“Joy is a Christian’s first language,” Pope Francis says in this week’s Spiritual Reflection, and his insight is confirmed in the readings for today’s celebration of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This year it happens that, just as Pentecost was followed immediately by a joyful Marian feast, the memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church, so also the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity is followed immediately by a joyful Marian feast, the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. Mary is a sure guide as we ponder all the mysteries of our Catholic Faith.

The Pope reminds us that God reveals himself as a God who is close to us, “who loves us, who walks with us, is interested in our personal life story and takes care of each one, beginning with the least and the neediest.” We can see this closeness, this reaching out to the needy, in today’s Gospel. God comes, in the womb of Mary, to the home of Zechariah. To welcome the closeness of God is to experience joy. Elizabeth is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and makes a loud and joyful proclamation. The infant in her womb leaps for joy as well. We are left to ponder the joy the silent Zechariah must have experienced in this moment of visitation.

The language of joy finds one of its greatest expressions in Mary’s beautiful Magnificat. Her deepest spirit rejoices in the greatness of the Lord and in all that he has done for her. Then she proclaims the mercy that he has for all those who love him. The spirit of joy expands to include every generation – all that God has done in the past and all that he has promised to do, especially for the lowly. The ultimate basis for this joy is that God keeps his promises; he is faithful. Because of his faithfulness and mercy, we can make Mary’s Magnificat our own. We can proclaim with her that our souls rejoice in God our Savior and that the Almighty has done great things for us.

Joy radiates in the reading from the prophet Zephaniah as well: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” Why such exultation and celebration? Because “the LORD has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.” When the Lord is in our midst, we have nothing to fear. And the Visitation reminds us that the Lord is in our midst. He is the Word made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary. His presence makes all the difference in the world, for he fills our hearts with his joy.

The reading from Romans lists some of the many ways we can respond fruitfully to the presence of God in our midst: “love one another with mutual affection… rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer… exercise hospitality, bless those who persecute you… rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep… associate with the lowly….” Joy compels us to act, to put into practice what we have received.

As we ponder St. Paul’s description of Christian love in action, we discover that the Blessed Virgin Mary gives us an unrivaled example of exactly what he is talking about. She travels into the hill country in haste, to visit and to serve her elderly and pregnant cousin Elizabeth. She remained with Elizabeth for three months. Doing what? Both rejoicing in the Lord and offering whatever practical help was needed, like cooking and cleaning and washing clothes. Mary shows us what it means to be the Lord’s “lowly servant.” She teaches us to join her in proclaiming the greatness of the Lord, and to serve the Lord by serving our neighbor.

Does my soul rejoice in God my Savior and that the Almighty has done great things in me? Do I have the spirit of joy that compels me to act and to put into practice what I have received? Am I willing to have Mary teach me how to serve the Lord by serving my neighbor?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.