The Wedding Feast at Cana

Jesus has been baptized and has recruited the first of his Apostles. They are with Mary at a wedding feast.

Isn’t it puzzling that none of the other Evangelists even mention this miracle at Cana? Yet John’s Gospel places it right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Compared with later miracles — healing a leper or a man born blind, or even resurrecting a dead person — this seems a rather trifling matter. Jesus himself felt that the time was not right. It was only a private party, after all, and the many signs that came later not only demonstrated his compassion, but also boosted his credibility. Even turning stones into loaves of bread after forty days of hunger in the desert seems much more relevant.

Is it possible that John, the most mystical of the Evangelists, has presented this narrative as a brilliant overture introducing (allegorically?) Jesus’ mission to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom? Let us explore the riches of the Cana event.

The Wedding Feast
Jesus repeatedly used the image of feast to represent the Kingdom of God, now readily at hand for all who wanted it. The wedding feast especially was the most joyful kind and lasted several days. It celebrated the union of disparate parts: union of a loving couple, union of their family and friends — perhaps much more important back then than now.

The Guests
Among others not named are Jesus himself, his mother, and his new disciples.

Wine
A metaphor for holiness and joy, it’s at low ebb in a world of strife and materialism. It also represents the Redeemer’s sacred blood, shed that all may find fulfillment in God, freed from the old law with its scrupulosity and fear of punishment.

“They have no wine.”
The old law is insufficient to feed the deep and thirst of God’s people. Jesus has come to renew the “wine of gladness.” He has come to fulfill, not destroy the law with its over-emphasis on externals. Jesus taught that the heart of the law was God’s love for us and ours for God and one another.
I desire mercy, not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6, Matthew 9:13)
This is the wine of spiritual inebriation.

The Request
How delicately made! This scene is not without humor. Leave it to a woman to notice a potential social disaster: running out of wine, a staple for a successful party! Mary merely brings it to her son’s attention, since he and “the guys” are clueless. Jesus doesn’t even want to get involved. This is not in his Plan, the time isn’t right, it’s a private party, etc., etc.
What a message for us when we think our wants — or even our needs — are not worthwhile for presenting to the Lord.  But God is always ready to hear our prayers. Every contact with God is important.

Role of the Servants
Many of Jesus’ miracles took place with the help of friends or even strangers, such as the group who opened a space in the roof to lower their paralyzed friend into Jesus’ presence. Or the anonymous members of the crowd who encouraged the blind man to approach Jesus. At this wedding party, the servants play an important role, just as we do as disciples/servants of the Kingdom. This is an essential part of Christ’s teaching:  giving help freely to others, even strangers.
Mary gives them a gentle order: Do whatever he tells you. In other words, You may not see the sense of accepting his will, but you’ll see how it will all work together  unto good.

The Jars of Water
These serve a mundane but necessary purpose for “Jewish ceremonial washing.” We are reminded of St. Paul’s words: We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.  (2 Corinthians 4:7) Whatever good we do comes from collaboration with God himself. Neither we nor our deeds need be extraordinary. The lowly — and even sinners (which we all are) — can become precious channels of grace for others.

New Wine, Transformed
Finally, we arrive at the fruitful completion of the miracle. The water destined for ceremonial washing is our Baptismal water, cleansing us to make us ready for an outpouring of spiritual wealth given us through Christ. John the Baptist humbly downgrades his ministry and tells his questioners (John 1:26) that what he has done is nothing compared to what “another” will do. John’s baptism is merely with water,  nothing compared to Jesus’ baptism of the spirit. Through this, we are born again, transformed into true children of our Heavenly Father. Moreover, John the Evangelist writes:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

(1 John 3:2)

 

Resolutions

For the past several years, I’ve made a point of fixing on a resolution or two (never more than three) at the start of the New Year. These have been worthwhile exercises such as: “Improve my practice of mindfulness,” and others that seemed valuable and needed at that time.

So far, (it’s December 29th as I write this), I haven’t come up with anything, so I look at my journal entry for January 1, 2018, for inspiration.

Zero.
Nada.

Instead, I filled two pages with mostly questions including, for example, “What is my hope for the new year? What am I to do with this existence of mine? What will give purpose to my life? I cannot have a life that’s half dedicated. What does God want for me? All these years and I still don’t know!”

I see that I ended up making no resolutions last year. Maybe that’s why I’m coming up dry for 2019?

The possibility dawns on me that Resolution has a rather egotistical ring to it, something really notable for me to share on my shaky-legged blog, giving the illusion of a strong-minded woman, strong enough to imagine a worthy goal accompanied by a resolute heart and mind.

“Tout est grâce,”  says Thérèse of Lisieux in probably the most important spiritual lesson we can ever learn.

Emptiness is Grace.
Fullness is Grace.
Failure is Grace.
Success is Grace.
Strength is Grace.
Weakness is Grace.

Whatever “happens” to us is not a chance occurrence but a purposeful gift to us from a loving Divinity, a gift designed to be tailored precisely to our need at this moment in our life.

For me at this point, making a resolution is to walk headlong into the illusion that I can actually know what I need to become the person I was created to be! A Resolution is my futile homemade recipe to become a person I have yet to know.

But our gracious Creator-Father generously gifts us with a certainty (our only certainty!) that all is indeed Grace, grace that will shape us into the person he wants us to be. That is, if we respond willingly and generously to these events and circumstances

This year, I’m going to skip the Resolution business and simply take things as they come. Instead of Resolution, I may use the concept of Desire, or maybe Acceptance. Even better yet, I think Gratitude is a good place to be. Maybe even the best.

Happy New Year!

ETA: Arrivals

Thanks to my graduate work in French literature, words have grown in importance to me. Though I was unable to reach my original goal – to teach the language and literature at the college level – I’ve never for a moment regretted all the effort, stress and time spent in this study. We had special classes in studying how words were like treasure chests, containing their power and beauty within. I’ve been able to apply this skill to lectio divina, to meditations on Scripture which is usually not merely factual but rich in transcendent spiritual meaning.

On my first trip to France, I remember the glee I felt to see and hear the language all around me. Arrivée! While this was the first word I saw as I came from the plane, it also marked the last part of my air trip. I had arrived!

That word! It meant both the end and a beginning. At that point in my life, I had no idea that in only another two years I would have exited my marriage, launched upon another and, consequently left the Church for almost exactly 21 years. Did I know that Christ would come again – to me, that is?

Arrived. Arrivée. Arrival.

During the early years following my return to the Church (another arrivée) I spent many a moment weeping over 21 years I had judged lost. Another French phrase kept repeating itself to me, a phrase guaranteed to deepen rather than cure regrets: j’ai raté ma vie; or, I’ve wasted my life. The same French word (raté) is used in an expression such as: j’ai raté le train, I missed the train! Something passed me by. Something important.

So I used that phrase as a form of self-flagellation. At that time, all I could see was that I had “wasted” – missed – a great part of my life, that is, 21 years separated from the Sacraments.

I groaned all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength withered as in dry summer heat.

Then I declared my sin to you;
my guilt I did not hide.
I said, “I confess my transgression to the LORD,”
and you took away the guilt of my sin.

It took several more years, plus encouragement from the Holy Spirit by way of a gifted spiritual director, plus the Ignatian exercises, plus the untiring love of God, to help me realize that such a major “mistake” had been an essential part of my life, especially in learning and accepting that God’s love covers all “mistakes.”

Therefore every loyal person should pray to you
in time of distress.
Though flood waters threaten,
they will never reach him.
You are my shelter; you guard me from distress;
with joyful shouts of deliverance you surround me. (Psalm 39)

Looking at the altar before the start of Mass, I see the statue of Christ with arms outstretched – first on the cross, and later at his Resurrection and Ascension. And I realize: We no longer have to wait for him. Jesus Christ, whose coming we celebrate, has already arrived! He physically, divinely, historically has come to teach us the Gospel, the good news of eternal life. He has already come, is here now, and will remain with us forever.

How is it that, since his arrival, it seems nothing in our world has changed? Two thousand years have come and gone since his appearance and since the Gospel was first introduced. How is it that even his “holy” church has so often betrayed his teachings? How is it that we (God help us) have also failed in following the Gospel? How is it that we often feel we’ve raté our lives?

So now, after a lengthy period when my muse has been silent, here I am on Gaudete Sunday, once again being taught how to rejoice from within what seems to be a world of incurable greed, anger, helplessness, godlessness. Taught to rejoice, even as I admit my flaws and how I’ve wronged others. People like me don’t need to pine away, waiting for Christ, counting the days till his arrival, for truly he has already come – and best yet, remains. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

It is not God who is absent, but ourselves. It may seem that we still need to wait for his coming, but instead we need to wake up and rejoice in the reality that he has already arrived. We need to relive and constantly repeat the original lesson: Emmanuel; God is with us!

Goodbye, November!

Reader, be patient; this has a happy ending.

How very appropriate that the end of the liturgical year takes place in November, the end of the calendar year. Our usual weather for most of November is cloudy days. Frankly, the weather and the liturgical year seem well-matched – that is, gloomy.

We start out the month quite happily with All Saints day on the first. But the very next day we’re plunged into All Souls Day. This is not meant to be a day of sadness, but our Spanish-speaking brethren call it the Day of the Dead (Día de los muertos) and that seems to be the major emphasis. When we finally get to the last two Sundays, we are treated to readings from Revelation about the “End Times” with descriptions of unimaginable disasters coming soon to a city near you.

Add to all this the fact that several people I know have passed away this month. (Note the euphemism, in consideration for all those who have a problem with the “d” word).

In our calendar, November has only 30 days, yet it seems to drag on interminably longer. Sometimes I prefer to describe the skies as “pewter” rather than “gray,” as I attempt to inject a positive note of beauty to what might otherwise be merely depressing.

So here we have several ingredients that might drag us down this month: 1) the reminder of dear ones departed — for me, including four people I know who died this month alone; 2) liturgical readings emphasizing disaster, death and judgment; and 3) at least 25 days without sunshine.

But wait! What about the big November holiday, Thanksgiving?

This definitely helps change our perspective – especially if you’re a shopper and jump to take advantage of the many available sales on Black Friday. Alas, even that isn’t enough for someone like me who lacks the shopping gene.

Never mind. For me, the gift of gratitude turns my gloom upside-down, helping me to slowly climb out of that black pit.

But the most effective cure appeared in our Gospel reading the other day. The Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, question Jesus with a hypothetical situation. A woman is married to, and successively widowed by seven brothers. The quiz: “At the resurrection (if there is one, they probably snicker), whose wife will she be?”

Jesus explains that whereas people these days marry, things will be different in the after-life. He says to them,

“The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels. That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. [He] is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive. (Luke 20: 34-38)

In that stunning revelation, Jesus joins us all together, the living as well as those whom we refer to as dead. Thus in our funeral Masses we celebrate that life is changed, not taken away.

This is the Good News that Christ brings us, that we need not dread a separation from loved ones, much less a separation from a life that has been slowly declining.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.” Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him,

“I am the way and the truth and the life.”   (John 14:1-6)

The Synagogue

I figured out why I’m so gloomy today. No, it’s not because of the weather which has been overcast and raining for at least 40 days and 40 nights. Because after all, there are at least some colorful autumn leaves gleaming through, seeming all the more brilliant because of their contrast against a perpetually pewter sky.

No, that’s not it.

On my walk today I passed the synagogue that’s just a few steps from my home: Kol Ami, which translates to “All Together.” It was named to represent the merging of two groups of the local Jewish communities. I’d like to think that it also means – or can mean – that we members of different faiths will some day join together.

Maybe what’s made me so gloomy today is the cruel invasion of that holy ground in Pittsburgh: hearing the names and backgrounds of the slaughtered victims; knowing that they were celebrating the naming of a baby – such a sacred and joyful occasion. And I must confess to feeling a gut-wrenching grief for the man who displayed such hatred.

I don’t get the Jew-hating, especially by persons of a Christian persuasion. I don’t know if the killer at the Pittsburgh synagogue lays claim to any particular religious belief, but I know enough world history to realize that one religion has always had an overdose of hostility towards people of a different religion. I also know that there are lots of folks who don’t want to have anything to do with religion for themselves and for their children, because they know too much about the god-awful hatred and cruelty “religious” people have had for others.

I hope the Pittsburgh murderer doesn’t claim to be a Christian, because Christians are the very ones who ought to be thankful to the Jews for having given us Jesus whose family and best friends were Jewish. Jesus was raised in that Faith. His understanding of God came from that Faith. The law of love came from that Faith. He is quoted as having said that “Salvation comes from the Jews.” (John, 4:22) And he was right. Jews are our spiritual parents.

Meanwhile, I’ve returned to re-reading Sunday’s Gospel about Bartimaeus, the blind man who called out to Jesus for help. He persisted in crying out, too, in spite of the crowd’s callous efforts to shut him up. But he wouldn’t shut up.

I used to wonder why Jesus asked Bartimaeus what he wanted. Surely, it was obvious! But Jesus wanted Bartimaeus to know and boldly articulate his desire: That I might see! By recognizing and naming his heart’s desire, Bartimaeus unknowingly gave evidence of his own strength. That’s why Jesus told him, “Your faith has saved you.” Jesus gave him credit for his own cure! All Bartimaeus needed was that bit of encouragement from the Master to realize that his persistence, his refusal to be discouraged, his boldness in speaking out when everyone tried to shut him up – these qualities would bring about the miracle he desired.

So, the connection to the shooting in the synagogue?

Maybe we need to be more bold. Maybe we need to look within ourselves, to overcome our timidity in speaking out – speaking out for our own cure and for the cure of others who let themselves become tools of hatred.

The temptation is to blame others for hatred — perhaps someone in government, or a particular political party. The ugly irony is that we then turn our hatred toward those we blame for hatred, we feed the very hatred we condemn. Obviously, this only perpetuates and deepens hatred in the world.

Only love can defeat hatred. Only love can erect the wall that keeps hatred at bay. And we’re the only ones who can do that.