2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached January 20, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ works a miracle – his first – performing thereby a simple act of kindness for a couple on their wedding day, sparing them the embarrassment of running out of wine.
Many people, perhaps, would like to leave matters there; they don’t want there to be any further meaning to the event; they don’t want there to be any mystery. They want us to imagine that there is no heaven above nor hell below us. They want to say that life is all about simple acts of kindness and simple human realities like marriage; no need for anything more; no need for any deeper meaning to things.
Unfortunately if there is nothing more then everything is reduced to a level of pure sentimentality, sentimentality that is incapable of dealing with the hard edges of life. Sentimentality cannot deal with broken marriages, serious, even life threatening illnesses of husband, wife, or children, untimely deaths, family members who wander into self-destructive paths that bring grief and harm to those who love them. Sentimentality longs for a worldly happiness that, in the end, will always meet with cruel disillusionment.
So we must not be content with the simple miracle, we must look to understand the sign, we must discover the meaning; we don’t make the meaning, we discover it, we receive it, with the help of God’s grace.
There is a famous Latin saying, “In vino veritas” – there is truth in wine. The idea of course is that when someone has had a bit too much to drink, he will let down his guard and begin to speak more freely, and perhaps more sincerely; he is more likely to let out the truth that he would otherwise want to keep hidden.
We can, however, play with the saying and suggest that in the case of the miracle at Cana, the wine itself is the truth, the wine itself conveys the meaning, a meaning that goes far beyond the unknown couple who celebrated their marriage that day long ago, a meaning that goes far beyond any human marriage, but gives meaning to all human marriages.
First, though we have to start with the truth of the words of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus: They have no wine. This is the condition of fallen humanity, but it should not be the condition of redeemed humanity. Nevertheless, I am afraid that as she intercedes for us today with her Son, as she intercedes not just for those present in this church today, but for all of humanity near and far, she must be saying the same thing: They have no wine.
We have no wine because we have rejected the truth. As a result life has been left without any meaning, except the meaning that people invent for themselves, which is finally no meaning at all.
We have rejected the truth because we have reduced everything to bare ‘scientific fact’. Science is fine so far as it goes, but science really does no more than make known the bare facts of the material universe. Science does not reveal the meaning of those facts.
For example, on one hand science supports “pro-life” because it shows the fact of the organic continuity of the human being from conception to death. On the other hand, science has nothing to say about “pro-life” because it has nothing to say about personhood, the value and dignity of human life, the immortality of the soul, or our eternal destiny.
When only the authority of science is accepted, then we are left with a world that is closed to any higher reality. Then each thing can be only itself and can have no reference to anything higher. Then there can be no meaning and symbolism inherent in physical realities. Then there can be no sacraments, no truly sacred signs – much less ones that produce an effect.
This profoundly effects the relation between man and woman (in marriage and out of marriage) because there is no longer any meaning and symbolism inherent in their relationship; that also means that there are no longer any rules to govern male-female relationships.
That is also why ‘gender’ and biological ‘sex’ have become separated. Gender comes to refer to a realm of meaning that is not rooted in things, but invented at will by human beings; biological sex is no more than the meaningless physical reality.
We are left without any meaning in the things, even things (like the difference between male and female) that have a profound impact on human life.
Nevertheless, human beings cannot live without meaning in their lives; if there is no meaning inherent in things, then each person is left to invent meaning for themselves; in such circumstances to receive meaning from another person could be nothing but a degrading form of slavery and manipulation.
That is pretty much where we are at today in our world without the wine of true meaning.
Still, this meaningless world is nothing more than a trap we have fashioned for ourselves by accepting the reduction of reality and knowledge to bare meaningless fact. Once we recognize the limitations of science and reject its pretension to absolute authority, we can begin to discover anew the meaning in things.
Nevertheless, the path of discovery is difficult and dangerous, especially since we are bombarded by so many invented meanings and live in such an artificial world, divorced from daily, intimate contact with created nature. Truly, today more than ever we need guidance from above; we need revelation coming from God; we need epiphany; we need faith, which is the human response to God’s revelation.
Once again the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God intercedes for us with her Son, saying: They have no wine.
Then she tells the servers, who are aware of the dire situation, Do whatever he tells you.
Jesus tells them to fill with water the stone jars for ritual purifications.
It doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Wine is needed, not water. What good is it going to do to fill the stone jars with water? Nevertheless, the servers put their faith in Jesus and Mary and they filled the stone jars. The miracle, Jesus’ first miracle, would not have happened without their faith, obedience, and cooperation.
What does that mean for us? Perhaps we should stop thinking that all we need is some vague and meaningless sort of ‘love’. Perhaps we should stop thinking that we can be spiritual, but not religious. Perhaps we should remember that we cannot do anything truly good without the help of God’s grace and that we obtain his grace through the religious practice that Jesus, the Son of God has established for us in the new and eternal covenant – if God enters into a covenant with us, that means he establishes a very definite form of religion. Perhaps we should learn to fulfill the traditional Catholic religious practices, in obedience to Jesus and Mary.
If we attend Mass faithfully on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation; if we confess our sins regularly; if we pray the rosary daily; if we meditate on the word of God; if we make frequent visits to Jesus in the tabernacle, we will be filling the stone jars with water; we will be doing our part. We may not understand what we are doing, but if we give Jesus’ our faith and our trust, he can work miracles. Unless you believe, you shall not understand. (Is 7:9 LXX)
Then maybe we will begin to grasp the meaning of the new wine.
Jesus Christ is the divine Bridegroom who has come to unite his Church to himself in heavenly nuptials. When his hour came upon the Cross, he slept the sleep of death and his side was opened by a lance, as the side of the sleeping Adam was opened. From Jesus’ side blood and water poured forth signifying the grace of the sacraments, especially Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. From these he has fashioned for himself his Bride, the Church, just as Eve was fashioned from the side of Adam. The new and better wine that he has kept for the last is the wine of the Holy Spirit, the wine of divine grace, the wine of divine life, the wine that transforms the water of human life, the wine that truly gives joy to the heart, the wine that he provides in abundance for his own wedding feast.
It is the nuptial union of Jesus Christ and his Church that gives meaning and definition to the marriage of Christians in the sacrament of holy matrimony. It is the new wine of grace that gives Christian couples the ability to live in fidelity to their vows, to grow in the truth of marital love, and to reflect and show forth in some small way in the human intimacy of their union, the divine intimacy to which God invites every soul.
Of human marriage it is said that a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. (cf. Gen 1:24) St. Paul writes that the man who cleaves to the Lord shall become one spirit with him. (1 Cor 6:17) The man who cleaves to the Lord shall truly enjoy the divine wine that is the Holy Spirit himself.