Smile of Joy: Mary of Nazareth

by Thomas Casey SJ

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism


To name Mother Mary – Cause of Our Joy connotes the beauty of Mother Mary and brings a smile to my face. In Smile of Joy, Thomas Casey, SJ reintroduces us to Mary, explaining the source of her strength and grace bringing us to stand with her as she ponders the stunning words of the angel Gabriel, to mourn with her in exile in Egypt, worry with her as she searches for her son in Jerusalem and to face with her the enormous sacrifice of Calvary.


Fr. Casey emphasizes that it was Mary’s complete trust in God that carried her through, and shows us what she has to teach us about life, and what God wants for us. Of all the images of Mary we might have, from bending over the manger to standing at the foot of the cross, Casey turns our attention to that of her smile. Her smile reflects her inner joy, her profound gratitude to God. Her smile tells us who she was.


It is amazing to think that the first smile Jesus ever gave was in response to Mary’s. Day after day Mary smiled at him, made eye contact and spoke with those special words, those ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ that mothers use to communicate with their infant children. And then one day she was graced with the smile of Jesus in return. It must have been an extraordinary moment: her son was smiling at her, and it was God smiling at her too! Although in the Latin language ‘infant’ means speechless, Jesus was in fact already communicating, albeit in a nonverbal way, with his first smile. And if we could have seen that first smile of her subtitled, we would probably have seen something like this: ‘thank you for your love, I love you too.’


This book looks at Mary, the extraordinary woman who is ‘the cause of our joy’. She is the cause of our joy because she brought us the greatest joy of all: Jesus. She was full of joy because she was full of gratitude, gladly acknowledging the fullness of grace that God had given her. Her deep joy overflowed when she visited her cousin Elizabeth: ‘my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit exults in God my Savior.’


The kind of Mary you’ll encounter in these pages is someone who is full of God, and not of herself, someone who made God’s dram her own. Mary said an enormous ‘yes’ to God. It was only when God’s son took on human flesh that our salvation became possible. But it was only because Mary said ‘yes’ that God’s son could take on flesh in the first place. God would never have forced a pregnancy upon Mary. Gladly for us, she gave her free and full assent.


Even though none of us can make sense of the utter mystery that God is, at least by saying a full-blooded ‘yes’ we will uncover neglected layers of our own humanity, and discover that this ever-mysterious God is already present and at work within.. The welcome surprise of this discovery may just inspire us with something like the grateful trust that Mary had, and which kept her always open to God’s unexpected ways.


“Mary, please ask God to give me true joy. I don’t want to live with resentment, and I’m fed up disguising a bitter heart with a fake smile. Ask God to give me the peace that comes from doing what is right, and the serenity that comes from acting as he wants me to act, so that I can have true joy as you did. The kind of joy that no adversity is strong enough to destroy.”

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