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)

 

Twenty Years Blessed

You seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced;
you were too strong for me, and you prevailed. (Jeremiah 20:7a)

 The place was Santa Fe, the city of Holy Faith. It was Sunday morning. I was downtown and wanted to see the interior of the small Spanish style Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis, but it was closed. . .

After a Catholic education stretching from Kindergarten through college; after youthful aspirations to be a missionary or a cloistered Carmelite; after a failed marriage and a remarriage to another “lapsed” Catholic, the time had come. In the 21st year of this second marriage outside the Church, as we struggled to adjust to the changes of retirement, I took off on a vacation visit to my daughter in the city of Holy Faith, Santa Fe.

Touring the downtown, I wanted to see the interior of the little Basilica. Finding it closed, I returned a few days later. “Aha!” I thought. “Since it’s Sunday it’ll surely be open.”

cathedral-santa-feI entered just in time for the noon Mass. And what a Mass! It was October 4, 1998 (the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, one of my favorites) and the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan diocese in New Mexico. The Mass was celebrated as only Latinos know how: with exuberant song. I was bowled over. The Lord knows us inside out, and knew I would find this passionate, musical experience totally irresistible. You seduced me, Lord!

I was lifted out of 21 years of secular existence and firmly replanted as a follower of Christ, along with the gift of determination to remain there forever.

When I got home, the biggest surprise was that my husband too had decided come back. Sponsored by my former pastor, I went through the annulment process and we were married in a quiet ceremony in our new Corning parish. The 10 years that followed were by far the happiest in an already good marriage.

I wished I could go out on street corners or in parks — like Hyde Park in London where passionate speakers used to draw crowds to hear their message. I wished I could expound on the beauty of the Gospel! Would I ever be able to do this?

I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name.
But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding back, I cannot!
       (Jeremiah 20:9)

Like many a new convert, I threw myself wholeheartedly into my restored faith. I volunteered as a lector and Eucharistic minister, and for other parish activities: organized the St. Pat’s celebration; revived a faded ministry to newcomers; set up ministry fairs; served as secretary to the parish council. I also started attending daily Mass.

Step by step, each attempt at outreach finally led to today’s effort to express, through this blog, what God has done for me. That there’s just a handful or possibly a crowd who read these reflections doesn’t really matter. I cannot hold back! The words I’m given do not come from my mind or mouth. Whatever they produce, whatever the result, is not my concern but the Spirit’s, the Muse who moves me to ponder and write.

Once lured back to our spiritual roots, it becomes clear that true conversion doesn’t happen just once. Rather, it leads to continuous conversion, renewed day after day from within the events specific to that day.

This is my hope, my determination and my prayer.

There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.
(Luke 15:7)

Let the Children Come

(Written on the feast of Thérèse of Lisieux)

“Let the children come to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

How can children – or the child-like – have such a ready entrance into the Kingdom? To merit the Kingdom, don’t we have to learn countless behaviors, obey countless rules, accept countless beliefs and doctrines? And we understand hardly any of it. This is surely not child’s play!

I’ve been re-reading Michael Casey’s commentary on St. Benedict’s prologue to the Rule, The Road to Eternal Life. [Casey is a Trappist monk who has written several books on Benedictine spirituality.] I read it with a fellow Oblate about a year ago, but many passages strike me as brand new, now that I’m in a different place. Casey writes:

The Gospel is fundamentally a proclamation of the Good News; it is something that excites, motivates, and encourages us. It is more than the dreary listing of a series of moral precepts. It is the promise of power that comes down from on high to give us the wisdom, understanding, and fortitude to put those impossible precepts into practice. . . .

To be guided by the Gospel is to be liberated from the tyranny of law and superego and to allow our lives to be more and more marked by the simplicity of love. It does not mean extracting moral precepts from the words of Jesus and erecting them into a code or canon of behavior. It means living as Jesus lived by moving toward the fullness of self-giving love that he manifested during his time on earth.

The French mystic and poet, Charles Péguy, tells the adult who is satiated with many possessions and opinions: “Go to school, children, and learn to unlearn.”

It is their humble status and attitude of simplicity that Jesus recognizes and loves in children. It is what Thérèse of Lisieux discovered in her “little way:” the child-like acceptance of God’s love as Jesus taught in his Good News. 13-Therese as Joan.jpg

You see, we’ve been taught about all the things we must do to “get into Heaven,” all the prayers we must say, all the rules we must strictly follow, the spiritual and intellectual hoops we must jump through.  Thérèse, doctor of simplicity, was shown a way where one simply goes along with the parent in total trust. It has to be the way to a good place, for where else would a loving parent take him?  The child is happily amazed at everything it sees: it’s all new and splendid! For the child, everything is a kind of mystery, yet not imponderable, for the parent will explain all as they take the same path together, hand-in-hand. Being with the parent “excites, motivates, and encourages” the child. Simply having that loving attention is an incomparable delight.

The spiritual child does not need to understand complex theology that calculates how many angels can dance on the head of a pin; does not need to impose difficult penances on herself; doesn’t fret unendingly on mistakes made; doesn’t need big, impressive words in speaking to the parent.

The child-like simply accepts that there are others on this same path and is happy to take the last place, since it’s by the parent’s side. Let the others run off to chase useless things! The blessed are content to grasp only one thing in their hand: the hand of God.

Yes, we know that this “spiritual” child may be a tad idealized, relative to the children we actually parent. The main point is that the child really has nothing of “value,” by worldly standards, to give the parent. It’s the other way around: the parent (or grandparent) takes delight in spoiling the child with a variety of gifts presented at every opportunity, reasonable or not. When we keep our eyes open and look up at our divine parent with expectation, hope and love, are we ever disappointed?

As years are added to my life-span, I’m taught new things. One gift is to see the importance of receiving. Yes, there are always things we do and give. But then, you see, it’s so easy to feel proud of ourselves. When we allow God to give, every day can be very much like a child’s Christmas. Gifts often come even frequently throughout the day. If now and then we’re given gifts that puzzle us, we’ll certainly be shown how they work and in time will come to appreciate them.

Being at the receiving end is especially important for those of us at the ageing part of life, because doing is getting more and more tricky. We have to learn how to accept help and care from others. We have to learn to ignore their look of exasperation as we ask them the same question for the umpteenth time. And when we tell them the same story for the third time in 10 minutes, maybe they have to learn how to pretend that they’re hearing it for the first time. Compassion is needed now, as those in their second childhood require the same patience we needed with our young ones.

Let all children come to Me.

On the Road!

A few weeks ago, Brother John received a request from a pastor in the Canandaigua area. Like so many of our parishes, two in this part of the Rochester Diocese had recently merged into a new one named St. Benedict’s. Pastor Michael Costik’s request was: Would we be willing to help St. Benedict’s familiarize parishioners with their new patron and with the Monastery “down the road”?

Brother Gabriel asked me if I’d like to respond to Father Michael on behalf of the Monastery. “Of course!” was my immediate reaction. Who wouldn’t want to “sell” the Monastery?

And so I introduced myself via email and phone to Deacon Claude Lester. Claude had come to Mt. Saviour for his discernment retreat prior to ordination, so he was especially enthusiastic about introducing parishioners to our place of prayer.

The target event was a celebration of Benedict’s feast day, nicknamed “Seven-Elevenish” since it was scheduled for the Sunday closest to the feast — this year, on July 8. They planned a BBQ lunch at the community center where there would also be displays of the parish’s ministries.Monastery items

Deacon Claude wanted a special table for Mt. Saviour to feature information on the monastery. The Brothers and I agreed on what to take up: pictures of the monastery chapel and grounds, pamphlets describing accommodations and directions, information on becoming an Oblate, and objects available at the gift shop. I also selected a number of books on Benedict and monasticism available in the shop.

Sunday July 8 was a splendid day for the ride up through the hills to Bloomfield Monastery Tablewhere their community center is located (formerly St. Bridget’s). Straight ahead as I entered the door, the Monastery table was the major focus. Behind the Monastery table was a huge quilt, each square made by a family telling something about that family.

Deacon Claude had already done a good deal of work to publicize St. Benedict. Here he is at one of the displays.
Deacon Claude Lester

I was introduced to the parishioners who headed up various ministries. One was involved in providing shelter for homeless families. Another was a food pantry, open three day a week, stocked with food donated by a number of local people and businesses. I liked the outreach aspect of this ministry. Another nine-year project continually raised funds to help missions in Kenya. I was impressed that these were hands-on ministries that focused on helping the truly needy. I had to interrupt my ministry pilgrimage when I woke up to the fact that I had my own project to publicize!

It didn’t take long to realize that just standing by our table, waiting for the world to come to me, wasn’t going to accomplish much, so I grabbed a handful of pamphlets and prayer cards. Going from table to table, distributing my goodies proved to be much more effective – and fun. I was able to answer questions including, “What’s an Oblate?”  Occasionally I’d meet someone who (a bit embarrassed to admit it) was not a Catholic. This provided an opportunity to share thoughts on ecumenism and our need to rely on one another.

The warmth and enthusiasm of these parishioners was very exciting to me. They certainly expressed the hospitality of our patron saint. What is more, as I was on my way out, Father Michael assured me that they’d be planning a group trip to visit Mt. Saviour. We know they’ll love it.Mt. Saviour

The Forgotten Person

Some theologians have referred to the Holy Spirit as the Forgotten Person of the Trinity.

Christians are hardly likely to forget the Holy Spirit, since they make the sign of the cross thousands of times a year. But the question is: what do we know about *him*?

The Holy Spirit is not so much forgotten as hidden. By *his* very name, the Holy Spirit is the most esoteric, the most abstract, and consequently the most difficult to understand of the Trinitarian persons. For us, the other Two Persons are more approachable: Jesus, first of all, because He became one of us, sharing totally in our humanity. The Father is described intimately as our Abba (Daddy), the One to whom Jesus constantly refers. But the Spirit? Words will consistently fail us when speaking of the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel, the Holy Spirit slowly but powerfully emerges, but only in symbols or metaphors because He is not material and therefore not visible. The New Testament’s first referral to the Spirit is when Mary is found “with child through the holy spirit” (Matthew 1:18), or in Luke when Gabriel tells Mary how she can become a mother, the mother of the Messiah.

The Spirit as a dove hovers over Jesus at his baptism, a symbol of his calling to bring the good news of salvation to all.

When Nicodemus comes secretly at night to question the new Rabbi, Jesus attempts to describe how a person can be “born again” in the spiritual sense. He refers to the Spirit as “wind”, an unseen but powerful force, only perceivable by its effects.

The Samaritan woman at the well is bold enough to question Jesus as to where God must be worshiped. We too think certain conditions must be met before we worship: there’s a right place to worship, a right person to preach to us, a right congregation to worship with, a right style of liturgy to be observed. If we can find all of these in one place, that’s where we’ll worship. Jesus simply corrects both us and the Samaritan woman with a few words:

God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”
(John 4:24)

Unfortunately, that leaves us with no more excuses!

Perhaps the most troubling references to the Spirit are made after the Last Supper. Seeking to comfort his disciples, Jesus tells them:

“. . . grief has filled your hearts. But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:6b-7)

How could Jesus’ absence be better? How could the invisible Spirit comfort the disciples who were losing the visible Christ?

Recall the first stirrings of creation:

The earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters. (Genesis 1:2)

In the beginning of our spiritual life (and for much of it throughout), we too are formless and void. In order to become spiritual beings we need to be emptied of all that prevents God from shaping us into his image. The emptying process can be almost unbearable. We don’t even know how to pray! But St. Paul encourages us with words from his letter to the Romans:

The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes [for us] with inexpressible groanings.

We are constantly being emptied, separated from things or persons we love and consider absolutely necessary to our existence: parents, spouses, children, siblings, dearest friends, homes, our life work, and finally from our health and life itself. Such separations leave us destitute, desolate, abandoned. At moments like this we might question God’s love for us.

This reaction is so totally human, and therefore Christ totally understands. He knows that we are incomplete until, ironically, we are emptied – even of his own physical presence. Space must be created in us, making room for the Spirit of God who will accomplish the final act of our divinisation. The coming of the Holy Spirit in our lives is Christ’s crowning achievement for us, since it enables us to transform even an evil world into a place of love and truth.

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. (John 14: 16-18)

I love the words of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in “God’s Grandeur.” He traces the beauty of the world as God created it, followed by its near destruction by man’s greed and materialism, but ending in sure hope through the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, the One who renews the face of the earth.

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast
and with ah! bright wings.

Trinity 1