“BVM as an Apostle of Joy and Our Prayer Life” Visitation (5/31/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
One of the more unique titles of Our Lady that I’ve heard is Mary, the Apostle of Joy. It’s a beautiful image of our Blessed Mother, bringing joy to those she meets. In the mystery of the Visitation, we see Mary as this Apostle of Joy. She simply enters the home and gives a greeting, and John the Baptist leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cries out “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
The simple presence of Mary brings joy. How so? One way is that she is filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary is filled with the Holy Spirit to the point of the Spirit overflowing to others through her. St. Maximillian Kolbe says that at the Annunciation, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, this overshadowing was not just for a moment or two. But the Holy Spirit continues to overshadow Mary in this new way for the rest of her life. She’s brought into a fuller immersion in the anointing of the Spirit.
Raising the God-man, as the Mother of the God, we can appreciate why this continual, stable overshadowing of the Spirit was fitting. And with Mary’s role in the Church, we can appreciate why this continual, stable overshadowing of the Spirit is fitting. At the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit comes with a new fullness and power upon Mary, and this remains for the rest of her life. Mary remains overshadowed with the Holy Spirit. A new inbreaking of the Spirit came upon her and it abides with her.
So of course Mary is going to be a bearer of joy because she remains overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Mary is the Apostle of Joy by her very presence. Her Spirit-filled presence, continues to bring joy even to us today. Mary is a channel of the Holy Spirit to us and a channel of the joy of the Spirit. A single prayer we make to her, a single glance in her direction, so often brings us peace and joy in the Spirit. Like Elizabeth, at the sound of Mary’s greeting, something in us too leaps for joy. Mary and, through Mary, us in the Church fulfill the words of our first reading. “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!”
Part of your mission as nuns in this monastery is to be this Joy in the heart of the Church. To be this joy in the heart of the Church, this joy that was first in the heart of Mary and spread to those around her and to us. To be that joyful song of praise to the Lord. This finds support in your monastic Horarium. Gathering to sing the Divine Offices helps keep that rejoicing in the Lord alive and gives powerful expression to it.
For, it is not you alone that rejoices. Zephaniah says, “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior. He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love. He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.” As you sing and rejoice in the Lord, he also sings and rejoices in you. Isn’t that lovely? The Father hears the sound of his beloved Son in your voices, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Often our joy is a very subtle and gentle joy. If it’s going to be a little like God’s own joy, immutable and constant, our joy is going to often have to be a subdued, quiet joy. You need not always be like David, dancing before the Ark of God. There is also that subdued joy of Mary going to be with her cousin Elizabeth in humble service. And that joy gently bubbling over to others.
And what if you find yourself slipping away from that joy? What if the joy has faded? That’s ok, it happens sometimes. It’s part of life. Joys and sorrows. Peaks and valleys. But sometimes there is something we can do.
For instance, if the joy in your salvation has faded, praise the Lord for the salvation of others. Praise him for his mighty deeds of salvation he has accomplished for the world. Praise him, as if it had nothing to do with you, but only with who he is and what he has done in his marvelous deeds, mirabilia Dei. The Psalter is full of this rejoicing over what the Lord has done for his People Israel as a whole. Enter into this perspective at times, an ecclesial perspective, where you disappear, in a way, in the great praise and rejoicing of the Church Universal over her Lord and God. In persona ecclesia, praise the Lord on behalf of the Church as a whole. Joy in the heart of the Church, need not be joy over your own lot or situation. It can be joy over what the Lord has done and is doing throughout the world. Joy over who the Lord is in himself.
When I was in the monastery, I had to re-discover this over and over again. I would experience the freedom that this broader, ecclesial perspective brings and wonder, How did I forget this?! But then I would get caught up in things and forget it again. Over and over again, rediscovering and forgetting and rediscovering. In Mary we find a wonderful reminder of this larger rejoicing.
In the Magnificat, Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord for what he has done for her personally. But she also turns to what the Lord has done throughout salvation history. “He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm,” and so on. And listen to this broader, ecclesial perspective at the end: “He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.”
Enter into this broader, ecclesial perspective. Or better yet, simply enter into the heart of Mary. Praise the Lord from her perspective. What joy she must be experiencing now in heaven! What joy she must have experienced in the Nativity, the Resurrection, Pentecost, as the Lord accomplished his work of salvation and love. Rejoice in the Lord from within the heart of Mary. Hide yourself in the enclosure of Mary’s heart. There you will find a mother’s tenderness. There you will find the Church. There you will find the Holy Spirit bubbling over with a gentle joy. There you will magnify the greatness of the Lord.