The Three-Fold Mercy of Cana, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), January 17, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, Manhattan
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
January 17, 2016
Is 62:1-5, Ps 96, 1 Cor 12:4-11, Jn 2:1-11


Today’s homily was not delivered as a Missionary Priest was present to seek to raise attention for the needs of the Church in South Sudan. This is a copy of the text of the homily that had been prepared: 

Cana in the Year of Mercy

Today in the Gospel we have the great scene of the Wedding Feast of Cana in Galilee. We meditate on this scene every Thursday as we pray the second Luminous Mystery of the Holy Rosary, and often we pray about what it reveals about the sacrament of marriage and how Jesus takes the “water” of the institution of marriage from the beginning with Adam and Eve and raised it to the “wine” of a sacramental encounter with him: how Christ brings the marriage between a Christian man and woman into the marriage between Christ and the Church in fulfillment of what Isaiah reveals in today’s first reading about how just “as a young man marrries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you, and as a Bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.” But insofar as this year, we encounter this scene within the context of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which should influence everything the Church does throughout this 349-day holy year, we can look in a new way at how “Jesus… revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him”: namely, we can look at how the glory of God’s mercy was revealed and how the disciples began to trust in it. I’d like to examine it under three different angles: Mary’s merciful intervention, Christ’s merciful response, and the servants’ merciful cooperation.

The Blessed Mother’s Merciful Intervention

First, this scene reveals a beautiful characteristic of the mercy of the Blessed Mother. At the beginning of this month as we celebrated the solemnity of her motherhood, we considered how Mary lives up to her title as “Mother of Mercy,” how she “prays for us sinners now, … at the hour of our death” and always, how, in the words of the great antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater sung through the Advent and Christmas seasons, she hastens to the aid of her fallen sons and daughters who are striving to get up and continue the journey. Today she shows us how as a merciful, prayerful, mother she hastens to our aid before we even now we need that aid.

Ancient Jewish wedding celebrations, like the one taking place in Cana, 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. We can only imagine how embarrassing it would be today if, at a wedding reception, the banquet hall ran out of food or beverages early in the celebration. Even though most people would sympathize with the couple and blame the banquet facility, it would still be terribly embarrassing for the family. In the ancient world, it would be incalculably more so, because the family itself 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.

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 would 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 merciful love miraculously intervene.

This episode, I think, reveals two things about Mary’s merciful intercession:

  • Mary seeks to solve problems by bringing them to her divine Son. Her mercy is inextricably bound to her Son’s mercy. 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. And she responds as a Mother of Mercy.
  • Second, Mary often acts, like she did in Cana, before we even know we have a problem. I have every confidence that she is looking down on all of us with maternal love and similarly interceding for us with her son before we even know we have an issue. She recognizes that one of us may have a really tough week and she’s interceding for the help we’ll need to cope. She foresees some of us will have some severe temptations and she springs into action. She sees that some of us will have financial or battling health difficulties and she’s getting involved before we even ask her. She grasps that several of us will need a good confession, and she’s intervening for a priest to be there. Her mercy looks out and acts out of love before we’re often aware that we need mercy. Mary’s merciful interaction is something that in the Year of Mercy we should be ever more grateful for and dependent on!

Christ’s Merciful interaction

Beyond the epiphany of Mary’s merciful intercession, the miracle at the wedding of Cana also reveals something stunning about the way Christ exercises his merciful power. He acts at his mother’s behest and anticipates the time of his own suffering mercifully to take away our sins. But he acts here in a particular way. Christ was and is the creator of the Universe. He formed the oceans with just a word. He could have easily filled those six empty thirty-gallon water jugs with wine with a thought, or a syllable, 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 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 (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 established the Eucharsist to be celebrated with the raw materials of grain and grapes he created and have 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, for through your goodness we have this bread to offer, fruit of the earth and the work of human hands” and later, “through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and the work of human hands.” These — God’s goodness and the human contribution together — the priest prays “will become for us the Bread of life … [and] our spiritual drink.” The central point here is that Christ could do it all; he certainly doesn’t need us. But he wants to include us in his saving work. And this is a great part of his mercy: he who created us without our consent, as St. Augustine once said, doesn’t want to save us without our consent, and doesn’t want to save others without our cooperation.

Our Merciful Cooperation

How we’re called to respond to this merciful inclusion is the third revelation or mercy 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. There were no ancient hoses tied to ancient water pipes to fill the jars up. The only place they could get water to fill them was the central well in Cana. Because the jars were made of stone, they would have been extremely heaven to carry to the well; filled with 30 gallons of water, which would weigh another 250 pounds (one gallon = 8.35 lbs), they would have been impossible to bring back. The only way they could have been filled would have been by taking little leather or ceramic water containers back and forth to the well. If we imagine that there were five servants, each with a hefty two gallon container in each hand, it would have meant that they would have had to have made 9 trips back and forth to the Cana well to get enough water. That would have been grueling exercise even for those who were fit and strong. Yet they filled the 30 gallon water jars to the brim. They zealously did their part and Jesus used their efforts as the raw material for his incredible miracle. We’re called to be just as enthusiastic and zealous in our correspondence to the Lord’s including us in his saving plan. Not only are we called to drink the “best wine” of all, the mercy flowing from his open side, but also to help him bring that mercy so that others likewise can be renewed in it.

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:

  • 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.
  • Second, we receive these gifts “as the Spirit chooses.” We shouldn’t be jealous that we can’t do everything as easily or as well as others can do, or even do it at all. 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, and this is all part of his plan.
  • 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 bestowed 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.

The point is the Holy Spirit who has been sent us among us for the forgiveness of sins has given us each particular roles in God’s great rescue mission of mercy. 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 merciful mission.

The fulfillment of the Mercy of the Miracle of Cana in the Miracle of the Mass

As we come to Mass today, we can be confident that our Mother of Mercy is praying for us and advising each of us to do whatever her Son tells us. That Son, Mercy incarnate, tells us to trust in his mercy and gives us anew the command he gave to his first followers, to go throughout the world proclaiming his kingdom and a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And here he seeks to strengthen us for that mission not by turning water into great wine in an eight day feast, but turning bread and wine in to his own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, to strengthen us, and through us others, to come to the eternal Banquet. The miracle at the wedding feast of Cana was a prelude to this greatest miracle of all. We follow Mary’s command to do whatever Christ tells us by doing this in memory of him. And we come here seeking to allow him to fill us to the brim with his grace and mercy, so that being so transformed by this spousal union with him, we made sing to him a new song and proclaim his marvelous deeds of mercy to all the nations.


The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 IS 62:1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not be silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her vindication shines forth like the dawn
and her victory like a burning torch.

Nations shall behold your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
you shall be called by a new name
pronounced by the mouth of the LORD.
You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD,
a royal diadem held by your God.
No more shall people call you “Forsaken, “
or your land “Desolate, “
but you shall be called “My Delight, “
and your land “Espoused.”
For the LORD delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you;
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.

Responsorial Psalm PS 96:1-2, 2-3, 7-8, 9-10

R. (3) Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
R. Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Give to the LORD, you families of nations,
give to the LORD glory and praise;
give to the LORD the glory due his name!
R. Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Worship the LORD in holy attire.
Tremble before him, all the earth;
Say among the nations: The LORD is king.
He governs the peoples with equity.
R. Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations.

Reading 2 1 COR 12:4-11

Brothers and sisters:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.
To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom;
to another, the expression of knowledge according to the
same Spirit;
to another, faith by the same Spirit;
to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit;
to another, mighty deeds;
to another, prophecy;
to another, discernment of spirits;
to another, varieties of tongues;
to another, interpretation of tongues.
But one and the same Spirit produces all of these,
distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

Alleluia CF. 2 THES 2:14

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
God has called us through the Gospel
to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 2:1-11

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee,
and the mother of Jesus was there.
Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.
When the wine ran short,
the mother of Jesus said to him,
“They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her,
“Woman, how does your concern affect me?
My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servers,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings,
each holding twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus told them,
“Fill the jars with water.”
So they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them,
“Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.”
So they took it.
And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine,
without knowing where it came from
— although the servers who had drawn the water knew —,
the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him,
“Everyone serves good wine first,
and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one;
but you have kept the good wine until now.”
Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee
and so revealed his glory,
and his disciples began to believe in him.
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