Michelangelo, Zechariah, Sistine Chapel
Luke 1. 18-20
"Zechariah said to the angel, "How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years. The angel replied, I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day that these things occur."
Giovanni di Paolo
The Annunciation and Expulsion from Paradise, c. 1435
National Gallery, Washington D.C.
"Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I am a virgin?' The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God."
During confession today, my spiritual advisor gave me two beautiful images to contemplate; Our Blessed Mother and Zechariah. Six years into the Catholic faith and I still grapple with the issue of Transubstantiation. I had confessed this as having “doubts.” My confessor gently pointed out that we need to separate “doubt”, which is sinful behavior, from honest “questioning” which is encouraged as a necessary part of our spiritual growth.
Our approach should always be “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief”. We know the Lord is present in the Eucharist, yet we can struggle with the part of ourselves that says “how can this be.”
To illustrate the difference between doubt and sincere questions, the Holy Scripture gives us Zechariah and Our Blessed Mother. The angel Gabriel comes to both devout people the blessed news of a future pregnancy. Zechariah’s response is “How will I know this to be so?” Zechariah sees the angel Gabriel in all his glory, yet he doubts the truth of this message. Zechariah’s response is to argue against the feasibility of new life since “the facts” of biology seem to make it impossible. Gabriel answers “nothing is impossible for God” and strikes Zechariah mute.
Meanwhile, Mary is also “much perplexed” by Gabriel’s announcement that she is to bear the Messiah. She doesn’t doubt that Gabriel’s announcement is true. Yet she still struggles to comprehend it. Her questions “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Because her question is drenched in humility, Gabriel answers it. She receives an explanation of the workings of the Holy Spirit and confirmation of her relative Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy.
The teachings of our faith, which they see so easy to explain to my four year old, can be challenging for adults. The answers will come based on our own receptivity. Will we ask our questions with the humility of Our Blessed Mother, or the arrogance of Zechariah?
Prayer: Blessed Mother, instruct all of your dear children in the truth of the faith. Pray that their ears are open and receptive to the truth.