I’ve spent a lot of time lately praying the mysteries of the Rosary and in particular the Joyful Mysteries. Many of you are probably familiar with praying with the Rosary but if you’re not, the Rosary is a series of meditations from scripture about Jesus (on themes of joy, sorrow, and glory) as seen from the vantage point of his mother Mary. After each meditation you say a series of repetitive prayers while you contemplate the particular mystery. As a point of interest you’ll note that the windows in the Lady Chapel are all scenes from each of the mysteries of the Rosary.
In each of the Joyful Mysteries we can identify with Mary’s joy surrounding the announcement that she is going to have a baby, the sharing of that news with her cousin Elizabeth (which we hear in our gospel lesson today), the birth of Jesus, his presentation in the Temple, and a little later on his parents discovering him as a 12 year old boy in the Temple holding theological discussions with the priests and amazing them all with his understanding and knowledge. What mother wouldn’t be proud?
But there is another emotion that Mary experiences in each of these scenes that we would miss if we didn’t look closely. It’s something that you don’t usually associate with joy but often is present in that joy. That emotion is fear. When Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that she has been favored to be the God-bearer she immediately is ‘troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.” Mary’s time to give birth comes after travelling and there is no place for them to stay and so she gives birth in a cave on the outskirts Bethlehem. How frightening. When Jesus is presented in the Temple Simeon prophesies and says to Mary “this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel (and a sword will pierce your own soul also). When Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the Temple, it’s after three days of Jesus being lost and separated from his family.
I imagine that in today’s gospel lesson Mary isn’t just sharing good news of joy with a family member, but confiding to someone she trusts about the fear she has surrounding her decision to say ‘yes’ to God. Maybe like Mary, you can identify with being on the precipice of something big, of having said ‘yes’ to God and then immediately realizing you’re no longer in your comfort zone. In my own experience it’s much like becoming a monk. It took many promptings from God before I actually said ‘yes’ to testing a vocation and when I received word that I was to enter this community as a postulant I was filled with joy and with some fear about what I was saying yes to. I had many conversations with friends where I asked if I was crazy….a few seem to think so, but most confirmed that my calling made perfect sense and that they were excited with me.
Mary came to Elizabeth excited and afraid, possibly not expecting the validation she receives from her cousin. Perhaps Elizabeth, also pregnant with a child, identified with Mary. Luke writes: When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” I’m sure this was a relief to Mary and I can only imagine the continuing conversations the two had during their time together.
The good news of the gospel is that we too, like Mary, have been chosen to be God-bearers to the world using the gifts and the lives that our creator has endowed us. The mystery of the incarnation is not an isolated event in history but by the power of the Holy Spirit is ongoing and we have found favor with God to reflect His life, light, and love to the world. It is only natural that in our humanity we experience fear at the prospect of such an awesome vocation. But Jesus is God Emmanuel…..that is “God with us,” and He will give us the provision to carry out that vocation therefore making Mary’s joy, our joy! Blessed are those who believe that there will be a fulfillment of what has been spoken to them by the Lord. Amen.
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