Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sermon Notes: Faith of Mary, Doubt of Zachariah

Reflection for Thursday, 3rd Week of Advent
6:30 am St. Vincent de Paul
December 19, 2013
·        Two Annunciations: Today we hear in the Gospel the Angel Gabriel announce the conception of John the Baptist. Traditionally this passage is seen in parallel with another such announcement, the announcement of that same angel to Mary about the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. Thus they are two “annunciations” foretelling the births of John the Baptist and Jesus.

·        Focused Comparison: And while much has been and could be said detailing this comparison, their similarity and ultimate difference hinges on one line: the response of Zachariah and Mary to the Angel’s announcement.  

o   Zachariah: How shall I know this? 
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (1:18)
o   Mary:How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (1:34)

·        Doubt of Zachariah, voice of our Culture: Notice the difference, for it is subtle yet profound. Zachariah’s response demands a sign of proof that he may know this to be true. How shall I know this? How will you prove it to me? Zachariah give us the voice of our own empirical culture which must always see it to believe it.

·        Faith of Mary, voice of the Church: Yet Mary responds quite differently. Again, it is subtle, only a word, but it changes everything. Mary asks: “How can this be?” Differing intimate knowledge for she knows more truly by faith, she asks rather how such an announcement will come to pass. How are you going to do this? What are you going to do that this may happen? This is the voice of the Church responding in faith to the workings of God for whom all things are possible.

·        Angel’s response: The Angel’s response makes this difference all the more clear. To Zachariah, he cites his authority as Gabriel an angel of God and mutes Zachariah until the birth of John the Baptist. To Mary, he reveals how His Word will become incarnate in her by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit: the first proclamation of the Gospel!

·        Ambrose Summary: It was Mary’s part neither to refuse belief in the Angel, nor too hastily take to herself the divine message. How subdued her answer is, compared with the words of the Priest. Then said Mary to the Angel, How shall this be? She says, How shall this be? He answers, Whereby shall I know this? He refuses to believe that which he says he does not know, and seeks as it were still further authority for belief. She avows herself willing to do that which she doubts not will be done, but how, she is anxious to know. Mary had read, Behold, she shall conceive and bear a son. She believed therefore that it should be but how it was to take place she had never read, for even to so great a prophet this had not been revealed. So great a mystery was not to be divulged by the mouth of man, but of an Angel.”[1]

[1] St. Ambrose cited in Catena Aurea: Luke, lectio 11, <>

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