Mary, the Virgin-Mother Who Brings Us Joy
It would be a truism to say that everybody wants to be happy. Who doesn’t desire happiness? Yet at times it is so hard to find. But Mary can show us the way to be happy.
One of Mary’s titles is “Cause of Our Joy.” Why do we call her that? How does Mary bring us joy? To see why, let’s re-read the beautiful Gospel account of the Annunciation to Mary:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her (Lk 1:26–38).
When Gabriel greets Mary, he tells her to rejoice. “Greetings,” used in the translation above, doesn’t express the wonderful richness of the actual Greek word, chaire, which literally means “rejoice!” The angel is bringing Mary good news, which will make her happy. God has chosen her for a special mission—so special, in fact, that it is completely unique in the history of the human race. God asked Mary to become the mother of his own Son.
But notice that even before the angel gets to that part, he tells Mary to rejoice because “the Lord is with you.” God was already present in Mary through grace, which is a wonderful reason to rejoice. Through the gift of grace, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, was already dwelling in Mary’s soul.
Yet the news would get even better.
God was proposing an invitation to Mary. He was asking her to become the mother of his Son. God wanted to take on flesh and become a man—if Mary would agree to accept this important role of motherhood. Mary only had one question: How would it happen since, as she said, “I know not man”?
Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and bring about this conception in a miraculous way—Mary would remain a virgin—because the holy child to be born would be the Son of God. Gabriel’s words were enough for Mary. Immediately she accepted God’s invitation: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” And the Incarnation happened.
Mary shows us how to have a happy life
How do we know that Mary accepted God’s invitation with joy? We can say this because the word used in the Gospel—genoito—indicates it. Scripture scholars tell us that this word is in a form that expresses a desire, in fact an ardent desire or a joyful willingness to take on a task.* The entire account of the Annunciation, from the opening word “Rejoice!” to Mary’s joyful acceptance, is filled with a spirit of joy and happiness.
What stands out most in the Annunciation is how willing Mary was to make a gift of herself to God. She offered herself with joy, and this meant specifically that she offered the gift of her virginity.
It’s hard for us to understand how radical her gift was, because she lived in a culture where marriage was prized above all, and virginity offered to God was not an option for a young Jewish girl. So why did Mary accept so readily? It could only be because somehow the Holy Spirit gave her the light to understand. It happened because Mary had a relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Mary was full of joy
Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…” (Gal 5:22). So we can be sure that Mary, being so open to the Spirit, was full of joy. And Mary was free from sin, the source of sadness. Saint Thomas reminds us: “Sadness, as an evil or vice, is caused by a disordered love for oneself, which … is the general root of all vices” (Summa Theol., II-II, q. 28, a. 4, ad 1; see I-II, q. 72, a. 4). Notice that Saint Thomas isn’t saying that love for oneself is wrong, but a disordered love for oneself is. That’s the kind of love that makes us seek our own good at the expense of others.
Mary wasn’t like that at all. The Gospel of Luke goes on to tell us that once Mary had heard from the Angel Gabriel that Elizabeth was in need, Mary hurried to help her, putting her cousin’s needs ahead of her own. And when she visited her relatives, she brought joy not only to Elizabeth but also to the baby in her womb:
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 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.” (Lk 1:39–44)
John leaped in the womb; he danced for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. She bore within her the presence of the unborn Christ as the source of joy. John was destined to be a prophet, also filled with the Holy Spirit. This beautiful scene of the Visitation tells us that somehow Mary’s fullness of grace, along with the joy it brought her, can be communicated to others. Her voice was like a spark that ignited a fire in John, and that fire would burn in his prophetic words calling the people to repentance. The fire had its source in the Holy Spirit, of course, but Mary was the kindling that the Holy Spirit used.
Just as she did for John, Mary can kindle in us the fire of God’s love and the dance of joy. Mary shows us that doing God’s will is not drudgery or, worse yet, an enslavement. Instead, it is the breath of fresh air that lifts us up and carries us along so that we can fly straight to God: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Is 40:31).
What lesson can we draw for our own lives?
Mary teaches us that the way to be happy is to make a joyful gift of ourselves to God and to others. The details of how we do that are different for each person. God calls each of us to our own unique vocation. Most people live out this vocation in the beauty of marriage and family life. God calls others to a form of consecrated life, to continence “for the sake of the kingdom.” Whatever our vocation, we will find happiness to the degree that we make a gift of ourselves to others and do God’s will. Then we, too, can joyfully say with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
*For details on this, see Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant, Ignace de la Potterie, trans. Bertrand Buby, New York: Alba House, 1992.
Photo Credit: Luis Ángel Espinosa