The Gospel passage recalling the Birth of Jesus can help us reflect on joy. In it St. Luke expresses the very heart of Mary’s joy, a joy that we can make our own. Jesus’ birth did certainly not happen in a joyful context. We are told that “there was no room for them in the inn”, as if to allow us the freedom of imagining the physical, psychological and moral distress that Mary must have undergone. The writer painted a situation that was apparently joy-less. I seem to notice that this same situation often troubles our lives and our society. People of all places and ages endure numerous hardships.
I spent the month of August with a sister in Paris, with the goal of learning French. Through God’s Providence we met our tutor, a woman in her mid-sixties who volunteered to help us with the language. Her life story is pretty disquieting: at age 29 she fell sick with Rheumatoid Arthritis that prevented her from working, and from building a family. Though raised in a family with little religious influence, she experienced a deep conversion fifteen years ago that caused further tension and distance from her relatives, who took her newly found faith as something absurd. She now lives alone with a very low social security pension and is in constant pain. Amazingly enough, she is full of life and spiritual richness. I discovered that her secret is the desire to imitate Mary’s joy. Joy is a virtue and as such it is not left to the changes of mood that life brings us. Rather, we know that virtues are habitual dispositions to do good, to the point that a virtue can become second nature to a person who actively lives it out.
The virtue of joy allows us always to have a positive approach to reality, regardless of the difficulties. This is not sheer madness, as many would think, for the simple reason that Jesus is lovingly present in our lives. Jesus’ birth has so changed and impacted history that ever since, reality is soaked in joy. It is not by chance that the Gospel is also called “The good news.” Mary invites us to rejoice with her. If the secret of her joy is Jesus’ birth, what can we do to allow Jesus to be born in our lives as well? We can certainly name several paths: prayer, love, service of others, self-denial. However, this month I would like to focus on one particular way, that of learning to say ‘Yes’ to everything that we did not choose but that God chose for us. We think that Mary probably would have never chosen to give birth to a child, even less to do so in a stable, yet she did so without complaining.
I believe there are three things that prevent us from experiencing true joy: self-pity, comparing ourselves to others and the fear of the future. How often do we pity ourselves when something happens that we did not choose? We often cry out “Why me?”. Yet, we would find much more peace if we asked “How can I best use this situation to grow in love? How can I encounter God in these difficult circumstances?”. So often we compare ourselves to others, envy them and say “How lucky he/she is…,” and we are so taken by the comparison that we fail to recognize the many ways in which God blesses us every day.
In thinking about the future, we also risk ruining even the happy moments of our lives. How beautiful it would be if we trusted like a little child in his father’s arms. I personally have never met a child scared about the future and that would agonize over the question “what will happen to me tomorrow?” We encounter Jesus through the concrete events and circumstances of our life. They are the ideal meeting place where we find God, because He dwells within reality. When life becomes almost unbearable, we can still experience joy as we say to the Lord “Today, I offer to you this pain.” Our cross will become lighter if we repeat this prayer every day. Let us then echo Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, who died at 19 of cancer. She used to repeat “Jesus, if it is your wish, then it is mine as well.” Then nothing ever could take away our joy, the true joy that comes from embracing God’s will. Mary, cause of our joy, pray for us.
This month’s resolution:
I ask Mary to be with me in all of my activities this month, letting her suggest to me the best way to live them and cultivating an attitude of joy.