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Miracles – Seen and Unseen
Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent
In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years. Once when he was serving as priest in his division’s turn before God, according to the practice of the priestly service, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense. Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense. Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was gesturing to them but remained mute. Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home. After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.”
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, I ask for the grace to grow in faith, hope, and love. Let this prayer open my heart and mind to be receptive to what you want to tell me today. Ask me what you want, and give me the grace to do it.
- An Enduring Suffering: Zechariah and Elizabeth were Godly people who served the Lord faithfully. However, they bore the profound sorrow of not having children. Saint Augustine wrote that many people live quiet lives of despair. In our fallen world, it is reasonable to conclude that everyone is carrying some burden. Many feel overwhelmed and seek an escape such as substance abuse or worse. Others feel numb, as if their daily routine is simply going through the motions. “I keep going, but to what end?” they say. There is a reason why from the Cross our Savior, united to all human suffering, cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Just like Zechariah and Elizabeth, believers are not spared this struggle.
- Doubting the Miracle: While Zechariah was fulfilling his priestly duty in the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him, saying “your wife will bear you a son.” Zechariah’s response was incredulity. How could his wife conceive at such an old age? At times, our lack of belief denies God the space to do something wonderful in us. We are tempted to project onto God our discouragement and limitations: “It won’t work. We have already tried.” Now that God offered Zechariah a miracle, he almost lets it slip away. Jesus teaches, “If you have faith as a grain of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).
- When the Miracle Does Not Come: What do we do when, after a faith-filled prayer, or numerous ones, God does not grant the desired miracle? We may wonder, “Is it simply my lack of faith?” While our faith can always grow, there is often something greater at work. First, faith does not eradicate the cross from our lives; it enables us to carry it. Second, when a miracle we requested does not come to pass, we need to ask the Lord to reveal, in his time, the greater miracle he is working in our lives. Our faith reminds us that God’s ways are always greater than our ways, and even our greatest cross is meant to lead to a resurrection. When we abandon ourselves to his providence and try to live fully each moment in which we find ourselves, our faith grows. We become convinced that God has us there for a reason, and that reason is motivated by his love.
Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, help me to grow in faith. Allow me to understand that your love and your grace is ever-present in my life. I have only to entrust myself to it. You have created me to reveal your goodness and your glory to the world. As such, there are many miracles of grace that you want to work through me. In my moments of struggle, remind me that your providence is always gently guiding me.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will say a prayer entrusting a particular difficulty to your care.
For Further Reflection: “What Is the Answer to Suffering?” by Matt Nelson, Catholic Answers, 2/14/18, https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/what-is-the-answer-to-suffering.
Fr. John Bullock, LC, works with Regnum Christi in Cincinnati, Ohio.