Monday, January 21, 2013

The Wedding Feast

I'm giving a parish mission at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Odessa, Texas. The focus is on the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the parish bought two cases of my book A Heart on Fire: Rediscovering Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. These copies were available after all the Masses and after my first talk last night and I'm happy to report that the parish sold all but 6 of the books.  As always, I preached at all the Masses this weekend and here is a summary of my homily:
This is my first time in West Texas and I always like to get a "feel" for new places so as I was getting ready for Mass on Saturday evening I asked the ushers what professional football team the people of Odessa support.  I was thinking it would be the Houston Texans but I found out it was the Dallas Cowboys.  That caused a little concern because I was born and raised in Wisconsin and my Green Bay Packers have somewhat of a rivalry with the Cowboys.  But this year we can both commiserate. Neither of our teams will be in the Super Bowl. 

Though our teams won't be playing, I suspect most of you will still be watching. Are you getting your menu of appetizers ready?  How about the list of people that you'll be inviting to your Super Bowl party?  Now, here's a question: if you could, if it were possible, would you invite Jesus? 

I imagine some of you are thinking: "Jesus? Well, I don't know. I have to be honest: I'm sort of afraid of Him. You know, most pictures of Him don't show Him laughing or smiling, and the Gospel stories don't really show that either.  I don't know if it be much fun having Jesus at my Super Bowl party."

And then maybe some of you are thinking: "Wait a minute!  Remember what Jesus did at Cana?!"

Isn't it interesting that the first miracle of Jesus that we find in John's Gospel is not a healing but water being changed into wine.  In today's Gospel (John 2:1-11) this is called the first of Jesus' "signs."  A sign points to something and the miraculous signs of Jesus point to His divine power, to His glory.  Jesus chose to show His divine power for the first time, according to John, by providing something that would bring pleasure and joy to a party.

The marriage celebrations at the time of Jesus were long affairs. Because travel was dangerous and expensive, instead of going away on a honeymoon, the newly married couple stayed home with their family and friends for a week long celebration. They were treated like royalty and were even given crowns to wear. The women would have been at work behind the scenes preparing the food for the couple and their guests. So it's no surprise that Mary became aware of the fact that the celebration was running out of wine.  She goes to Jesus to make him aware.

Jesus' response to her is curious.  He calls her "Woman."  At first this may seem derogatory, but in the context of faith, it's a reminder of how in the book of Genesis Adam referred to Eve as the "woman" for she had come forth from her man.  We recall that Eve, as "Woman," is representative of all women.  In John's Gospel, Jesus refered to His mother as "Woman" in one other place.  As He hung dying on the cross, He saw His mother Mary and His closest friend John standing there.  He told Mary, "Woman, behold your son," referring not to Himself but to John.  He gave Mary into the care of this apostle and in telling him, "Behold your mother," we hear Jesus giving us Mary to be our mother. 

The reason Jesus gave for not immediately sharing Mary's concern about the lack of wine is that His "hour has not yet come."  By this He meant not only the hour or time for Him to reveal His power to work miracles, but the hour of His suffering, death, and resurrection.  This was His "hour," the hour when He triumphed over sin and death.  And by working a miracle that would capture people's attention, Jesus would set in motion the events that would ultimately lead to that "hour."  So it seems Jesus hesitates.

But Jesus is the Sinless Son of God who is also the Son of Mary.  He is obedient to the commandments and follows what has traditionally been called the 4th Commandment--"Honor your father and your mother."  He honors His mother by responding to her hint.  He obeys her wish that He do something to help the newly married couple about to be embarrassed.

This is why we Catholics honor Mary.  We imitate Jesus who honored and obeyed His mother.  We know that as she interceded for the couple at Cana, she will also intercede for us with her Son.  We can confidently approach her with our needs and then hear her tell us "Do whatever he tells you." 

And so, after Mary's intercession, Jesus works His first sign or miracle.  He changes water into wine.

In a few minutes an even greater miracle will take place on this altar.  Water will not become wine but wine will become the Precious Blood of Jesus. Bread will become His Body. Why? Why does the Lord do this through those words of His that the priest will pronounce over the bread and wine? 

The answer can be found in our first reading (Isaiah 62:1-5).  The prophet writes: "The Lord delights in you."  When you delight in another you want to be around them, you want to be with them.  The Lord delights in us and wants to be here with us.  But even more: when you truly and deeply love another, you don't just want to be around them.  You want to be one with them.  Again, in the words of Isaiah: "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."  Our "Builder" is our Creator, our God.  God wants not only to be with us but to be one with us.  We are made for union with God and that union begins here and now when the Lord comes to us in Holy Communion.  "Com--union."  A union with.

The Eucharist is the beginning of the Heavenly Wedding Feast.  It's the beginning of the celebration which will reach it's finale, its culmination, in heaven when, in the words of St. Paul, God will be all in all (Ephesians 1:10).  Now that will be one super party that will make our earthly parties seem like nothing.    

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