There are two sets of readings for Mass today. The first set of readings is for the Vigil Mass, and the second set of readings is for the Feast day itself. I would like to reflect on the readings for the Vigil Mass today, because they are the scripture verses that seemed to speak to me the most. (Jer 1:4-10; Ps 70: 1-6,15, 17; 1 Pt 1: 8-12; Lk 1:5-7)
I think it is important to pay attention to the scripture verses that “draw” you to them, because the words in sacred scripture are living words. They aren’t just letters typed on paper or a computer screen. These sacred words are inspired by God, from the creator of life itself. God said His words would not return to Him void, but would accomplish His will (Is 55:11), and I believe that is true for us on a personal level as well. So, let’s see where the Holy Spirit is leading us ….
I think the first part of the first reading is beautiful on so many levels:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
before you came to birth I consecrated you;”
This is of course a prophecy about the birth of John the Baptist, but these verses are also true for us. Jesus said that every hair on our head is counted, and if so, then God surely knew us in the womb as well. This should cause us to pause and reflect on the beauty of all life in the womb and to respect every little miracle of God’s creation. All human life is sacred, whether their life is conceived in sin or sanctity, because only God can create life. If a child is conceived in sin though, it is not the child’s fault but the parents.
That wasn’t the case in today’s readings for Mass. The gospel tells us about the parents of Saint John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zechariah. The second verse in this reading said: “Both were worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all the commandments and observances of the Lord.”
What is noteworthy about Zechariah and Elizabeth, is that Elizabeth could not conceive a child through natural means. She was past the childbearing age. Their sanctity was the reason that God answered their prayers for something that could only happen through His grace. A miracle is what they needed and God blessed them with a child because of their loyalty to Him their entire lives. And not just any child! God blessed them with the child that would herald the coming of His very own son into the world. When God answered their prayers, their “cup was overflowing”.
Not all of our prayers are answered by God though. Some things we ask for are not the best thing for us, no matter how much we want them at the time. Sometimes God has something even better in mind for us. But sometimes, our prayers are not answered because they are not His will. There is a reason and a purpose that He has in mind that we can not fully understand. Like when Jesus died on the cross and cried out to his Father, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” God did not answer Him, but allowed Him to suffer and die for our sake, even in the midst of his human weakness that surfaced during his profound suffering.
Human weakness is also something Zechariah suffered with too. If you read the verses in the bible following today’s gospel you will see that Zechariah questioned the angel and did not actually believe God. But, this was just a momentary glitch of human weakness. This act did not accurately represent the lifetime of holiness that Zechariah had lived. God knew this. He still granted his prayer, even in spite of this moment of weakness.
Sometimes, in a moment of weakness, those that we love will also commit a sin. There is of course many ways that human beings commit sin, but in today’s world what comes to mind after reading the scriptures today, is when a child is conceived out of wedlock. We can be so judgmental about that sometimes, especially if it is a member of our family, extended family, friend or someone we look up to at church like a deacon’s child or prominent member of our parish.
I think that the way that the Holy Spirit has been guiding my words today, has been leading up to this point. That some of the holiest people in the bible had moments of weakness that did not portray who they truly were. God knew what kind of person they really were. And, though He was certainly displeased with their human weakness, He still granted their prayers because of their deep faith and love for Him. Zechariah regained his holiness after John the Baptist was born, and “his cup runneth over.” God blessed him and his wife beyond their wildest dreams with a new little baby in their family.
This should give us hope for ourselves and cause us to not be judgmental of others when they too, suffer a moment of weakness. We are all imperfect, but our momentary lapses in holiness are not who we really are, and they do not always accurately portray the holiness of others either.