Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
January 14, 2007
Is 62:1-5; 1Cor 12:4-11; Jn 2:1-11
1) Last week we celebrated the epiphany or manifestation of the Lord to all the nations, represented by the three wise men coming from afar. In the history of the Church, that manifestation has always been tied to two other revelations of the Lord. The first occurred at his baptism (which the Church celebrated liturgically on Monday), when upon coming out of the water, the voice of God the Father thundered from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form as a dove. The other epiphany occurred in Cana, which we celebrate today, when, “Jesus… revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him.” But I’ve always liked to look at the epiphany of the wedding feast of Cana as a triple-epiphany: it reveals something about the Blessed Mother, something about Jesus even beyond his power, and something about us and the response God wants from all of us. Today I’d like to focus on this triple epiphany in Cana
2) At this wedding celebration, something very important was revealed about Mary. She was a guest at what turned out to be the most famous wedding of all time, because her Son was there. Ancient Jewish wedding celebrations would last eight straight days. There were three sumptuous meals a day. Wine was served throughout the octave. It was the generally the happiest celebration in the life of Jews, which is why Jesus often returned to the image of a wedding banquet to describe the joys of heaven. You can only imagine how embarrassing it would be today if, at a wedding reception, the banquet hall ran out of food or beverages. Even though most people would sympathize with the couple and blame the banquet facility, it would still be embarrassing. In the ancient world, it would be incalculably more so, because the family threw the reception. If they ran out of supplies, especially with days to go during the reception, it would be an embarrassment that likely would never be forgotten.
3) Mary was at the wedding and noticed the impending catastrophe. Before the wine steward caught on to the predicament, before the couple did, before even the mother of the bride had noticed, Mary saw the problem. The reason why there was no wine left was probably because the others were drinking so much that they just weren’t paying attention. Mary’s love made her notice the details that others were missing. To remedy the problem, she went to her son. She didn’t twist his arm. She didn’t try to persuade him that, even though it wasn’t his “hour” for working public miracles (because that inexorably precipitate the Cross), he should act. She simply said, “They have no wine!,” confident that her Son, even though he didn’t think the timing was appropriate, would out of love miraculously intervene. This episode, I think, reveals two things about Mary’s intercession:
a. She often acts before others even know they have a problem. I have every confidence that she is looking down on all of us with maternal love and bringing our needs to Christ. She’sprobably saying things like, “You see Roger there in the pulpit. He’s had a tough week, filled with sadness at having to announce the closing of St. Anthony’s school. He needs your help to be able to fill others with hope.” … “You see your daughter in Church right now sitting alone. She feels abandoned and needs to know that you’re with her.” … “You see your son. He’s struggling with tough news from his doctor and needs a house call from the divine physician.” …“You see that special young friend of yours. She’s fighting against the bad behavior of some of her false friends and needs you to show her how to say no to what they want her to do.” … “You see your beloved brother. He needs some courage to go to you in confession.” Just as she did for the young couple in Cana, she’s advocating for us.
b. We also can see how Mary acts to solve the problems she notices: she brings them to her divine Son. Some of our Protestant brothers and sisters say that Catholics shouldn’t pray to Mary because, as St. Paul writes, Christ is our sole mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). They say we should eliminate the “middle woman” and bring all our needs directly to the Lord. Well, there’s obviously nothing wrong with praying directly to Jesus, but at the same time, Mary’s intercession is no threat to Christ’s power; in fact, it reveals Christ’s power, because it depends entirely on Christ’s power. Mary cannot work miracles on her own. Any time she acts, she acts through her Son. When we pray to her, we ask her to bring our needs to her Son, just like she brought the need of the couple in Cana.
4) Beyond the epiphany of Mary’s maternal intercession, the miracle at the wedding of Cana also reveals something stunning about the way Christ exercises his power. Christ was and is the creator of the Universe. He formed the Pacific Ocean with just a word. He could have easily filled those six empty thirty-gallon water jugs with wine with a thought, or a word, or an Arthur Fonzarelli like snap of his finger. He could have in an instant created thousands of such jugs on the spot filled with wine or champagne or orange juice or anything he wanted. But he didn’t act that way. Instead he turned to the servants there and said, “Fill the jars with water.” He wanted to involve them in his miracle.
That’s the way he normally chooses to act. We see the same modus operandi later with the miraculous feeding of the five thousand men — and likely five thousand women and ten to fifteen thousand kids (Jn 6). He who had created all the fruit and vegetables, all the beasts wild and tame, all the fish of the sea, could have easily fed the crowd by creating out of nothing a sumptuous meal. But he didn’t. He asked his disciples what they had to feed the crowd, and all they had were the five loaves and two fish that a young boy was offering. Jesus took that meager gift and multiplied it to feed the crowd. He wanted to involve his creatures’ contributions in his efforts.
We see this same principle at work in the celebration of the Eucharist. Jesus could have easily begun with the grain and grapes he created and turned those elements into his sacred body and blood. But he didn’t. He started with bread and wine, because he wanted to incorporate us into this greatest miracle of all. During the offertory, the priest recalls this cooperation, praying, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all Creation, through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and HUMAN HANDS HAVE MADE” and later, “through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and the WORK OF HUMAN HANDS.” It — God’s goodness and the human contribution together — “will become for us the bread of life … [and] our spiritual drink.”
The central point here is that Christ could do it all; he doesn’t need us. But he wants to include us in his saving work, which is the greatest gift and the greatest mission we’ll ever have.
5) How we’re called to respond to this inclusion is the third revelation in Cana. St. John tells us simply that when the servants receive Mary’s instruction to do whatever Jesus told them and Jesus’ imperative to fill the jars with water, “they filled them to the brim.” Those five words conceal an awful lot of effort. Today if we had to fill several large barrels or casks full of water, we’d just hook up a hose to a faucet and fill them up one by one. But it was not so easy two thousand years ago. To fill up the jars, the servants would have had to have gone to the one well in Cana. If there were five servants, each with two gallon jugs or wine-skin canteens, to fill up 180 gallons would have taken at least nine round trips to the town well. Eventually, as their feet and their arms began to get sore, we can imagine their saying, “the jugs are full enough.” But instead they kept going back to the well until the jars were completely full. This shows their enthusiasm and zeal. We’re called to be just as enthusiastic and zealous in our correspondence to the Lord’s including us in his saving plan.
6) In the second reading today, St. Paul reminds us the Holy Spirit provides God’s people with a variety of gifts to help in the mission Christ has given us to complete his saving work. St. Paul lists several of these “gifts,” “services” and “activities”: the ability to preach the Gospel, to understand it, to respond with faith, to work miracles, to heal, and to discern. He doesn’t mean to give an exhaustive list, but to point toward three truths:
a. First the Holy Spirit “gives to each one individually.” Every one of us has received gifts from God; none of us was skipped in line when the Holy Spirit was handing out talents.
b. Second, we receive these gifts “as the Spirit chooses.” We shouldn’t be jealous that we can’t sing as beautifully as our cantor or our choir, or sew as well as the women in our crafts’ guild, or fix things as well as some of the men on the building committee, or explain the faith as well as some of our catechists. But God has given us individually our own talents, talents that he hasn’t given to everyone else, according to a choice of his divine wisdom.
c. Third, St. Paul tells us what the purpose is of these gifts of the Spirit: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Our gifts are not for ourselves. They’re not to make us individually rich or famous. They’ve been given to make God known and loved. They’ve been betowed to increase his glory and thereby increase our own as his beloved sons and daughters. We’ve received them so that, with Christ, we may accomplish the mission of the salvation of the human race.
7) The question for us is whether we are using those gifts for God with the same zeal that the servants did in Cana. They were all given the gift of a hardworking and enthusiastic character, and they used it for the Lord. Today we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us to see what our gifts are and to give us his help so that we might use them for building up the Church as it continues Christ’s mission.
8 ) In December, I met with the members of our parish council and asked them to help me to determine what our parish’s short-term and long-term priorities ought to be. I put on a sheet about 25 different things that any parish ought to be doing and asked them individually to rank what they thought were the first, second and third short-term and long-term goals. The long-term goals are obviously the most important ones, but if the short-term goals are not reached, often we won’t have the resources to achieve the long-term ones. After I tabulated the top answers to the short-term goals, I presented them with the top six answers and asked all to tell me what they thought was the most important short-term goal of all, and then the second most important.
9) The top short-term goal was to encourage every parishioner to discern and use his or her gifts for the building up of the parish. I hate to use the word “volunteer” in the Church, because there really are no volunteers in a Church, only stewards, but that’s what we’re talking about: to get every parishioner to contribute his or her time and talents for “the common good.” The second short-term goal was to increase the amount of our parish Sunday offertory collection, so that we would have the resources to fix our roof and finance programs and outreaches that can be done only if the money and volunteers are there.
10) In the next year, we’re going to focus specifically on what they identified as the biggest short-term need. Starting in two weeks, for two-to-three minutes before the start of Mass, people from ten different apostolates in our parish will speak briefly about what they do, why they do it, and how much good it does for them and for others. I’m hoping that you’ll see yourself in one or more of them and be inspired by their example to imitate their dedication and their work. At the end of the ten weeks, we will give every parishioner, young and younger, a sheet in which they’ll be asked to write down what talents they think God has given them and how they think those talents may help build up his kingdom here in this parish. The parish council members are convinced that, for our parish to grow and thrive, for it to become what all of us deep-down wish it would be, it requires most of the parishioners looking at their parish more than as a place where they “receive,” but where they “give,” give of their time and freely share the gifts God has freely given them. Jesus has entrusted to us the gift of this parish and we must respond with hard-work, enthusiasm and zeal. Jesus didn’t have to involve us in this work. He could have stayed on earth and done all the work himself — celebrate the Mass, turn on the lights, welcome new parishioners, take the collection, pass out the bulletins, teach the children, fix what’s broken, play the organ, run the food pantry, comfort the sorrowing and bereaving and so much more. But he wanted to give us a share in this mission, in big things and in small, because in this mission not only will he save and sanctify us but through us save and sanctify others. The question is whether we follow Mary’s advice to do whatever Jesus tells us by first finding out what he wants us to do, and then doing it with zeal and enthusiasm like the servants in Cana.
11) The miracle at the wedding feast of Cana was a prelude to the greatest miracle of all, when Jesus changed not water into wine, but wine into blood and bread into his sacred body. Just as Cana was a triple epiphany, so the Mass reveals something about Christ, something about Mary who gives us her Son and prays for us still, and something about us and our cooperation in Christ’s work. Mary tells us to do whatever Christ tells us and he tells to do THIS in memory of him. He wants us to participate not only through the “work of human hands” we present in bread and wine at the offertory. He wants us to cooperate not just by the money we give during the offertory, when we put our money where our faith is and try to underwrite the costs of his saving work here. He wants our response most in our cooperation with his supreme self-offering to the Father and to others. With all our minds, hearts and souls, he wants us to give ourselves to the Father and to others along with Him. The means to help us to do this is to allow Him to transform us into Him whom we eat, so that we may become, as St. Teresa of Avila once wrote, Christ’s hands, his feet, his ears, his eyes and his heart in the continuance of his saving work. May Christ today give us the help he knows we need to respond with enthusiasm like the servants in Cana, so that he may fill us to the brim with his saving love and have us overflow to fill others.