“Ah Lord God! It is thou who hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power and by thy outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for thee.” (Jeremiah 32:17)
The story according to the tradition of the Church briefly goes like this: Joachim and Anna of Nazareth were married and childless for fifty years. Now advanced in age, and in what seemed to be a hopeless, impossible situation, they both prayed and made special vows in order for God to bless them with a child. Eventually, Joachim and Anna were visited by an angel who brought them the wonderful news that Anna would conceive and bear a child. As the result of their prayer and humility, the impossible became possible: Anna’s barrenness was transformed into fertility, and what came forth was the birth of their only child, Mary, a conception nothing short of a miracle.
Each one of us can recall a time, perhaps it’s the present moment, when a plan or desire of ours did not conceive or come to fruition. We often find ourselves in a place that seems barren, desolate, lonely, impossible, with no hope of joy. Mary herself one day would be questioning an impossible conception announced to her by the angel Gabriel. The angel responded by reminding Mary of a situation similar to that of her parents, Joachim and Anna:
And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible. (Luke 1:35)
Akin to the faith and humility of her parents, believing in what God could accomplish, Mary replied to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
It is in this state of powerlessness and during difficult moments that we as Christians derive strength from prayer and humility before the Lord, and precisely the place where God meets us. Thankfully, the Church possesses myriads of those who have demonstrated faith in the face of impossibility, those who have gone before us, such as Sts. Joachim and Anna and their daughter, Mary the Mother of God, as well as those in our present lives today to whom we look as models of faith. Joachim and Anna prayed for something that seemed impossible because they believed in a God who is able to perform the impossible. Do we do the same? To whom can we look to have faith for us?
Let’s take a minute to understand what impossible may mean. Does it mean God can do something that opposes his own nature? No! It is utterly impossible for God to sin, to recant his promises and go back on his word. It is impossible for God to not love unconditionally. Rather, what seems impossible to us, from our perspective, God can accomplish. For example, when Jesus taught the cost of discipleship to the rich young man and the difficulty of entering the Kingdom of God, the disciples were shocked! Matthew tells us their reaction:
When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26)
From our perspective, salvation from our sin, entering God’s Kingdom, and divine union with God in and through the person of Jesus Christ seems impossible, unfathomable! But with God it’s more than possible. It’s already done! Again, what is impossible for us to accomplish due to our finite limitations, and what seems impossible due to our lack of faith, God can bring about. Faith expects, it is confident, even if God chooses to respond differently than we desire, because we know that living by faith is the right way to live. Faith is dependent, and so we pray to a God on whom we can depend, because he has countless times, throughout Scripture, as well as in our personal lives, demonstrated his faithfulness and ability to accomplish the “impossible.”
Whenever we are confronted with the impossible, when we believe there are not enough resources to do the work of the Church, financial or otherwise, let the story of Joachim and Anna remind us that it is precisely in our brokenness, weakness, and inadequacies, our “impossible” situations, that Christ meets us and his power is made perfect. Also, ask Sts. Joachim and Anna to intercede for us, that we may granted even a fraction of their humility and faith in God to attain what we cannot. As God said to St. Paul, today and everyday, he says to us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” We can imagine Joachim and Anna relating to St. Paul’s words that followed:
I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Corinthians 12:9-10)