The Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th, nine short shopping months until Christmas!) reminds me of the response we might make to questions of faith. When confronted with these profound questions, we can dismiss them, we can scoff at them, or, even while not understanding, we can seek to know more.
We can understand this a bit better by looking at the reactions of Zechariah and that of Mary at the respective news brought unto them by the heavenly visitors, of the births of John the Baptist and of Jesus.
Zechariah receives this news while in the Holy of Holies, offering a rare and powerful sacrifice. When he receives the news of the upcoming birth of his son John, though, he reacts with skepticism, perhaps with a bit of bravado in the face of fear. He scoffs at the news, incredulous because he and his wife are already in old age. Incredibly, even though he receives this news in the holiest of places, he strongly questions the message.
Mary, praying alone, is approached by the angel Gabriel with the glad tidings brought unto her. Mary reacts in a different way. Rather than scoffing at the angel’s message, she shows that she is open to the news, but want’s more information. “How can this be?” she reacts, asking that she might understand more of the plan of God.
We are often confronted by questions of faith, by matters of doctrine, which are difficult to understand. God is infinitely good, loving, knowledgeable. We have trouble conceptualizing the nature of God, so it is little doubt, then, that we cannot always understand deep and profound questions pondered deeply by saints and theologians throughout the centuries. We do need to try to understand, but sometimes we will be unable fully to grasp the answers to these questions.
As a young man I had been taught that God alone receives the fullness of adoration. Saints and other holy people can receive reverence or veneration, but their strength comes from God, as does ours. So, veneration is a result of their nearness to God, how they followed Him, and their intercession for us in heaven also comes from God and through God. Mary, being the Mother of Jesus, who is true God and true man, is then the Mother of God, and deserves a special form of veneration.
In college I pondered Mary’s place in my faith. I had been challenged by Protestant friends, who themselves had been misinformed, and I sought to know more. I would not say I was anguished, but I did ponder these questions for several years. Then, in the lower Church of the Gesu at Marquette, I knelt in front of a side altar; later I found out it was the altar of St. Ignatius. Behind this altar was a stained glass window of Madonna della Strada, Our Lady of the Way or Street. I prayed at that time, “Mary, I know what is right, but help me to understand your place in the plan of God for me.” Never again did I worry about the Blessed Virgin Mary’s place.
Often we are confronted by teachings or questions which are beyond us. Children bring home a question from school. We find a tract under our windshield wiper. We get into a discussion with good friends and want to know more. It is good and natural to question, for in such ways we can learn more and more about our faith and be motivated to a deeper relationship with our Lord.
Our natural reaction at such times could be like that of Zechariah, to scoff at or dismiss what we are questioning. Instead, our reaction is much better if it is like that of Mary, desiring to understand, and asking that we be given the light to understand.
Although we may want to understand all, we are not always able short of heaven. At such times we can react on a deeper level, saying “I trust Jesus, and Jesus founded the Church and guides it in the way of truth, and so I trust the Church and Church teaching, even if I do not always understand.”
Zechariah scoffed at the holy message brought to him, and in consequence was struck dumb until after the birth of his son. When he finally is able to speak, his words are a hymn to the promises of God, a hymn prayed by all those who pray the breviary every morning.
When the tidings were brought unto Mary, she trusted, but wanted to know more, and then responded with another great expression of trust, prayed every evening by the Church “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”
Let us react as Mary did, trusting, reacting in faith, while seeking enlightenment, striving for understanding as we confront the deep mysteries of life, the profound truths about God and His Church.