Lin Weeks Wilder

Lin Weeks Wilder

conversion, faith, fear, Gospel, Poetry, Prayer

How Shall I Know This?

how shall I know this?

How shall I know this?

The elderly priest Zachariah listens to an extraordinary, thrilling, joyous message from an angel of God. But when the angel finishes his magnificent prophetic message, instead of rejoicing at the news, the priest asks, “How shall I know this?”

The angel’s unhappy with the priest’s disbelief and renders Zachariah mute for the nine months of his elderly wife’s impossible pregnancy.

This past week in the Christian liturgy, we’ve heard the angel Gabriel declare messages to that priest and the young Nazarean girl Mary. Each asks a question of the angel. At first, Mary and Zachariah sound as if they’re both doubting Gabriel’s message. Upon relfection though, Mary’s not doubting that she will bear the Son of God, she’s asking how. Somehow understanding that her vow of virginity–a covenant–between her and her Lord could not be breached.

Each year I hear both of these readings and puzzle at them. This is the first one that I’ve been able to see the distinction.


We’re Zechariah: Begging for miracles but when they show up, disbelieve. “I’m too old…too young, too…”

But this girl Mary merely asks, “How?”

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”

For nothing will be impossible for God

Nothing close to “How shall I know this?” enters Mary’s mind or heart.


It’s not as if Zachariah wanted to disobey, ignore or defy the angel of the Lord. We’re given a detailed description of his character and faith. The priest Zachariah is from the “priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was from the daughters of Aaron. 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.” To these holy people of ancient Israel, Elizabeth’s barreness was the result of sin.

So why wouldn’t Zachariah rejoice?

Distrust…a perverse comfort in the knowledge of his sinfulness made him incapable of believing a supernatural blessing.

Like all of us, you, me and all human souls Zachariah suffered from the “same aboriginal calamity.” There’s no better explanation of original sin than that of Saint John Henry Newman.

To consider the world in its length and breadth, its various history, the many races of man, their starts, their fortunes, their mutual alienation, their conflicts … the greatness and littleness of man, his far-reaching aims, his short duration, the curtain hung over his futurity, the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil, physical pain, mental anguish, the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion, that condition of the whole race, so fearfully yet exactly described in the Apostle’s words, “having no hope and without God in the world,”—all this is a vision to dizzy and appal; and inflicts upon the mind the sense of a profound mystery, which is absolutely beyond human solution.

What shall be said to this heart-piercing, reason-bewildering fact? I can only answer, that either there is no Creator, or this living society of men is in a true sense discarded from His presence … if there be a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity. It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator. This is a fact, a fact as true as the fact of its existence; and thus the doctrine of what is theologically called original sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists, and as the existence of God

Cardinal John Henry Newman

How is it that she believed the impossible?

It’s prose, not poetry that I think in. With a lengthy exception: the months preceding and following my conversion to Catholic Christianity. Then only poetry could express the tumultous, terrifying, awful experience. This poem written two decades ago, suffices.

A Canticle for Mary

At your appearance in the Temple today,
The celestial choirs chorus Holy, Holy, Holy
In praise of the majesty and mercy of Our Lord
May we raise our hearts and souls in song
This day
To thee, most exalted of all God’s creatures
In anticipation of your perfect oblation
Through a soul despoiled of our parents sin
Emptied of all but the Lord, an echo of He
Who Is
All creation waits, Oh Blessed Lady, in hushed
And wondrous silence, the sound of your
Glorious let it be done according to Your Will.
Though child, more wise than Solomon, than
Let us pray for a New Advent, a springtime amidst
The death of December and destruction of innocence.
You who witness betrayal, filth and perversion,
Intercede for this twisted and depraved generation
This day
You who walk on the clouds and are seated on the moon
Know the depths of sorrow no other creature has known,
Child yet wiser than all the Magi, accept our offering,
We who have no myrrh, no gold, no frankincense, only
Our sin.

This is no Hallmark story,

nor is Christ’s decision to be born in a manger a cute accident of a full inn, at this specific time in Israel, in Bethlehem, King David’s city. Consider the well-known Gospel passage from the second chapter of St. Luke that begins: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.” Read more.

In the Baby King Who Takes On Caesar Bishop Robert Barron comments on the surely intentional prophetic nature of Saint Luke’s words. Beginning with reminding us of the power of Caesar, the sheer arrogance of a “count.” And the contrast of that ruined Roman Empire with this salvific church the Christ founded that “weirdly survives.”

Without this baby, his miraculous and paradoxical way of becoming one with humanity, that “terrible aboriginal calamity. It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator,” overpowers each and every human soul. But Jesus, our savior, is born again. Let us soften our hearts and minds to receive this miraculous gift.

This infant Child asks nothing from us and everything;

All at once.

He enters into our hearts and souls softly,

Quietly, almost without sound.

Once there, He offers peace, Life, wisdom

At no cost; just ourselves, whole, entire,

All at once.

Fr Chuck Durante

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a search for the sacred, catholicism, christian, christmas, mary mother of God, sacred

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Lin Wilder

Lin Wilder has a doctorate in Public Health from the UT Houston with a background in cardiopulmonary physiology, medical ethics, and hospital administration. 

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