Joyful and Fearless

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”


“Fill us with joy at the hearing of your Gospel.” This is my prayer every Sunday when just before the reading the deacon holds up the Gospel book for a blessing. Unless the Bishop is visiting this is not a shared practice in every church of our communion. I was not expecting it on my first Sunday at Emmanuel. I remember the first time deacon John took the Gospel book from the altar and held it out for me to bless. I was slightly confused and then realized what was happening and these words came to mind so I offered them to God.


This has been a challenging prayer to offer over and over. I have often questioned its appropriateness. Some of the Gospel readings do not feel particularly joyful. Yet I offer it every Sunday because, despite the occasional difficult reading, it’s still an honest plea of my heart. I don’t know about you, but I need joy.


Over and over again in scripture we hear about the joy of God’s people.[1] The joy we hear about there is deep. It does not depend on the emotions of a moment. Joy like this cannot be taken from us by bad news or a poor turn of luck; no matter how bad the news or poor the luck. It is deeper than happiness. Joy like this is a state of being. I think this sort of joy can only enter our hearts when some experience causes our assumptions about reality to be broken and we are forced to contemplate existence from a new vantage point.


“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.” If there ever was a moment that shifted someone’s reality or paradigm this was it. Can you imagine? There is nothing easy about this announcement. Nothing simple about her life. It is as much a promise of pain and difficulty as anything else, yet scripture and tradition marvel with us at Mary’s faith and joy.


I find a bit of the joy of Mary every Christmas Eve at Midnight Mass when the service is almost over and we are quietly singing by candlelight. Contemplating the mystery of the manger; the impossible idea of God-with-us, the complete absurdity of the idea that the one who hurled the chariots of pharaoh and his armies into the Red Sea is drooling and wetting himself in the arms of a tired young woman named Mary.


Fr. Tom +

[1] You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9

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St. Teresa of Avila who wrote: "All difficulties in prayer can be traced to one cause: praying as if God were absent." Keating adds: “This is the conviction that we bring with us from early childhood