In this photograph by Berthold Werner, a Catholic Mass is celebrated in the Grotto of the Annunciation (lower level of the church) at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. It is considered the site where the Archangel Gabriel visited Mary. (Public domain/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

There’s a grotto in Nazareth that marks the spot where the Angel Gabriel told Mary she would be the mother of Jesus. Think of it: Here she is, a young teenager engaged to be married, and she’s just found out she’s entrusted with carrying the Son of God in her womb! On top of that, she learns of her cousin’s miraculous pregnancy. So what does Mary do? Scripture tells us she hurried off to visit Elizabeth.

A little perspective: That’s about an 80-mile walk! No air-conditioning. No Thirst-Busters. No smart phones. Even if Mary rode a donkey, it cannot have been an easy journey. And yet, because of the love she bore for Elizabeth and her own excitement over the news that she was carrying within her the Son of God, surely she was buoyed by joy.

In this season when we ponder Mary’s humble yes and her great love of Jesus, we ought to consider how joy — one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit — can empower us to face steep challenges and difficulties in life with energy and confidence.

Many times we confuse joy with happiness. You can be happy about the outcome of the football game or a shiny new car or paying off the mortgage, but none of those will fill you with joy.

Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun and author of “Cry of Ninevah.” Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.

Joy is more than a feeling — it’s a deep conviction about who God is and a deep satisfaction in experiencing His unconditional love. It’s realizing that in spite of all our sins, He loves us and is always eager for us to turn to Him like little children. It’s the sure knowledge that in fully surrendering ourselves to Him we have nothing to fear. It’s knowing that God is in control of our lives and He’s not going to let us down. Even in our darkest times, we can know that He has a plan and has something good in store for us.

Now then, we have to ask ourselves: Why does there seem to be such a shortage of joy in our world? Here’s one joy-buster: a loss of a sense of sin. If we don’t even recognize that we’re sinners, then how can we ask and receive the mercy of God? If we’re trusting mainly in ourselves, then how can we rest in God’s love and be filled with His joy?

The world (particularly this time of year) will tell you to acquire more and more stuff and that you won’t be happy until you do. Take a look around us in the culture: That road does not lead to joy.

When we make Jesus Christ the center of our lives, when we give Him permission to do with us as He wills, when we remember that we carry Him within us and are called to share His love with others, joy surges.

It’s a joy that Mary knew as she hastened along the road to Ein Karem to visit her cousin, eager to report the Good News that the long-awaited Messiah would soon be born.

For the last several Decembers, I’ve been blessed to report on the Honor Your Mother celebration centered on the Virgin of Guadalupe. As I wander through the crowd interviewing Matachine dancers and some of the hundreds of participants, there’s one word that every single person uses when describing the event: joy. And you can see it on their faces — they are filled with joy as they honor Mary whose tender love holds them close to Jesus.Through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, joy and life and salvation came into the world. That joy can set us free — if we allow it.

In the spirit of the season, here’s a recipe for joy:

  • Surrender one’s heart utterly to God;
  • Sincerely repent of all wrongdoing;
  • Rest in the ocean of God’s mercy;
  • Out of gratitude, serve others generously.

Mix well with Scripture study and devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Yield: One heart filled with joy.