Fr. Roger J. Landry
Our Lady of the Rosary Monastery, Summit, NJ
May 7, 2003
It’s a great joy for me to be with you, sisters, making a pilgrimage to the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, during the month dedicated to Mary in the year of the Rosary. And this brief sentence of thanks summarizes what I want to discuss tonight: joy, Mary, you and me.
1) On our lips repeatedly throughout the Easter Season are the words, “Regina Caeli, Laetare! Alleluia!” Rejoice, O Blessed Virgin Mary. “Gaude et laetare!” The whole Church tells Mary to be joyous because the Son whom she merited to bear has truly risen as he said he would. And doubtless she does rejoice, she rejoices more fully than anyone. But she who is both our mater and magistra, our mother and teacher, wants us to share that joy with her, to rejoice with all our being over this greatest of all events and everything it means. She whom we invoke as “cause of our joy” wants to shout out to us from the treasure of her contemplative heart, “Filii mei, Laetamini!.”
2) Today, during this month dedicated to our Blessed Mother in the Year of the Rosary, we’re going to reflect together on Mary’s joy and what we learn from her about our own joy. The world urgently needs to see this joy, this joy that comes from the fact that everything in our faith is true, that Jesus has risen from the dead, that God really did love us so much that he traded his own son’s life for ours on the Cross, that God has called us to a life of love with him in this world and has prepared a place for us in the next if we live in that love, abide in God and allow God to abide in us. In so many places, however, we don’t see that joy. Especially after the long lent of 2002 for the Church in the United States, fewer Catholics are smiling, fewer Catholics are rejoicing in their faith, both inside the Churches at Mass and outside in society. Yet, all of us have the mission to be contagiously joyous. The Holy Spirit through St. Paul tells us as he told the Christians in Philippi, to “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” But they weren’t the only Christians with this difficulty. The Christians in Thessalonika got an even more pointed message: the “will of God in Christ Jesus for you” is to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give constant thanks.” Rejoice always. This is our vocation, this is every Christian’s vocation, no matter what our state of life. And the consequences for not living up to this mandate are enormous. If we’re not joyful, we seem to make the good news a lie. But the name of those Christians — even those priests and brides of Christ — who are not joyful is legion. I remember in Rome the Cardinal Prefect of Education used to ask all of the seminarians, young priests and religious in the city in their religious habits and clerics please to do him a special favor on their way back and forth to class. Curiously, he didn’t ask us to pray; he asked us to “smile,” to greet the Romans with joy, to show that the good news really is good news. In Toronto last summer, in his opening greetings to the hundreds of thousands of young people present, the Pope kept shouting “heureux!,” “be happy!,” by living the beatitudes, because, as he noted, the Christian must be marked by a supernatural joie de vivre. If we were truly joyful, the world would be busting down the doors of our parishes, seminaries and monasteries to get in. The fact that they are not shows us how far we have to go.
3) As a whole, we in the Church, individually and collective, haven’t been keeping the imperative to rejoice always. This order is unlike most of the commandments and other Christian duties. Human experience is such that one cannot just start “rejoicing!,” because joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, a fruit that comes from tree that bears this fruit. Therefore to rejoice at all times, but especially this Easter, we need to examine that tree, our tree, to see how we can produce this fruit in abundance. And hence we turn to the one who produced this fruit more abundantly than any creature in history, she who is the cause of our joy.
4) “Rejoice, you who have been filled with grace, the Lord is with you!,” so the Angel sent by God said to Mary in Nazareth. This brief greeting given by God through his angelic messenger when the fullness of time had come speaks volumes. The first word from God through Gabriel was “rejoice!” Rejoice. Then Gabriel indicated the reasons why she should erupt with joy: because she was full of grace and the Lord was with her. These are two fundamental fonts for joy. God’s grace and presence. Let’s start with the second. Leon Bloy said, very insightfully, “joy is the most infallible sign of God’s presence.” If the Lord is present, if we recognize his presence and trust in him, there’s no alternative but to rejoice. Dominus tecum. The Lord is with you and therefore how could Mary not rejoice?! The Lord was present already in her life in a singular way, because he had filled her with grace from the first moment of her existence. Our joy comes from God and this grace, God’s own life within, is the source of joy.
5) When we follow Mary in her hasty departure from Nazareth to Ain Karim, we see another one of the fonts of joy. After Elizabeth greeted her as the mother of her Lord, Mary erupted in her hymn of joy: “My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” My Spirit rejoices in God, she said. Why? “For he was looked with kindness on his lowly servant, … the mighty One has done great things for me.” We find there two things, God’s kindness and Mary’s humble gratitude. This humble gratitude is a major source of joy.
6) The last thing I’ll mention before applying what Mary teaches to our own lives is what we learn when we meditate on the joyful mysteries. We see, very beautifully, that joy is compatible with suffering and sorrow. The joy of Mary’s selection by God in the Annunciation was coupled by the misunderstanding that would ensue because of her being pregnant as a virgin. The joy of Jesus’ birth was coupled to the humility of the surroundings of the stable, with Herod’s hunting him down to try to kill him. The joy of his presentation in the temple was coupled to Simeon’s two prophecies that Jesus would be a sign of contradiction and that Mary’s heart would itself be pierced by a sword. The joy of bringing him up to the temple was coupled with the terror of having lost him for a few days and his mysterious reply. Real joy is compatible with this sorrow provided that one never loses the sense of the presence of God — Dominus tecum! — and the help of God’s grace.
7) Now we can apply these lessons about Mary’s joy to our own situations. Our joy, like hers, will come from God, as a fruit of our own relationship with God. There are lots of ways in which God is the source of our joy, but we can focus on four.
a) The first is the convinction that God loves us, that the Almighty has looked at us with kindness and be grateful for that love. We must believe in God’s deep love for us, accept it, thank him for it and give it back to the Lord. This is what Mary did, as we see in her Magnificat.
b) The second is to reflect on the meaning of God’s indwelling through the gift of sanctifying grace. Dominus tecum! Dominus nobiscum! The Lord is with us, inside, when we are in the state of grace. God doesn’t just love us, but lives with us in love. Blessed Don Marmion used to say that joy is the echo of God’s life within us. One of the sources of our joy, therefore, will be our recognition of the importance of the sacraments, which intensify or restore this loving presence of God within.
c) The third is a deep trust and hope in Divine Providence, as Mary always showed, no matter what occurred. “Blessed is she who trusted that what the Lord had spoken to her would be fulfilled.” Mary showed us how to trust in God. In addition to being all-loving and living inside of us through sanctifying grace, God is all-powerful. He is in charge. He’s conquered sin, Satan and death. How can anything extinguish our joy? Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from his love, as St. Paul said. Even those who from a human point of view are desperate can be profoundly joyful if they trust in God and in his love.
d) The fourth source of joy we’ll mention is prayer. This is how we put our trust in God’s providence into action. Jesus said to us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened to you. As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Our joy will flow from that prayerful peace. The ability even to approach God the Father in prayer is a source of joy. And if human fathers wouldn’t give their children snakes instead of fish, rocks instead of bread, so much more will our Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. And that same Holy Spirit, within us through the divine indwelling, will help us to bear with him the fruit of joy. Mary, who herself was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit throughout her life, is our model in prayer as well.
8 ) But while we’re talking practically about the sources of joy, we should also discuss the things that can sap and threaten our joy. We can mention four:
a) The first is self-pity. We can start feeling bad for ourselves, to start counting not our blessings, but our misfortunes. We can start to see ourselves as martyrs. Rather than convert humility into an opportunity for giving God praise and joy, as Mary did in the Magnificat, rather than even rejoicing in our sufferings, we can start voluntarily to allow those sufferings and difficulties to separate from God. To live up to our vocation to rejoice always, we have to expunge all self-pity.
b) The second is worry. We can start to be eaten alive by worries, preoccupations, fears, what-ifs. Of course there are going to be things that concern us — health problems, loved ones going down the wrong path, whether we’ll be able to fulfill well our duties — but Jesus tells us not to worry. “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” If Jesus is saying this about the things we really need — food, shelther, clothing — then he’s saying it about everything else. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his holiness,” and everything else will be given to us besides. Mary, after having been told by the Archangel not to be afraid, taught us the secret here too in her fiat, trusting in willing whatever the Lord allows to happen. “Let it be done to me as you say.” We don’t really have the weight of the world on our shoulders, even though at times we feel that we do. I love the story of Bl. Pope John XXIII, who had the weight of the Church and all her problems on his rather bulky shoulders. As he would go in to pray Compline and then pray to the Lord for the needs of the Church throughout the world, he would name several of them that were troubling him most. Then he would conclude, full of trusting confidence, “Signore, é la vostra chiesa. Vado dormire!” “Lord it’s your Church, I’m going to bed. Probably all of us need to trust more in the Lord like Bl. John XXIII, so that we might radiate the joy that he did.
c) The third thing that robs us of joy is complaining. This can be common among priests and religious, especially when we start, rather than taking out the logs from our own eyes, to notice specks in everyone else’s eyes and in every corner. I think we’ve all met people who would have complained about the menu at the Last Supper, whose glasses are always half-empty, who are more prone to criticize than compliment, to discourage than encourage. Is it any wonder that these people have no joy? Some of us are playing on the field; others are criticizing from the stands. And those of us in the first group should be prepared for criticism by those in the other. That shouldn’t rob us of our joy, if our joy involves following Jesus in carrying the Cross. The opposite of complaining is gratitude, gratitude for anything the Lord allows. We learn this from the example of Mary, especially in her Magnificat.
d) The final thing we’ll mention is really the most fundamental. The greatest thing that threatens our joy is when we place our happiness in anything other than in God. If we’re really setting our desires on esteem, advancement, recognition, prestige, particular material things, the affection of other human beings — or as many in the world, on power, money, or sex — we’ll never be joyous. If we don’t achieve what we’re hoping for, it’s obvious why we won’t find joy. But even if we obtain any of these things, we won’t be joyous either. Joy is not the same thing as pleasure. Each of these things may give us some fleeting pleasure, but none of these things will give us joy. And as CS Lewis once said, anyone who has tasted joy would never exchange it for all the pleasure in the world. This is why the evangelical counsels, when lived well and fully, are the greatest recipe for joy. We’re voluntarily poor, so that we might find in God our sole treasure; we’re voluntarily chaste and celibate, so that we can grow in an exclusive, fruitful, faithful love of the Lord; we’re voluntarily obedient, so that we will conform our will to his will, and become perfected through obedience just like the Lord. These counsels help us place our whole treasure, our whole heart, mind, soul and strength in God, who is the source of our joy, and lead us to a joy that the world cannot give nor take away. In her spousal & virginal chastity, in her obedient fiat, in her turtle-dove poverty, Mary showed us the true source of joy. She was truly blessed because she heard the word of God, treasured it with her heart and put it into practice so much that the Word took her flesh and dwelled inside of her among us. She placed her whole being at the service of the Lord and that led her to ineffable joy.
9) Regina Caeli, Laetare! As we reflect on Mary’s joy during this joyful season of Easter, we ask her, who is the cause of our joy, to intercede with her Son, so that we might imitate her in our gratitude for the tremendous gift of God’s love, for his presence within us, for his loving providence, and for his call to communion with him in this life and in the next. Through her intercession, may we make our own in just a minute her joyful words, “My souls rejoices in God my Savior!” Alleluia!