can I be sure?

Dec 19, 2018

So many of the liturgical gospel passages are epic stories that we know well, like today’s account of the angel’s appearance to Zechariah to tell him that he and Elizabeth, both well past child-bearing years, would have a son to be named John (the Baptist).

We know a bit about Zechariah.

“In the days of King Herod of Judaea there lived a priest called Zechariah…and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name… Both were worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all the commandments and observances of the Lord. 

Zechariah and Elizabeth are off to a good start with their deep fidelity to God. In fact I feel a bit intimidated by them since I had a rough week last week losing perspective (yesterday’s post was written from my own recent experience😬). Sin seemed to take me over even more than usually – but you don’t need the details to get the point I will make!

But then I realised that the heart of my problem and the reason for my loss of perspective is that I have the same doubt that Zechariah had when the angel told him that he and his very elderly wife would have a son.

“Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this?”

That’s often my problem.

How can I be sure that living in relationship with Jesus Christ will enable me to live the life that I seek?

All the reports from history and the evidence in my own experience says YES. Life in relationship with Jesus Christ gives the most guaranteed certaintiy of a happy and fulfilling life. While we look for certainty in books and methods and programmes our only certainty is in relationship, first with God and then with those God gives us as companions on this journey.

When Zechariah and Elizabeth met and married they like any newly married couple would have prayed to be parents. By the time of their golden wedding party their prayer would have changed and they would no longer imagine that children were possible for them.

Zechariah’s prayer had matured from the youthful ‘God give me what I want’ to ‘God, you know my deepest desires, Your will be done.’

The mature person of prayer knows that the deepest human desire is not to have our little prayers magically answered, but to know that God is with us in our joys, hopes, griefs and anxieties.

Our problem in prayer is that we ask far too little of the God who desires to give us everything. That reminds me of my favourite C.S. Lewis quote already mentioned this Advent:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” The Weight of Glory

And I’m not sure that Zechariah was struck dumb as a punishment:

“when he came out, he was unable to speak to them,
and they realised that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.”

The one who is seeking to live with Jesus will often struggle with idle chatter and superficiality. In the presence of the divine what can one say since human language struggles to effectively convey divine life? Most people don’t understand anyway. Perhaps this is why Mary “silently pondered these things in her heart” since silence is the most appropriate response to awareness of God with us.

An Invitation

  • Can you remember the things you used to pray for as a child? Perhaps you recall praying to receive a particular Christmas present. How has your prayer changed? What do you consider to be the signs of this maturity in your prayer today?
  • What are you praying for today? Now allow the Holy Spirit to enlarge your prayer and deepen your desire for God: “O God, You know my deepest desires. Your will be done”.

O Antiphon: 19 December

O Root of Jesse,
standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us,
and delay no longer.


  1. Thanks Father John. I will look to pray for Grace’s for the people close to me like my Wife. Mother in law etc. As you say they are next to God for me and it is in them I share some of those deepest Hopes Joy’s Griefs and Anxieties you mention.

  2. thank you Fr. John, this reflection has helped me to see that I need to listen to scripture more.

  3. Thanks Fr John amen
    Happy Christmas

  4. Just as I was about to get overtaken by a pre-Christmas to do list tempting perfection before Grace I am stopped in my tracks by today’s reflection. Thank you.

  5. Thank you Father John for your reflections each day. These reflections have given me a gentle push to make my relationship with God a little deeper.

  6. Thank you Father John. This reminds me that the answer to my uncertainty and question ‘how can I be sure of this?’ lies in the gentle whispers from God within as I go about my day, and in the moments of connection with the people he has placed in my life; a kind word, a hug, a familiar knowing…these ‘ordinary’ moments are not so ordinary at all and when I open my eyes I see God within them.

  7. I love the Zechariah story – even devout people can have doubts, and yet wonderful things happen. I just have to keep trusting. And thanks for the O Antiphons – beautiful.

  8. A good reminder that we aren’t meant to know the will of God, thus opening us up to his wonder. I must admit as a businessman I scrapped the 5 year plan theory a number of years ago. Ive found being faithful to God’s plan is so much more enriching than I would ever come up with. Notwithstanding my constant doubting of course.

    Thank you Fr John. These daily pieces are very helpful.

  9. Thank you for continuing to challenge me throughout this advent season and rethink my relationship with God. I was struck today when I was praying with the Gospel how both Zechariah and Joseph had been given the responsibility of naming the babies with the name God had chosen for them.
    This led to me thinking about how important a name is when we are in a relationship with someone and the names we have for God and Jesus to enable us to develop that relationship.
    I so often refer collectively to both as “Lord”
    From today I am making a move to using names such as ABBA and Jesu, in the hope that my relationship with both (as one) will deepen.
    I have a little prayer card for the O Antiphons and today’s prayer is:
    Pardon me
    For the many times
    I have been indifferent
    To your love,
    When i’ve been occupied
    With other things,trivial things,
    While all the time
    You long for me to share
    A few moments with you.
    In your compassion
    Forgive my many weaknesses.

  10. Can I be sure? is like mental gymnastics. I much prefer, I believe, it’s so easy.

    The world is crammed with evil complications, and all kinds of entrapment, spoiling life. We can pray for the world, the living and the dead, and, as has been said before, point out error.
    St Bernadette said her job was to inform, not to convince.

    God grant me, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.


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