Mary after hearing that she is with child and that her cousin Elizabeth is about six months along with her Mary goes up to the hill country and visits her cousin. After traveling a hundred or so miles Mary arrived at the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. At Mary’s greeting the child, John, leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb and Elizabeth responded “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” At this point Mary goes on to recite her canticle, the Magnificat “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” Now Mary stays with Elizabeth and Zechariah for about three months and Elizabeth gives birth to a son.
At this point in the story Mary returns to Nazareth from the Hill country but it most likely wasn’t until after the events of the birth and circumcision had taken place. So Elizabeth gives birth to a son and everyone is overjoyed at this happening as Elizabeth had lived through the birth. At the circumcision Elizabeth says the his name will be John not Zachariah but her relatives said there is no one named John in the family. So Zachariah, who had been rendered mute by Gabriel earlier on as he doubted the prophesy of the birth of John the Baptist, writes down “His name is John” and with the Zachariah can talk again. Zachariah sings his own canticle, Benedictus, at the birth of his son.
These two canticles are used in the Divine Office at morning prayer(Magnifcat) and evening prayer (Benedictus). This mystery is about family and being there for each other. Gabriel didn’t tell Mary to go visit Elizabeth or anything like that it was her own decision. In this digital world that we live in it seem all to often that people are forgetting the connection of family and friends rather opting for some online relationship. I hope that we remember our family and friends this holiday season and those that we have lost touch with are willing and able to reunite. I also hope that we all can trust in the plans of our heavenly father and not be struck dumb by an angel.
Once again we return to the Rosary and focus on the first Joyful Mystery. The Annunciation is a strange event as in the Bible we get two different accounts of the story. The most common is the one in Luke where Mary is greeted by Gabriel, the Archangel, “Hail Mary, full of Grace the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” Mary was frightened and her mind was racing who is this person. Then Gabriel said “Fear not, you have found favor with God and you will bear a son and name him Jesus.” The angel goes on explaining how the Holy Spirit will come and Mary will conceive then and maybe there is something about midi-chlorians, it goes on a bit. Mary then says “Let it be done unto me according to your will.” Then Gabriel left and Mary went to visit here cousin Elizabeth.
The other account of the story comes in Matthew where Mary is has been found with child and Joseph was about to leave Mary. Joseph goes to sleep and it is Joseph who gets visited by an angel (Gabriel?) in a dream, the angel tells him that Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and not by any other man so there was nothing to be afraid of. Joseph is also told that Mary will bear a son and him name will be Jesus. After Joseph woke up he did what the Angel told him.
These two stories show the depth of the events of the Annunciation it wasn’t just Mary saying “Yes” or Joseph following directions but perhaps a combination of the two events. We need to follow the examples set by Mary and Joseph in these stories. Mary shows great courage to say “yes” to something that seems impossible, she will bear a child without laying with a man. Joseph is a great example of having doubts in the Lord’s plan but sticking through to the end, as he wanted to leave Mary but following the advice of the angel he stays.
I hope we can one day all have the courage of Mary to say yes to God’s plan for us and the tenacity of Joseph to stick with the plan even when it gets difficult.
The Joyful Mysteries are the first that occur chronologically in the life of Mary. According to tradition, if you are praying without the Luminous mysteries, you pray the Joyful mysteries on Mondays and Thursdays as well as Sundays during Advent and Christmas. This changes when the Luminous mysteries are included as they are then prayed on Mondays and Fridays. Many people that I know really don’t make a big fuss about when they pray which mysteries as long as they all get done, and I only change up a rotation during Advent/Christmas and Lent when I focus the Joyful and Sorrowful mysteries respectively.
We begin the trip through Mary’s life with The Annunciation. Gabriel, the archangel, comes down from heaven and tells Mary that she will conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus. At this announcement Mary doesn’t hide or refuse but she says Yes, Let it be done unto me according to your will.
The next mystery is The Visitation. Gabriel tells Mary that her cousin Elizabeth has been with child for six months. So Mary makes her way to visit Elizabeth in the hill country, somewhere around Jerusalem perhaps. Elizabeth is advanced in age whatever that means and so Mary stay with her for three months and returns home to Nazareth after John the Baptist is born.
The Nativity or The Birth of Jesus is the next mystery. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem for the Census and they cannot find room anywhere they go so they go to a stable/cave and stay amongst the animals while in the city. While they are in Bethlehem Mary gives birth to a Son and shepherds and Magi come and give homage to the newborn.
The Presentation in the Temple comes next in the life of Mary. Jesus is brought to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth as according to Jewish custom Mary needed to complete her purification and Mary and Joseph need to offer a sacrifice for the redemption of their firstborn. While there they encountered the prophets Simeon and Anna, both of whom were told that they would see “the Lord’s Christ” before they died. Simeon offers Mary a sad prophesy.
The Finding in the Temple is the final mystery. We skip forward a number of years in the life of Mary and Jesus after the magi come and the flight to and from Egypt we come back to the family as they travel Jerusalem for Passover. Jesus is about 13 at the time and when they are returning home he could be traveling with either the women or the men but he is not anyone in the group . Jesus is about “his Father’s business” in the Temple deep in discussion with the Elders.
Fulton Sheen called the Joyful mysteries the mysteries about being a Christian as we look at the different mysteries we see some of the keys to a good Christian life, saying Yes to God, keep family close and always be about our Father’s business. These guideline are essential for all of us to live by.
The Fifth and Final Joyful Mystery: The Finding in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52)
Fruit of the Mystery: True Wisdom and True Conversion, Piety, Joy of Finding Jesus
So we continue from where we left off with the last mystery in the Bible. As it so happens Jesus, Mary and Joseph went up to Jerusalem for the Passover as is the custom. Jesus is about 12 years old at the time and on the way back as it was customary to travel in large caravans those 80 some miles both Mary and Joseph think that Jesus is with the other parent. As Jesus was almost a man and would be able to travel with the men or with the women and children. When they realize that Jesus is not with them they turn around and go back to Jerusalem to look for him and Jesus is found in the Temple discussing with the elders. When they find him Jesus responds to their worry with “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” This is a great example of how Jesus was a jerk of a kid, and don’t get me started on the apocraphya’s Infancy Gospels Jesus get even worse in them. We see here that being a parent is difficult and children run off, but if it does happen you have some great company with Mary and Joseph.
The fruit is a couple of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom & piety). Piety is commonly know as reverence or humility. It seems that the world has forgotten about piety as we continually brag about what we’ve done and nothing about any spiritual guidance or that “nonsense” Thomas Aquinas in his Summa links the seven gifts with the seven virtues. The gift of reverence corresponds to the virtue of justice and wisdom corresponds to charity. We as a society tend to forget the other virtues after Faith, Hope and Love. There needs to be some reminder of the Cardinal virtues as well as the heavenly virtues in our daily lives. Perhaps with the help of the Spirit we will be able to remember them. As we lead virtuous lives we will be able to find Jesus in the world. If there were some way of bringing this out into the world.
There is also some big news from the Vatican yesterday as Saint Joseph has been added to all of the Eucharistic Prayers.
The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation (Luke 2:22-40)
Fruit of the Mystery: Purity and Obedience
According to Jewish tradition Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after he was born in order to complete Mary’s purification rite and for Joseph to perform the redemption of the firstborn, where the first born son’s life is paid for in remembrance of the Exodus where all the firstborn sons died. I have to say it makes for a better scene than a bris. As they enter the Temple the met Simeon and Anna. Simeon was a priest at the Temple and the Holy Spirit was upon him, now Simeon was an old man and he was told by the Spirit that he would see the Lord’s Christ before he would die. Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to Simeon and he says his Canticle, Nunc Dimittis, it is a popular aspect of Evening Prayer\Night Service across denominations. After he has said this he offered warning to Mary “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34b-35). Anna is someone who we tend to overlook during the Presentation but it is Anna who is the “final prophet” she gave thanks to God and spoke of Jesus to all who were looking for salvation at the temple.
The fruits tie in nicely with Anna and Simeon. Anna is symbolic of purity as she is a widow of 84 years (or an 84 year old widow) who spends her days fasting and praying and worshiping in the Temple, she was sort of like an Anchoress I would guess. Simeon on the other hand takes the promise of the spirit and sticks with it waiting patiently in the temple for who know how many years. It is remarkable that we have two of the oldest characters in the New Testament here at the beginning who you could say were the first followers of Christ. May we all try to be more like Anna and Simeon and speak the truth about the Lord in the world.
The Third Joyful Mystery: The Birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 2:1-20)
Fruit of the Mystery- Spirit of poverty, Detachment from the Things of the World
As we all know the story, boy meets girl, girl gets visited by angel, girl is pregnant, boy has second thoughts about it, boy is visited by angel, boy and girl get married, participate in census (travel 80 miles to hometown), room in a cave\stable and girl gives birth, It’s that age old tale.So Mary and Joseph welcome Jesus into the world amongst the animals in one of the storied towns in Israel, Bethlehem, the city of David. In the sky a star appears announcing the birth of the Son of God, Magi (Kings) from the East come to give him homage. The Kings travel far and bring gifts proclaiming the mission of Jesus as Prophet (frankincense), Priest (myrrh) and King (gold). There are also shepherds who hear angels saying “Gloria to God in the Highest and on Earth peace to people of Good Will for unto you a Savior has been born” they go and see what this is all about.
The funny thing is that this is one of the mysteries that has gotten out of hand. With the endless Christmas sales and gift giving through out the whole season roughly Thanksgiving to shortly after New Years Day. It is nice that this gives us time to reflect on how we really do not need everything that we claim we need. Our whole need to have the newest and fastest gadgets, the stylish clothes, or the latest book/CD/DVD is bizarre. It just misplaces the significance of Christmas. Now sure it is nice to receive gifts but we need to be able to remember the time spent with family most of all. The whole fruit of the spirit is not about becoming poor and renouncing the world but it is about working with the world to bring about the Kingdom of God or something to that effect.
The Second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation (Luke 1:39-56)
Fruit of the mystery: Love of neighbor
I have to say that it is by happy chance that we meditate on the Visitation as Friday,
May 31 is the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The date for this feast fits in with the date of the Annunciation (March 25) and the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24). After Mary heard the message of the angel she sets off toward the town of Judah, some 100 miles away, to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who Mary learned was pregnant from the angel. When Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s house the child in her womb, John the Baptist, leaps for joy and Elizabeth proclaims blessed is the fruit of your womb and wonders why the Mary came to visit her. Elizabeth then blesses Mary saying blessed are you that believed what God told you would happen. Mary responds with her Magnificat. If you are familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours you should know the Magnificat, all of us others might have heard it once or twice sung.
Now this week the fruit is love of neighbor which to many of us seem like it is something easy to do. This however is only half of it an older way of saying this is charity for your neighbor as Benedict XVI pointed out in Caritas in Veritate that the world needs love and truth to develop as nations and people. This is the tough part to love our neighbor is to love the world. All too often especially in the world today we are losing the community spirit that used to exist, now individuals go to their homes and could care less about their neighbors. Perhaps this is a generational thing, as it seems that people are getting farther away from each other.
Benedict concludes his encyclical by asking Mary “to protect us and obtain for us, through her heavenly intercession, the strength, hope and joy necessary to continue to dedicate ourselves with generosity to the task of bringing about the development of the whole man and of all men.” I hope that during this upcoming week we can take some time and do something nice for our neighbors. We could also reconnect with long forgotten friends or something like that as well.
The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-39, Matthew 1:18-21, Sura 3:45-51) Fruit of the Mystery: Humility
We all know what happens an angel of the Lord appears to Mary and says “Be not afraid, I bring you good news, you will bear a son and name him Jesus.” Mary is taken aback with this comment as she has never been with a man before, and asks “How is this possible?” The Angel tells her it’s possible for nothing is impossible with God, in fact your cousin Elizabeth, although barren, is with child. At this Mary make one of the biggest decisions in mankind saying “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word.” in Latin “ecce ancilla Domini; fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” Mary is saying something that show all of us great humility “Fiat Voluntas Tua” or “thy will be done” Mary is showing all of us how we should listen and respond to other including God’s seemingly outrageous messages.
Mary was a simple girl who was betrothed to Joseph and was told that she was pregnant she did not freak out with this news but calmly asks how it is possible. When the Angel gives her a response “nothing is impossible with God” Mary does not hesitate and gladly take on this task. All it took was a single person to trust in God to change the world. Although in the world today it seems that people are placing trust in everything but God, there are still some who are willing to have total trust in God.
It reminds me of that Muppet song Just one Person. It was sung notably at Jim Henson’s memorial service and at the Muppets tribute to Jim Henson. Now, Jim Henson was an example to all of humility and kindness that we’ve all had the pleasure of meeting through the Muppets and Sesame Street. It has been 23 years since Jim Henson passed and I think that the lyrics are just a meaningful today as they were in 1990. If just one person believes in you and if that belief grows with more and more people believing in you perhaps only then are we able to believe in ourselves. The real point here is that if Mary can put her trust in God we should all be willing to do the same. As the image of Divine Mercy that Saint Faustina saw reminds us “Jesus, I trust in you” we need to have trust in the Lord at all times. I hope that this week we can place our trust in Our Heavenly Father.