Many of us are living a joyless life.
We are grouchy, irritable, negative in thought and words, jealous and always putting others down. Such people unconsciously drive people away from them. Then they lament, “I have no friends. No one loves me. I feel lonely and rejected.” But what is the cause? It is because they do not reach out to others. Instead of extending their hands in friendship, being warm, gracious, welcoming and affirming, we drive people away from us by our low self-esteem and insecurity.
So how do they overcome their insecurity and lack of capacity to love? They drown themselves in work and in studies, hoping that they would be recognized for their work and academic achievements. They seek glory and honour from the world. Or else, they indulge in fine dining, expensive holidays and shopping. But their hearts remain empty because they know that the praise of the world is shallow. The moment we are no longer performing or at the top, the world will abandon us. Food and holidays without our loved ones are meaningless.
Indeed, for such people, the most important thing in life is missing. They do not have a beloved. In spite of our success, even when we have plenty of money and luxuries and are doing well in our career, achieving fame and recognition, without someone to share our joys and our fruits, life is incomplete. It is empty. This is because we are created for love. We cannot just live for ourselves or seek to love ourselves directly. We live and love ourselves only when we live for others and love others.
However, one cannot love unless one is loved. This is the basic axiom of life. We cannot give what we do not have. We need to be loved. This is why in the first reading, from the Book of Song of Songs, we have the beautiful description of a lover seeking for her beloved. Only when we are loved, can we find the strength and the joy to share our love with others. This was the case of Mary in the gospel. When she was so loved by God to be chosen to be the mother of the Saviour, her immediate concern was not about herself but to share her love and joy with her cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant in her old age. Her reaching out to Elizabeth was spontaneous and immediate. The gospel says, “Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah.”
To find our beloved, we must wait patiently. Some of us are still waiting for our beloved to come into our lives. We must be patient. We cannot rush into any relationship. When our beloved comes, we will know. The waiting and the yearning in our hearts must keep us attentive to the voice of our beloved. Like the lover, she said, “I hear my Beloved. See how he comes leaping on the mountains, bounding over the hills. My Beloved is like a gazelle, like a young stag. See where he stands behind our wall. He looks in at the window, he peers through the lattice.”
Sometimes, our beloved is not ready to be reconciled with us. This was true in the case of today’s first reading. The Book of Song of Songs should be read in the context of the book of lamentations. Israel was the bride of God but they abandoned the Lord. She was unfaithful and worshipped the idols. So they were banished to Babylon to reflect on their actions and so come to repentance. Very often it is in suffering and pain that we come to understand ourselves better. This is true in a broken relationship. Not all failed relationships are to be seen negatively. They are stepping stones to build stronger relationships through our mistakes. The next time, we learn how to be more mature and giving in love.
When the time of waiting is over, when “winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree is forming its first figs and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance.” So we must be patient. The joy of meeting her beloved helped her to forget all her past and all her sufferings. When she heard the voice of her beloved, she was filled with joy. The patient waiting for her beloved to come was worth the wait. She was complete.
Yet, we cannot love generously and selflessly unless we are filled with God’s love. This is why we need to seek our true beloved, which is our Lord who alone can give us the capacity to love. If our love is dependent on human love, then we are drawing out the love from each other. But that kind of love is so conditional. I love you as much as you love me. And if we lack the capacity to love, then it means that human love will remain unsatisfying since we cannot truly love each other fully. For this reason, the capacity to love cannot come from human love alone but ultimately from the love of God.
Consequently, we are called to be loved by God. “Come then, my love, my lovely one, come. My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock, in the coverts of the cliff, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.” The Lord our beloved desires us. He wants to love us. The Lord is coming into our lives. How is He coming into our lives?
Firstly, through the infilling of the Holy Spirit. It is notable that Mary set out immediately to share her joy after she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. She set out in haste to share the joy of her election as the mother of the savior but more importantly, the joy of her cousin in her old age conceiving a child. We read that when Mary reached her house, the Holy Spirit also touched the heart of Elizabeth and she in turn, infused with the Holy Spirit, cried out in joy, exclaiming, “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.” It was the same Holy Spirit that inspired Elizabeth with the knowledge of Mary as the mother of the Saviour even before Mary could tell her what happened. Through this confirmation of Elizabeth, Mary too was reassured that what the Lord said to her was true.
Secondly, that joy is always the manifestation of a loving encounter with God. We read how John the Baptist was also filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Elizabeth, fulfilling the prophecy of the angel when he said to Zechariah, “even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Lk 1:15) The joy of John the Baptist was visible when he encountered the Lord in the womb of Mary. “Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” So all of them were filled with the Spirit through the encounter between the two mothers and the two sons. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, joy is always the manifestation.
Thirdly, this joy is genuine joy because it is a joy to rejoice with others. Mary did not visit Elizabeth to boast of her new position as the mother of the Saviour. She went to celebrate with Elizabeth in her pregnancy and to render her assistance. On the other hand, Elizabeth did not grudge that Mary has a greater honour than her for she was carrying the savior, whereas she was only carrying the forerunner of the Lord. She did not envy Mary but was able to rejoice with her. She acknowledged with great humility that she was graced with the honour of the Mother of her Lord visiting her and she acknowledged that it was Mary’s faith in the impossible that God graced her with this role of being the mother of the Saviour. “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary and Elizabeth were one with each other in joy. We too will know we have the liberating joy of the Holy Spirit if we can rejoice with those who rejoice. (Rom 12:15)
So today, if we want to be filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit and be able to share that joy with others in unconditional love, we need to wait patiently for the Lord to enter into our lives. We must begin by yearning for Him like a lover for her beloved. Whilst we spend the time waiting, we do not wait passively, but take the trouble to look for the Lord so that when we find Him, we will be able to enter into His joy. With the psalmist, we pray, “Our soul is waiting for the Lord. The Lord is our help and our shield. In him do our hearts find joy. We trust in his holy name.”
Finally, we can help each other to encounter the Lord by being messengers of joy and love to each other, like Mary and Elizabeth, encouraging each other in our journey and rejoicing with each other in our discovery. Indeed, we must never travel alone in our faith journey. Mary and Elizabeth had each other. So we have the church to journey with us. She is there to encourage us and to assist us. So let us, “Ring out your joy to the Lord, O you just; O sing him a song that is new. Give thanks to the Lord upon the harp, with a ten-stringed lute sing him songs. O sing him a song that is new, play loudly, with all your skill.” Through worshiping and sharing the Word of God, our living testimonies of God’s love in our lives, we too can help each other to encounter the Lord in our hearts.