Sunday, January 20, 2013

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, this is the message She continuously gives. It is interesting that 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 Theophany, which closely follows Epiphany on the liturgical calendar.

Epiphany means something like a striking manifestation, or appearance, whereas Theophany refers specifically to a manifestation of God. 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, something 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.

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 start 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 all the ages of the Church, 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, giving 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 unique role of the Blessed Virgin in God’s plan of salvation.

Pentecost window- The Cathedral of the Madeleine

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 veneration.

The stained glass window on the East side of the Cathedral, the second window to the South of the Resurrection window, is typical of the Church’s iconography of Pentecost, which most often depicts our Blessed Mother in the middle of the disciples, 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 find St. Paul’s explanation of the role of the Spirit in the life of the Church and of the individual Christian.

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 quite a few years ago 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. 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). This is why it is fruitful to pray often: Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam- “Come Holy Spirit, come through Mary.”

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