Smile of Joy (Mary of Nazareth) by Thomas Casey SJ. Messenger Publications.
GK Chesterton maintained in (What's wrong with the World .. 1910 ) that it was not that Christianity had failed but that it had never been tried. As a young priest I was stunned when my cousin aimed a similar arrow at me. "Do you know what is wrong with you priests ?" and before I had time to answer he exclaimed: "You have not preached Christ..that's what!" GKand my cousin were asking the same question from different angles. My cousin was a devout family man with grown up children. His faith evolved through a period of terror - Hell and Purgatory and a slim possibility that despite a fearsome God he might be saved. What did keep him balanced was a strong devotion he had all his life to Mary the Mother of Jesus. When we laid him out in death we intertwined his rosary between the fingers of his joined hands. There was the semblance of a smile on his countenance.
My cousin would have relished Fr Casey's jewel of a book. It contains numerous gems. There is so much mediocre writing about Mary these days that it is enjoyable to encounter some solid material that has a freshness about it. Crucially Fr Casey keeps that important balance which is needed when treating the mystery of the Mother of Jesus. He emphasises the total humanity of Mary and at the same time preserves the unique vocation of Mary who is called to be the Mother of the Son of God the Father. Not an easy task for any writer. He does indulge his imagination a little at times but never makes that constant mistake of indulging in fantasy.
Fr Casey highlights the Immaculate Conception and that is as it should be. The doctrine means in effect that Mary from the moment of her conception was totally in love with God. All sin, in one way or another, is a rejection of God's Love or a drawing back from the offer of His love. Mary ...full of Grace...that is the Holy Spirit...from her conception could never reject or retreat in any way from God's Love. The Sunday preface during Advent expresses it in a very beautiful way...."The Virgin Mother longed for Him with love beyond all telling."
St Therese of Lisieux - one of the great Spiritual Masters of our time and this time badly needs her - concentrates on that total love. St Paul - and Therese was inspired by his letters - would have appreciated 1 Thess. Ch. 3 v 12. " May the Lord increase more and more your love for each other and for all the people, as he increases our love for you." For Therese then it was God who was present in His Son and Mother acting in love for us.
St Therese took two names in religion...The Child Jesus and The Holy Face. These names might sound strange to us moderns but they are rich in meaning. The saint reflected...when Mary held her baby in her arms and smiled down on Him ..lovingly...and when He smiled back at her...lovingly...It was God smiling at His Mother and she back at Him.
St Therese takes the reflection to it's conclusion...The Holy Face. Now transfer your meditation to that Good Friday afternoon... same face looking down on His Mother...same face of His Mother looking up at him. He in terrible agony and She in unimaginable grief. Yet there is no anger in any of the faces...no hatred. There is a strange dignity ...a calm ...a tremendous bond of Love between that in a strange way shows in the faces. St. John who was present captures the moment..John Ch 19 vs26.27. " When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother "Woman, behold your son" Then he said to the disciple , " Behold , your mother." Taking care of His Mother.....The Mother of all the living.
Fr Casey also, very deftly, if I may say so..treats of morality which is how we live this in our lives. This is an invaluable aspect of his writing and it is for each reader to fit it into their moral living. If you are blessed to have this book or give or get it for Christmas then you should be able to like St Therese of Lisieux, to welcome Mary and Her Son...more and more into your heart and as Fr Casey would urge ... Smile more and more.
I am certain that GK Chesterton and my Cousin....will be smiling down on us this Christmas.. if we will endeavour to smile at the lonely..the rejected...the sick..the forgotten..
God lives in us.....He is that close....so Smile.
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