One of the things I enjoy most about working in a parish is the chance to be able to talk to the young children who are preparing for their first Holy Communion and Confirmation. What I enjoy especially is their openness and simplicity. They accept things that they do not understand and that is called faith. Their simplicity is refreshing, although they are well able to ask difficult questions which I often have no answers for!
Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of our faith, or of any faith, is that we are constantly dealing with ideas that do not make sense to our way of thinking. They are beyond our understanding, and even if they were explained to us we still would not be able to grasp them. The simplest example is the idea of our own spirit or soul: it is not visible to the human eye, it doesn’t take up space and it weighs nothing. To human thinking that just sounds like ‘nothing’, but it is very real. The time when it is most obvious just how real it is, is when someone dies. One moment you have a living breathing person, with a personality and the ability to love. The next moment there is just a dead body and somehow you know that this is not the person that you knew; and indeed it isn’t, it is just their body. Their spirit has gone to a different world. It is very simple yet it is also beyond our understanding.
So much of what we believe is like this. We don’t understand it, but we accept it because God has told us that it is true and we believe that God only speaks truth. Sometimes I think that the most educated people can be at a disadvantage when it comes to faith, because they are tempted to want everything explained to them completely, or else they won’t believe it. A few years ago I did the wedding of a friend of mine I grew with, who is a now a pathologist. Before the wedding he was saying that he could not accept the resurrection from a scientific point of view, because to him that was impossible. I admired him for his honestly. In a way you could say that his education was an obstacle to him in the ways of faith, though of course that is not always the case. There are so many aspects of our faith that we which we cannot explain. However, that does not mean that they are not real.
Today’s Gospel passage which describes the angel Gabriel presenting Mary with something that she did not understand is more of what we are talking about. Mary questioned the angel because what the angel said made no sense to her from a human point of view. It seems that Mary didn’t intend to have children, otherwise why would she have questioned the angel? Since she was already legally married, it would have been the most natural thing in the world to have children, but this doesn’t seem to have been part of her plan and that is why she questioned the angel. What the angel Gabriel told her was that this would essentially be an act of God, and not a human act. ‘The Holy Spirit will cover you with its shadow… and so the child will be called holy.’ And the proof that he offered her was the miracle that God had already worked for Elizabeth who was now six months pregnant, even though she was old, and had never been able to have children, ‘…because nothing is impossible to God.’
The lovely thing is that Mary didn’t go on arguing about how this was impossible, but she accepted it. Mary was open to God’s action, to God’s plans. God also asks us to be open to his work, because He is all the time at work in our lives, only most of the time we don’t recognise it, or it doesn’t make sense to us, so we think it couldn’t be God at work. Children also have this kind of openness and God invites us to have the same kind of openness. There is so much that is beyond our understanding, but God just asks us to believe, and accept the fact that even if it was explained to us, we still wouldn’t understand.
The virgin will give birth to a child.
God will become man.
The death of a man on a cross will be a sign of God’s power.
The eternal God becomes present in bread and wine.