into their party clothes and dragged them out the door to face another draining, tiresome social event.
The ride there was almost silent as they gathered force to endure the evening.
Not so the return home.
It started out in thoughtful quiet. Suddenly at a stoplight the husband turned to his wife and a chorus of words spilled out: “That was incredible! Do you realize we spent four hours with all those people and I didn’t hear a single sour comment the whole night? No ragging on people! No shallow palaver!”
He proceeded to chatter excitedly the rest of the ride home about how different these folks were than anyone he’d ever met. “Everyone was so sincere but not stuffy. What a pleasure!”
The next morning the husband did not report for breakfast at the usual hour and the wife found her sweetheart — not heretofore a very pious man — in his study praying and reading his Bible, a practice he has kept up since.
God can use anything, even party conversation. The late journalist Robert Novak became Catholic as the result of a throw-away line at a cocktail party. For St. Augustine, it was an idle bit of news about some vague acquaintances that set his final conversion in motion.
This tells us, too, that people are watching us, and listening, all the time. There’s something in the human spirit that is always unconsciously on the lookout for signs of hope — and the most seemingly inconsequential things can provide them. There is power in simply being good; in being happy.
I once helped some Nashville Dominican sisters out by driving a van-full of their students to a local amusement park for the day. I can still hear the soft Tennessee lilt of the principal earnestly thanking me at the end of the day, “It’s important we show these kids we can have fun without sin!”
Fun without sin. That’s an important part of Christian life, along with prayer, evangelization, carrying the cross and the works of mercy. St. Thomas writes of the need to rest and restore the body and spirit, and instructs us in a virtue — “eutrapelia” — which governs recreation. Literally it comes from the Greek for wittiness or pleasant conversation, but Thomas uses it to mean a healthy sense of fun.
Prayer, works of evangelization, carrying our crosses, corporal and spiritual works of mercy: these are all essential to Christian life. But so is merriment. Sometimes the best way to preach God’s love is simply to be good company.
Rebecca Teti is a wife and mother who writes for Catholic Digest and other publications.