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The Annunciation, by Paolo de Matteis, 1712

Growing up with Southern roots I was privy to a plethora of colloquialisms, adages and idioms. I must have heard my mom say things like, “It costs an arm and a leg”, or, “If it had been a snake it would have bit me” a million times. My grandmother’s favorites were, “Goodness gracious” and “Bless his (or her) heart!”

Another idiom I often heard was, “I’ll believe it when I see it!” I thought about that line when I attended mass last Monday for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord.

In the day’s Gospel (Lk 1:26-38), the angel Gabriel came to Mary telling her to not be afraid, that she had found favor with God, and that she would conceive and bear a son. Mary’s response, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” was both a profession of her virginity and, perhaps, some incredulous skepticism. I think if she had been a Southern girl she might have simply said, “Goodness gracious, Mr. Gabriel, sir, bless your heart, but I’ll believe it when I see it!”

Seeing that Mary wasn’t quite on board yet, the angel had to give her a Paul Harvey-ish “rest of the story”: the Holy Spirit would come upon her and she would be overshadowed by the power of the Most High, and the child would be holy, the Son of God. Then, as if the angel knew she still didn’t believe, he went on to tell her that, since nothing was impossible for God, her cousin Elizabeth, old and beyond child bearing age, was six months pregnant.

I used to wonder what Elizabeth’s pregnancy had to do with Mary accepting that she, although still a virgin, would bear a son. And then I figured out that it was a sign, something that supported the unbelievable by making it believable. It was God’s gentle nudge to have faith in Him. If God could make Elizabeth pregnant then why should she doubt Him? With that, Mary demonstrated her true faith and gave her fiat, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Faith. It’s a difficult concept to comprehend. It can be hard to believe that which we can’t see or understand. I think the author of the Letter to the Hebrews explained it best, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)

The corollary to faith is Trust. With faith, we have the ability to trust in God, to believe that He has our back, that He is there for us in good times as well as bad. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6)

Searching my own heart, I know my faith is strong, but it could be stronger. It is trust with which I often struggle. Perhaps it’s a remnant of my pre-Christian life that still has a grip on me, a time when I trusted only in myself and certain others who had proved trustworthy. But, now, like Mary, I know God is with me because He has rewarded me many times with signs that proved His trustworthiness, especially those times when I had nowhere to go except to turn to Him. Still, I need to grow so that I trust in Him with every prayer, not just those made in desperation.

I wish I had the faith of the Centurion who said to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant shall be healed.” (Mt 8:8) The Centurion trusted totally and completely in Jesus. He had probably already seen one or more of Jesus’ miracles and, thus, the thought, “I’ll believe it when I see it”, never entered his mind. Rather, his plea was based on trust, a conviction of his faith that allowed him to think, instead, “I see it because I believe it!”

It must be frustrating for God, the One in Whom we live and move and have our being, to hear me and others think, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” What He longs for, instead, is for us to have the faith of Mary and the Centurion, a total trust in Him. He wants me to believe that He will answer all my prayers when I pray them, not to doubtfully think in the back of my mind, “I’ll put this out there and see what happens”. No, He wants me to visualize the outcome for that which I pray. He wants me to see it because I believe it.

When you pray do you trust in God totally and completely? Do you see it because you believe it?

“Good and gracious Jesus, as I journey closer to You, I know I still need Your help. Please, Lord, bless me with the grace to always trust in You, to never doubt but to always believe that You will answer my prayers. With this prayer, right now, I do believe You will transform me because, by that same grace, I have experienced a smidgeon of the joy I visualize that You have waiting for me in heaven. Amen.”

(I See It Because I Believe It was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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