Were the Joyful Mysteries Sorrowful for Mary?
After praying the Joyful Mysteries during the evening of a particularly challenging day, I found myself asking: were the events commemorated by the “joyful” mysteries actually joyful for Mary, Jesus’ mother?
Consider first the Annunciation. How much fear and uncertainty did Mary feel at the angel’s visit? As a mother, have you ever had a moment where you turn to God and say, “but how can this be?” Mary was just a young girl, barely a woman, and although she accepted God’s will with incomparable grace and ultimately joy, the Biblical interpretations of this event clearly display her initial trepidation. The angel said, “Do not be afraid.” Mary’s first emotion was fear, not joy.
As a mother, have you ever sought comfort and solidarity from a mom friend? Maybe your own mom, your sister, or your best friend? This was the Visitation for Mary. When faced with a young pregnancy, a questioning fiancé, and carrying the world’s most important baby, Mary looked for an understanding companion. The Bible tells us that when she reached Elizabeth, Mary’s “spirit rejoiced.” Again, this event was eventually a joyful one for her, but perhaps her first emotion, the one that led her to seek out her cousin, was loneliness.
The celebration of the birth of Jesus has become arguably the most joyful day of every year. Yet, the Bible doesn’t offer much in terms of what Mary felt during that first Christmas. As a mother, you’ve experienced birth - its uncertainty, its discomfort, its sacrifice. Though Mary felt no pain in delivering Christ, we can be certain, based on her circumstances (on a donkey, in a stable) that she must have felt, at times, uncertain, uncomfortable, or afraid. But, we can also be assured of the joy. The love she must have felt holding Jesus for the first time is unfathomable, although us mothers probably have the closest idea of what that was like. Only after delivering a child can you feel so absolutely spent, exhausted, bruised, and broken, and yet simultaneously feel completely whole, happier than ever before.
The Presentation in the Temple is something I often meditate on; I am constantly in awe of Mary’s trust in the Lord in this event. As a mother, can you imagine holding your infant child and being told of the suffering that child would bear later in life, including the death he would die? Some of you, mothers of ill or disabled children, might know this feeling. You are like Mary in this moment! We have to assume Mary’s emotion here was sorrow. Simon, the prophet, even foretold her future sorrow: “a sword shall pierce your heart!” We don’t know much about Jesus’ infancy and childhood, but Mary must have taken the sorrow of this day and turned it to joy to raise her son, the Son of God, as His Father intended.
As a mother, have you ever lost your child? In the grocery store or at the playground? Think of the pang of terror you feel, the way your heart stops as you frantically search for the little body you’ve memorized so well. And then, consider Mary, who in the previous mystery had been told of her son’s fate and the fact that she would one day lose Him (“a sword shall pierce your heart”). Maybe she thought this was that moment? How scared she must have been, and then how relieved when she found him. How joyously she must have walked home, holding His hand, and thanking the Lord that Jesus had not yet been taken from her.
As mothers, we are called to be like Mama Mary. And that means, in events that are often joyful for those around us - pregnancies, births, parties, vacations, sacraments, milestones - we have to feel something else first. We feel the fear, the loneliness, the uncertainty, the discomfort, the sorrow, the terror, and the sacrifice, often times more than those around us. We put in the work, wipe the tears, mop the sweat, and pick ourselves back up because as mothers, we have been BLESSED with hearts that have such capacity to love that they fill until they almost break every single day. We WILL feel the joy of Mary, but we’ll feel the pain too. And that’s what unites us to our Holy Mother, what makes her our most valuable intercessor, and what will hopefully gain us eternal life. Mary turned her sorrows and suffering to joy through the grace of God and “kept all these things in her heart,” and by that same grace, so will we. Mary, Mother of God and Mary, Queen of Sorrows, pray for us!