I’m transported back to a time full of cafeteria food and camp songs. It’s a rowdy group of kids, led by a song leader, singing about joy down in their hearts. The air’s full of summertime: a week of swimming, crafts, canoeing, exploring, singing.
I grew up the daughter of a camp manager. For me, camp wasn’t a week-long event, but an entire summer of adventure. I did spend a week away from home during most summers—one of the Dad’s benefits—but there was excitement packed into the daily routine of behind-the-scenes life. There were frogs in the pool and dogs in the cabins. There were emergency phone calls to make and supplies to refill. There was a shortage of counselors and an open thirty minutes to fill with song.
The word joy brings the smell of the swamp to my nose, reminds me of the summer bugs and prompts me to humming an assortment of catchy group tunes. In that word is my childhood.
There were parts of my young life filled with pain, of course, but when I think back to it, it’s the joy of camp life and life in the country that comes to mind first. I remember the many cats we always seemed to have, the fallen tree that became my hidden refuge, the maze of dikes that never failed to provide an escape.
In my young adult years, I don’t think I ever considered joy. Joy was for kids. I was after happiness; wasn’t joy just another word for happiness?
I’m a few years removed from those tumultuous years, and when I think of joy now, I immediately think of my three young children and the joy they experience and that they bring to our lives.
But joy isn’t just for kids.
Or maybe it is. Maybe it’s for the kid deep within each of us. Maybe it’s for the child curled up, protecting herself from the pain of the world. Maybe it’s for the cynical teenager whose voice has never really gone away from our mental dialogue.
When I see Mary’s statue, pristine and immovable at the front of our church, I immediately notice how different we are. What does she know of my life? She could be light years away from me. Her joy seems different than mine, less earthy and applicable to my messy life.
Yet we honor her as Cause of Our Joy precisely because she isn’t distant or remote. She’s right here, beside us.
The title Cause of Our Joy began in antiquity. Perhaps it is one of the oldest of Mary’s titles. Its purpose, then as now, is to remind us all of her role in each of our lives as a result of her Yes.
She said Yes to God and by doing that, she said Yes for each of us. She brought us the Savior in an intimate way, through her womb. She opened the door to her heart, trusted in God, and gave us all the most beautiful gift.
In saying Yes to God, Mary allowed salvation to take place. By agreeing to motherhood, she caused the joy I feel at the Christmas midnight Mass; without Mary’s Yes, there would be no Christmas.
She didn’t cause Jesus’ birth by herself, but her cooperation, her Yes, makes her a partner. Joy is Jesus; Jesus is joy.
When I find myself eye-to-eye with Mary, I see that joy is something all around me, waiting for me to see it. It’s in that steaming cup of coffee, savored during morning prayers in the silence of my kitchen. It’s in the bite in the air as the seasons change. It’s in the fall sunsets, glimpsed while my hands are immersed in soapy water.
There is joy all around me, from the small hands to the wagging tails. It’s in the coziness of a hot wood stove, the accomplishment of finishing a house project, the lovely interlude of music.
Most of all, it’s in the peace I find every week when I celebrate the Eucharist, when I participate in Mass, when I offer myself again to my Lord.
Did Mary pause to marvel at the table each night, surrounded by expectant faces and filled with food? What was it like, raising Jesus as an ordinary boy while knowing He was so much more?
Maybe, instead of limiting Mary to the statue in front of the church, I should picture her stained with the day’s work, lovely despite her disheveled hair, beaming though exhausted from laundering and lifting and cooking. Toddler Jesus was surely as much a handful as any other toddler, yet they have those moments of beauty and joy-giving. I imagine her one minute holding on to every ounce of patience with Jesus, who must have said “I do it MYSELF!” at least once, and then, in the next moment, feeling his soft hair under her lips as he exclaimed “Hug you!” for no reason other than affection.
When she said Yes to Gabriel at the Annunciation, Mary couldn’t have known the joy she would bring to each of us. As the first person to know the person of Jesus — inside her very self — she’s the starting point for the Messiah. She wasn’t the author or the creator, but she was the vessel. She didn’t work alone to bring Jesus into the world, but she did cooperate and agree to the terms.
Her Yes resounds to my daily life. It reaches me, two thousand years later, sitting in front of a glowing screen and ignoring the suspicious thunks a toddler’s causing in the other room. Her joy overflows to touch me, despite my hesitation and doubt.
She holds out her hand, once again, asking me to come with her to see something. I know her look; I’ve used it with my children. There’s a great surprise waiting for me, and when I go with her, I see that joy is a person and that she is the one who led me to Him.