In February of 1870, St. John Henry Newman published one of his most famous books entitled: An Essay in Aide of a Grammar of Assent. Admittedly, he noted it took 20 years for him to compose this difficult, yet magnificent work that displays his brilliance. It is a serious, prolonged and deep examination of how the human person comes to believe in something – particularly religious conviction. Newman explains how the human mind can proceeds in matters of implication, assent and certitude … that we can become certain of things not through an analysis of all the logical arguments which may be made for or against but rather through a growing awareness—either over considerable time or in just a few moments—that there is such a convergence of probabilities in favor of the thing under consideration that it must be true.
Perhaps, in Newman’s understanding, this is how Mary comes to believe – how she becomes certain – that what the angel has just said to her must be true. It doesn’t sound logical. It may not make much sense … but what exactly prevents her from believing? Even the fact that she questions the angel does not mean she doesn’t believe. She is not asking for proof. She is asking the angel to make it real for her. The angel appeals to her not by logical arguments, not by scientific proof … but by God’s divine power. Assuredly, Mary knew the Scriptures. She knew of the promise of God that one day He would send a savior, the Messiah, to save His people Israel. She believed it … and in a matter of moments everything that she had learned, read, studied … believed … became real. Not by scientific proof, not by a logical argument but by God’s divine power now in her … in this moment time and eternity have met – this is what makes it real for her… God now in her.
Recently Virginia’s governor made a striking comment about religious services that seems to sum up the attitude of most mainstream, secular Christianity – among mainly Protestants but dare I say, among far too many Catholics as well. The governor made this comment … “is it the worship or the building, for me God is everywhere … worship outside or worship online is still worship.” Now, the governor of course is allowed to have an opinion on his personal understanding of worship yet that doesn’t mean he is right. He demonstrates a very common misunderstanding … When we sit in a pew, it isn’t just a bench … it isn’t about the pew but about those who fill it … coming together as a community of believers. Being in the church building is about the symbolism of the church that carries us to another world … the church building is meant to make us feel as though we have stepped into eternity … then there is the very act of worship – the Mass … the smells, the bells, the words, the gestures, what we see and taste … For us as Catholics, the Mass is where time and eternity meet … This is where God makes His power known to us … it is where He invades our souls, He places Himself inside us – just like He placed Himself inside the womb of Mary… This is what makes it all real. This is what helps us in our movement, in our progress from some abstract belief in God to a belief that is tangible and real. Not by scientific proof, not be logical arguments … but by God’s power.
And then when God’s power is made known, when He is made real right before our eyes … does it not make our faith mean more, matter more? Does it not change us interiorly and exteriorly? Maybe this is precisely what is needed for us in order to jumpstart our faith, to repair a broken trust … to renew in our hearts that He is real… and He makes His dwelling in and among us.