“Joy comes in the morning.”Psalm 30:5
Christ is risen! With the dawn of Easter, a season of joy has come upon us, longer than the season of fasting that led up to it. After this past Lent, in which it felt like I shifted from thirsting in the desert to standing helpless in a furnace, surrounded by family illness and injury, a workload beyond my capability, and my own exhaustion, I’m ready to rest, to rejoice, to experience the peace of the Paschal season.
And yet, not every morning is joyful. One of my Lenten lessons was that sometimes joy has to be chosen while I’m still stumbling aimlessly in the desert, while I’m pouring out what’s left in my heart to dampen the flames of the furnace. Sometimes, I have to choose joy when I don’t want to, when it seems easier to hold on to resentments, anger, and impatience.
We were made for joy. Not a passing, fleeting experience of happiness, but the eternal joy of Heaven. To rejoice with God over His creation. This year at the Easter Vigil, a particular line from the reading from Baruch stood out to me: “…he who dismisses the light, and it departs, calls it, and it obeys him trembling; before whom the stars at their posts shine and rejoice; when he calls them, they answer, ‘Here we are!’ shining with joy for their Maker.”
If even the stars rejoice when He calls them to give their light, then shouldn’t I?
While praying over the theme for our next cycle of content, I was reflecting on the interchange of sorrow and joy. Our Lenten theme emphasized the Stations of the Cross. But what struck me in particular was a tradition which held that the Blessed Mother prayed the original Stations of the Cross using little markers she set up at her home with St. John in Ephesus. She would walk along remembering each moment of the Passion of her son, Our Lord. And since in this way we’ve shared in Mary’s sorrows, it seemed appropriate that for the Easter season, which overlaps with May, the Month of Mary, we might focus on a devotion that emphasizes Our Lady’s joy.
The Seven Joys of Mary is a devotion I discovered while visiting the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. The Seven Joys are usually prayed on the Franciscan Crown, a Rosary consisting of seven decades in commemoration of the most joyful moments of Our Lady’s life.
According to Catholic Answers, the story of the Franciscan Crown dates back to 1422, and the story is as follows:
…a young novice who had that year been received into the Franciscan Order had, previous to his reception, been accustomed to adorn a statue of the Blessed Virgin with a wreath of fresh and beautiful flowers as a mark of his piety and devotion. Not being able to continue this practice in the novitiate, he decided to return to the world. The Blessed Virgin appeared to him and prevented him from carrying out his purpose. She then instructed him how, by reciting daily a rosary of seven decades in honor of her seven joys, he might weave a crown that would be more pleasing to her than the material wreath of flowers he had been wont to place on her statue. From that time the practice of reciting the crown of the seven joys became general in the order.
The mysteries of the Seven Joys Rosary include:
- The Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel
- The Visitation to Elizabeth
- The Nativity
- The Adoration by the Magi
- The Finding of Jesus after Three Days in the Temple
- The Resurrection of Our Lord
- The Assumption of Our Lady and Her Coronation as Queen of Heaven
While we’ll be reflecting more deeply on each of these mysteries in the coming weeks, unfolding some of the joys (and struggles with joy) in our own lives, what immediately strikes me is Our Lady’s relationship not only with joy, but joy after great sorrow. Whenever I’m praying through her joys, either through the Seven Joys or the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, I’m also drawn to reflecting on the tremendous sorrow that accompanies some of these moments.
At the Annunciation, Mary’s “yes” undoes the sin of Eve. It’s a moment of glorious triumph, where Mary’s fidelity becomes a model for how we should respond to whatever God asks of us. And in the same moment, Mary’s life must be changed by her response. Her “yes” isn’t easy. It comes with a hard journey to Bethlehem, almost certain rejection from those who doubt Our Lord’s virginal conception. St. Joseph himself nearly divorces her.
And in the midst of this trial is triumph. Mary surrenders everything to God, and He gives Himself to her, as a vulnerable infant in her womb. God enters into our sorrow, encounters our brokenness, embraces our pain, and brings about a fountain of grace, of love, of joy.
But this tension between sorrow and joy isn’t quite broken, not even in our embrace of the empty tomb. JRR Tolkien, devout Catholic and author of Lord of the Rings, talks about this tension when he expounds on his concept of “euchatastrophe.” It’s the opposite of catastrophe, the moment where we’re expecting some great tragedy and instead the happy ending comes about, often in a miraculous way.
The Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story–and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.JRR Tolkien, “Letter 89”
That “Joy and Sorrow are at one” is one of the great mysteries of Holy Saturday. And this year for many, it may be the experience of the empty tomb. The fact of the Resurrection is shocking, jarring, and difficult to enter into. The great glory, the unspeakable joy, is beyond our experience. This truth, this sudden transformation of sorrow into joy, is meant to shake us, to challenge us, to change our hearts.
For our Blessed Mother on that first Easter, I wonder if she was still grieving the loss of Judas, reminded by his absence that there ought to be another hearing the first announcement that Christ has risen. I wonder at Peter, who just days earlier had denied ever knowing Jesus—what joy to see the burial clothes left behind, and yet what anguish in waiting to encounter Him whom he denied. And of those apostles who were gathered together behind a locked door, I can only imagine the shock and confusion that muddled their ability to receive Mary Magdalene’s pronouncement.
The joy didn’t come all at once, but it came to each of them in God’s timing, according to His plan. My prayer for each of us, as we rise from the tombs of our Lenten observances and encounter the Risen Christ, is that we be open to receive the joy He has planned for us. Let us be ready to leave behind the darkness that has passed, to let Him breathe into our wounds, to heal our brokenness. And to those of us still weeping in the garden outside the tomb, wondering where Our Lord has been taken, may we respond with joy when He comes to us in ways we weren’t expecting.
Christ has risen to bring restoration, hope, and joy. May we rise with Him in this life, in foreshadowing of eternal joys to come.