Sunday, January 17, 2016

Year C Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isa. 62:1-5; Ps. 96:1-3.7-10; 1 Cor. 12:4-11; John 2:1-11*

“Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). These are the words spoken by the Blessed Virgin Mary to the servers in today’s Gospel. Come to think of it, when we consider all of the approved apparitions of Our Lady at places like Lourdes, Fatima, Knock, La Salette, etc., this is the message she continuously gives. Last week we brought the season of Christmas to an end with our celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a celebration referred to by most Eastern Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, as Holy Theophany, which closely follows Epiphany.

Epiphany simply refers to an appearance, or manifestation of something that points the observer to something deeper. It is an appearance that emanates what we might call a spiritual resonance, whereas Theophany refers specifically to a manifestation of God almighty. While there are theophanies in the Old Testament, it is only at our Lord’s Baptism that the tri-unity of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- is explicitly manifested for the first time. In our Gospel today, Jesus is made manifest at the behest of Our Lady albeit in a less dramatic way, that is, not by a star, or a voice from heaven accompanied by the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove, but by granting his mother’s request, miraculously providing, not just more wine, but the very best wine for the wedding feast, a feat known only to himself, his mother, and the servers. While there is much to unpack in this episode which, in St. John’s Gospel, marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, let’s stick with what is perhaps most obvious- the direct connection between the Lord’s acceding to his mother’s request by performing a miracle with her on-going intercession on our behalf.

But before considering the importance of the Blessed Virgin’s intercession on our behalf, it’s important to consider the setting for the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in St John’s Gospel. It takes place at a wedding feast. In light of our first reading from Isaiah, it is no exaggeration to say that, in light of God’s revelation, we see that reality is nuptially, or martially, structured. At the very beginning God created man and woman. The two together comprise the divine image (Gen 1:27). When the man awoke from his sleep, during which slumber God created woman, upon seeing the lovely creature he declared: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken” (Gen 2:21-23). Immediately following this joyful outburst, we read the very same Scripture Jesus cited in his dispute with the Pharisees about marriage and divorce (Matt 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12), “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24). Fast-forwarding all the way to the end of time, everything will culminate with a wedding feast - the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, when Christ the Bridegroom will return for his bride, the Church (Rev 19:6-9).

Pentecost, by El Greco, 1596

It seems fitting at the beginning of our annual week of Christian unity to give thanks to God that relations between Christians have improved so much over the last fifty years since the end of the Second Vatican Council. Nonetheless, even today, it is not uncommon for some of our non-Catholic sisters and brothers to ask us whether we worship the Blessed Virgin Mary. Of course, the simple answer to this question is “No.” Worship is due to God and God alone - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As far as the saints, those holy women and men who, throughout the Church’s history, have shown us concretely what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, we venerate them, that is, hold them in high regard, look to them as examples, and ask them to pray for us, to intercede on our behalf. While we do much the same when it comes to the Blessed Virgin Mary, she falls into a category all her own.

Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments in his Two Great Commandments- to love God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. He gave us his radical and challenging definition of neighbor in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The first three commandments (i.e., worshipping God and God alone, not taking God’s name in vain, and Sabbath observance) are about loving God. The final seven are about how we relate to our fellow human beings. The fourth commandment, which enjoins us to honor our parents, like the Blessed Virgin, occupies a unique place, falling between the commandments about loving God and those about loving our neighbor. This, in turn, helps us to recognize the singular place parents occupy in the lives of their children. It also points us to the unique role of the Blessed Virgin in God’s plan of salvation.

The Greek word for the worship, or more accurately, the adoration, that is due to God and God alone is latria. Similarly, the Greek word for the veneration we give to the saints is dulia. The very cool Greek term used to describe the uniqueness of our relationship to Our Lady is hyperdulia, which means something like “super” veneration, which falls short of worship, but consists of more than merely veneration.

When we look at sacred art depicting the first Christian Pentecost we often see our Blessed Mother sitting in the middle of the twelve, when, in fulfillment of her son’s promise, the Holy Spirit descends on them, appearing, not as a dove, but as tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-3). In our reading from First Corinthians we hear a very good explanation, given by St. Paul, of the role the Spirit plays both in the life of the Church, especially in local assembly, or parish, and in the lives of individual Christians.

Marriage at Cana, by Giotto, 1306

Regarding the Holy Spirit, it is important to note something St. Paul wrote in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, namely that “the Lord is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17a), which is what we profess in the Creed when we acknowledge the Holy Spirit as Dóminum et vivificántem, or, “the Lord, the giver of life.” However, we do not profess the Holy Spirit as Lord in such a way as to negate what we profess earlier in the Creed: “I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.” Something written by theologian and New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson helps us to reconcile this: “The Holy Spirit is the mode of Jesus’ resurrection presence to the world” (Living Jesus 15). The word “mode” is a little technical, but simply means “way.” So the Holy Spirit is the way Jesus remains present in and for the world. Of course, the primary actions of the Holy Spirit that make Jesus present in and for the world are the sacraments, especially the Eucharist of which we partake and from whence, empowered by the Spirit, we are sent out to make Jesus manifest. Our making Jesus manifest it what it means to say the Church is "apostolic." It is the Holy Spirit that impels us to heed the exhortation of today’s Psalm response: “Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations.”

In our reading from First Corinthians, St. Paul does not undertake to set forth a comprehensive list of spiritual gifts, but give to give the Church at Corinth an idea of the great diversity of the Spirit’s many, perhaps innumerable, gifts. Moreover, he insists that the Spirit gives all the baptized some “manifestation of the Spirit… for some benefit” (1 Cor. 12:7). Just as the great gift of the Eucharist is misconceived if we see it as an end in itself, so are the gifts given us by the Spirit. We need to be good stewards of the gifts the Spirit bestows on each one of us. This requires us to discern our gifts and then put them to good and constant use as our way of making Jesus manifest. It is in this way that we heed Our Lady’s admonition, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:7). If you were read the four canonical Gospels as one continuous book, these words (i.e., “Do whatever he tells you”) are the last spoken by the Blessed Virgin Mary. Especially during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, we should pray often: Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam- “Come Holy Spirit, come through Mary.”

* While this is something I rarely do, today's homily is an updated and expanded version of one I gave in January 2013

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