Summary: Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, we must learn the interaction between faith and love in the head and heart
Thursday of 3rd Week in Advent 2013
The story we have in the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel is a kind of midrash on the story we read today in the Book of Judges. In both cases a childless couple experiences a miraculous intervention of God to give them a child. But the response of the people involved is reversed. Manoah and his wife were faithful, believed God, and did everything the angel directed. But Samson, the child they bore, was a jerk of a judge. He pretty much did everything that the angel had forbidden. The child of Elizabeth and Zechariah, John the Baptist, fulfilled everything that God intended, but he had an inauspicious beginning. Gabriel appears to Zechariah, gives him his marching orders, which were essentially to go home and get his wife pregnant, but old Zach has the temerity to ask “how do I know you aren’t lying?” That to an angel of God. So he gets to spend the next nine months without his voice, listening to the women of the community gossip about what an idiot he is.
This story is the lead-in to the tale of Mary’s Annunciation, and emphasizes her response of belief and faith, contrasting with Zechariah’s skepticism. God’s will is for our good, our growth, and our ultimate happiness in union with Himself. When we attune ourselves to God’s will, we experience peace and joy. When we turn away from Him, we get into trouble, not because God takes revenge, but because we have told our creator that we know better than He how to be happy. If we persist in that disposition and habit, we get to spend all eternity listening to the damned in hell gossip about what idiots we are. That’s another reason to listen to the Baptist’s plea to repent of our self-deception, bad attitudes, gossip, and other bad habits and live in Truth as Jesus, Mary and Joseph did.
In the clear light of the truth of the Gospel, the Popes tell us, “we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path.” They then ask, “This being the case, can Christian faith provide a service to the common good with regard to the right way of understanding truth? To answer this question, we need to reflect on the kind of knowledge involved in faith. Here a saying of Saint Paul can help us: “One believes with the heart” (Rom 10:10). In the Bible, the heart is the core of the human person, where all his or her different dimensions intersect: body and spirit, interiority and openness to the world and to others, intellect, will and affectivity. If the heart is capable of holding all these dimensions together, it is because it is where we become open to truth and love, where we let them touch us and deeply transform us. Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. Through this blending of faith and love we come to see the kind of knowledge which faith entails, its power to convince and its ability to illumine our steps. Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes.”
Faith, then, to echo the popes in different language, involves both our head knowledge and our heart’s understanding. We need to remember that St. Thomas had the best definition of love: bene-volence, wishing only good for another. When we make decisions based on love, then faith itself is transformed from just an assent to propositions we know are true. Faith becomes a conviction that overflows into loving action.
It’s like what Mary did at the Annunciation. She already had knowledge from the Scriptures and her own Spirit-inspired meditation. But her heartfelt and heart-known faith led her to respond with an enthusiastic “yes” to God’s invitation to the Salvation-event, to bear and nurture and witness Jesus. That must be our model for daily living. We believe in our heads and in our hearts, and act on that belief out of love for God and our neighbor.