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)

 

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)

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.

The Church As Field Hospital

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

Some time ago, Pope Francis referred to the Church’s vocation as a field hospital. This phrase didn’t really strike me as anything more than a clever metaphor until I started viewing stories set in the battlefields of our World Wars. Then I saw what life was actually like in a field hospital.

Mansions of the wealthy were turned into wards filled with moaning, bleeding soldiers. The wounded arrived in an endless stream, with injuries from simple scrapes to life-threatening, body-altering wounds.

How can “the Church” be likened to such a place?

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

Unlike previous popes and traditional bishops, Pope Francis chose not to live in a princely residence. No red shoes for him either.

As long as “the Church” is viewed as a kind of religious country club where sinners need not apply, Francis’ metaphor makes no sense whatsoever. Is “the Church” a collection of buildings? Is “the Church” staffed by bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity, who are to act as spiritual doctors and nurses? Are there enough of them to care for long lines of the spiritually wounded or dying? Who are the “wounded”? Are some in a privileged class, and therefore treated better than others? What are their wounds? Which ones might be life-threatening? Which of the wounded do we have the right to turn away?

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

A real field hospital exists in the midst of WAR. There can be no casual approach toward the wounded in a field hospital. The field hospital staff puts itself in the same danger as the military personnel. Their burden is equal to what their patients experience. Staffing is insufficient. Virtually every situation can be described as an emergency. There is no time to waste, no time for a leisurely approach.

As an un-ordained woman, am I needed and assigned to work in this field hospital, or am I not qualified? Which instruction manual do I use, the Catechism or the Gospel?

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

Christ’s merciful attitude toward sinners was exemplified at the dinner where a woman of ill repute wept copiously and penitently at the feet of Jesus. “If this man were a prophet,” thought the Pharisee, “wouldn’t he know what kind of woman is touching him?”

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

Healing is at the core of Jesus’ ministry. For whom does the church exist? The saved, or those in need of saving? For whom did Christ shed his blood? Why do some bishops deny the Holy Sacrament to those most in need of the Lord’s intimate help? Do we refuse blood transfusions for those who are bleeding to death? Didn’t Jesus shed his blood for all sinners? Aren’t we included in that group?British surgeons and nurses prepare one of four casualties injured by gunshot wounds in Helmund Province in Afghanistan

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

This summer’s revelation of crimes committed under cover of clerical protection has now reached unspeakable depths. We’ve now come to the point where we are reduced to shame and utter disappointment as we learn of hateful evils against the innocent, hidden by cowardice and hypocrisy.

Over and over again we hear the question: how can I belong to such a church?

I suggest that the answer is simpler than we might think. Coincidentally, the answer is in Paul’s letter for today’s Mass (1 Corinthians 12). Paul refers to the diversity of gifts of those who contribute them to form the Body of Christ. You are Christ’s body, he says.

There is a beautiful unity and serenity in the picture Paul paints for us. This is the true Church where each part, no matter how insignificant, no matter how far out of the mainstream, is part of the saving Body of Christ: blood of his Blood; heart of his Heart. It is built by small deeds of love and attention we show our neighbors.

For sure, there are unending opportunities for true Christians to volunteer for service in the spiritual field hospital we call life. We are all among the wounded. We all need words of encouragement and the healing compassion of a patient listener. We all need spiritual pain-killers to soothe the hurt of anger, violence, crime and negativity that are both within and outside of us.

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

 

First Steps

This has been a year of mixed blessings for Mt. Saviour Monastery. We lost two brothers, Steven and Justin. Yet I do question words like “lost.” That word in particular expresses the opposite of a monk’s goal, which is to be found by Christ and to remain where He is.

I guess the Holy Spirit wanted to balance things for us, so I was delighted to learn that we have not one but TWO new postulants. Seeing one of them at Mass recently, I put myself in his sandals (so to speak), wondering what thoughts might be going through his mind as he takes the first steps on his journey to intimacy with Christ.

I remember how I had first felt on my return to the Church, how my new beginning revived the zeal of my youth and my desire to share my renewed joy in the Faith. Certainly Christ, like a new postulant, must also have had feelings of happy anticipation.

Jesus was not a green lad when he started his ministry, but a mature man of 30. When he plunged into the Jordan, it was as one with a crowd of converts. Converts because they were responding to John’s urgent call to change their way of life. baptism-of-jesusJesus stepped into a river muddied by the many sins that had been washed from the throng of repentant men and women. I think he must have been stunned to discover that individuals like him also experienced this strong call to holiness. He must have said to himself: I want to be a part of this transformation! Maybe even more, since what I’m hearing within me, what I’m given to understand is how truly close God is to each of us on this earth, and that He longs to accompany us on this difficult journey!

I think with wonder about those long days and nights he spent in the desert, praying and pondering what it means to be a child of God, about what is meant by the teachings of Scripture, the writings and traditions of his people. Fully human, Jesus must have been in the position of questioning what God wanted of him. Whatever it was, he desired it with all his being, both human and divine.

The temptations
If he were to leave his family, his friends, and his livelihood, what would be left? He might be like some people who considered preaching as a career that could assure him of a comfortable living. Why, given his talent with words and speaking, he would never go hungry again, accepting invitations to dine at the homes of the wealthy. As the darling of the Creator, he would be assured of protection and safety all his life. He would be admired and praised by all. His fame would spread far and wide. He might even be made King! Knowing the ill-treatment meted out to the prophets, he might have thought he’d be the exception. His teachings would be so new, so transformative, that they would be universally accepted.

Isn’t this how we’ve felt when we started out in our careers, full of enthusiasm and self-confidence?

Our new postulants at Mt. Saviour must be close to half my age but hopefully with twice the wisdom. The teachings of Christ bring us feelings alternating between child-like joy and the certain dread of hardships, followed by their actuality. Since this was the road Jesus decided to take, we can expect the same as we aspire to holiness.

First steps are so crowded with hope and fear, along with the need for support, strength, and wisdom. Fortunately, our heavenly parent knows that beginners need much encouragement, so he fills them with a grateful wonder at having been called. This confidence is too soon followed by a sense of emptiness and doubt.

Jesus’ family thought he was out of his mind and tried to drag him back home. The fickle crowds wanted to make him king when he performed miracles, but scoffed at his impossible teachings: Be happy when you’re poor, when you mourn, if you’re meek. This is not what most of us want to hear. The most difficult teaching had to do with giving us his body and blood to eat and drink. “Will you also go away?” he asks his disciples. Peter gives the perfect answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Early as it was in Peter’s discipleship, he knew that there was spiritual health and salvation only in what Christ taught and modeled: total love for God and neighbor; being the servant to others, not the Master; seeking first the Kingdom of God in sincerity of heart; letting go of all that keeps us from that goal.

And so, as we welcome our new brothers to the Monastery, let us pray that the faithful and loving spirit of Christ will enter them and remain with them – and us – always. Let us provide an ongoing example to each other as true followers of the Gospel.