Saturday, January 19, 2013

Homily for 2nd Sunday in OT - Pouring Wine into the Heart

Consenting to the Miraculous

Whenever Jesus does a miracle, he is reinforcing an important teaching and oftentimes pointing out a spiritual reality. So, for example, you might recall when Jesus heals the paralytic. The physical reality was that the man was paralyzed; the spiritual reality is that the people around him did not have faith. And so Jesus heals the paralyzed man to reinforce the teaching that Jesus is the God who comes to heal and forgive-- and to bring us a new life that rises and walks in faith.

So what is the problem that Jesus comes to heal today? Mary points it out: "They have no wine." On the physical level, the party is without wine. But on the deeper, spiritual level, something else is going on. This is where Jesus' and Mary's dialogue reveals to us the key about what is going on. After Mary tells Jesus that they have run out of wine, Jesus responds, saying:

Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not come.

This sounds harsh. Who calls their mother "Woman"? But Jesus is not being rude to mom. He is actually lifting her up and revealing her identity to us. How so? Well... Do you remember how Adam responds when God creates Eve? Adam says:

This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called.... Woman.

Jesus is drawing us to the beginning, to the time when Adam and Eve-- the first married couple, if you will-- lived in union with God. But, we know that they chose their own will over His and fell. Their relationship with God was devastated.

This is what Mary means when she says, "They have no wine." Not only is she pointing out a physical reality. She is also pointing out a spiritual state: this marriage is lacking divine love. Humanity needs grace! In this way, then, the married couple at Cana isn't just a random couple at Cana; nor is it simply an analogy for married couples now. In a deep way, the couple at Cana refer to Adam and Eve and thus to all humanity.

But when Jesus calls Mary "Woman," He does so not only to draw us to remember Eve, but to remember the prophecy that it would be a woman who would help bring about the healing between God and man-- a woman who would be clothed with the sun and crowned with the stars" (cf. Gen 3:15 and Rev 12:1ff)

And so we reach Jesus' question for Mary:

How does your concern affect me? My hour has not come.

What does this mean? Well, we must ask: How does Jesus reconcile God and man? How does he bring reunion? Well all know the answer: it is by way of the Cross. When Jesus talks about His "hour," He is talking about His passion and death-- a passion that begins at His Last Supper in the Upper Room when He lifts the chalice full of wine and says, "This is my blood."

So, when Jesus says "How does your concern affect me? My hour has not come," He is in turn asking Mary: Mother, do you want me to begin my hour, then? Do you will that my blood should be poured for their salvation? Do you realize what you are asking?

Mary, in turn, does not even respond to Jesus. She simply says to the headwaiter, "Do whatever He tells you." She is consenting and, wonderfully, by not directly responding to Jesus, she humbly surrenders complete control to Her Son. She is saying, "Yes, Jesus, but only as You will." Hence she tells the headwaiter: "Do whatever He tells you." I surrender all to Him.

The Superabundance of Wine

Here, we can turn to the miracle itself. Water is poured into six stone jugs which hold twenty to thirty gallons. If we do the math, we realize that, once the water is changed into wine, we have anywhere between 120-180 gallons of wine. ... That's what we call a party.

This is interesting to me. ...  Jesus could have just given the couple enough wine to get through the night. But He gives them a superabundance of wine. Physically, there is no way that this party could consume that much wine. And if they did, they would be intoxicated, inebriated!

... But this isn't just a physical reality, remember. This is also a spiritual reality. Jesus is pouring forth His grace. And His grace is superabundant.

Do you remember how the jugs were filled? They were filled "to the brim."

And do you remember the quality of the wine? It was the best. It wasn't cheap wine. It wasn't weak grace. It was the best. The tastiest. And there was a superabundance of it!

This is where I see the connection to the second reading and the key to all of these readings. In that reading we heard about the spiritual gifts. And where were these gifts first given? On Pentecost. It is there that the apostles are gathered. And who is gathered with them? Yes, The Woman! Mary! It is also the place where they had celebrated the Last Supper. Yes: Pentecost and the Last Supper happen in the same place: in the Upper Room.

So, there they all are, in the place where the First Mass was celebrated and Jesus had taken the chalice full of wine which He had turned into Blood. And it's now Pentecost and the Holy Spirit now rushes upon them all. They are filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit's superabundant graces-- His divine Love. And what happens? They emerge from the Upper Room "singing a new song to the Lord, announcing his salvation, day after day; telling his glory among the nations; and among all peoples, his wondrous deeds" (cf. Ps 96, the Psalm of the Mass).

They are so filled with joy and with God's love that the people who see this start to wonder what's wrong with this merry group. And what does that people conclude? They say that the Apostles are "drunk (filled) with new wine" (Acts 2:13). <see footnote 1>

Yes, as the Psalmist tells us, this wine, the Holy Spirit "gladdens the heart" (Ps 104:15)

The Marriage in the Eucharist: Saving the Best Until Now

And why all this gladness? Why the party? Well, that bring us to the last detail of today's miracle. The miracle and gladness comes at a wedding. Jesus could have done this miracle anytime that He wanted, but He does it at a wedding. Why? Well, this too points to a spiritual reality. And what is the reality? We hear it in our first reading:

As a young man married a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you;
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.

The marriage is between God and Us. He wants to pour His superabundant love into our hearts and be united to us. The Church, says Paul, is the bride of Christ (cf Eph 5). This marriage is brought to fulfillment when on the Cross Jesus pours out His blood-- the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant (that is, wedding vows). And then, from the Cross, He cries out: "It is finished!" Or, in Latin: "Consummatus est." That is: it is consummated. <see footnote 2>

And where does this all come together? Here, in the Eucharist. It is here that God offers the ecstasies of this heavenly marriage to us. He says, "Take... this is my body... this is my blood.... Drink...." The Father has saved the best wine until now-- because this wine is Jesus Himself.

And remember the superabundance! Just one morsel of this Eucharist, just one sip of the chalice, this is enough to gladden your heart. It comes with it the superabundance of God's love and an offer of union with Him. This is divine marriage and its joys are offered to all-- to the single people out there, to married couples, to priests. We are all invited to divine marriage with God and its wedding feast. 

Yes, my friends: there is enough wine of God's grace for you. If you are dry in your prayer life, God comes to refresh it-- He who thirsts for you. If you are dry in your marriage, see in the Eucharist the source for renewed passion and reconciliation. If you are lonely and longing for love: behold, your Love, here he comes! (cf. Song of Songs 2:8)

And Mary our Mother is at your side, imploring once more to our Lord, specifically on your behalf: “Jesus, my child has no wine.”

But now they do! Yes, He has saved the best wine until now.


< 1 >  Fun with scripture: When Hannah is pleading before the Lord in prayer (see 1 Sam 2), Eli the priest mistakes her to be drunk. But in fact she is praying in the Spirit, full with His love. Kind of related: In Greek, old wine was called "chrestos" which meant that is was mellow or smooth. Jesus uses this word in referring to his yoke which is easy (cf. Mt 11:30). That is to say, as one priest points out, that "it did not chafe, it was well-fitting and accommodated to the wearer." It is this word that is translated as "kindness"-- one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit-- that is, an attitude that goes beyond mere justice or what is required and is to be, rather, something wider and more accommodating. Kindness, therefore, is a Spirit-produced goodness which meets the needs of others and avoids harshness-- and it meets the needs of others often through prayer.

< 2 > More fun: When Jesus promises the Apostles at His Ascension that He will be "with them until the close of the age" (Mt 28:20), there is more than just Jesus returning when "everything's done" here on earth. The Latin reveals this. It says, "et ecce vobiscum sum omnibus diebus usque ad consummationem seculi"-- translation: and behold, I will be with you all days, even until the consummation of the world. Here is revealed the promise of consummation which comes at the end, but of which we receive a foretaste at every Holy Mass. Scot Hahn draws this point home (and its connection to the Book of Revelation) very nicely in his book, The Lamb's Supper.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Reality of the Miraculous - Homily for the Epiphany Sunday

God guides those who seek him. He is always, always guiding us. We see this today with the Magi and the Star. God wants to be found. It is as though we can hear the star anticipating the words of Jesus: “seek and you shall find.”
            God has always guided those who sought him. In the Old Testament, we see God guiding the Israelites through Egypt by the Pillar of Fire. God guides Israel by the voice of the prophets. God guides again in His Son whose simple message is to “follow me”—to follow not just the star, but me.
            And we find that it is reasonable to follow Jesus. He gives us reasons to: He turns water into wine; He walks on water; He heals the sick. All the elements testified that He is God and their creator. I love what St. Gregory had to say here:
“All the elements testified that their Creator was come. The heavens acknowledged Him to be God, and so they sent the star. The sea knew Him, for it suffered Him to walk upon it. The earth knew Him, for, when He died, it trembled. The sun knew Him, for he hid his rays. The rocks and stones knew Him, for they were rent asunder. Hell knew Him, for it gave up the dead that were in it. And yet Him, whom all the senseless elements felt to be the Lord, the hearts of the unbelieving … [do not acknowledge] to be God, and, harder than the… stones, they will not be broken by repentance.”
            Yes, it can be said that God’s language is to be found. He presents Himself to be found. And by a thousand miracles He guides the way, giving reasons to follow.
            But, for one reason or another, skepticism and doubt creeps in. Maybe it happens after the death of a loved one or when we see suffering. Maybe it happens after a great evil occurs. Maybe the example of others scandalizes us. Perhaps the doubt creeps in because of simple neglect of faith or ignorance. No matter the reason, the result is that we can forget the star. And, like the rest of Jerusalem, we go about our usual business.
            Yes, only the Magi followed the star—and they alone.

            Some might say, “Well, I have no star in my life. God hasn’t moved heaven and earth for me…” Are you so sure?
            I am convinced that the world is full of miracles. And history attests to this. Because, you see, the miracles didn’t stop with Jesus. They continue:
            -- We see people walking in Peter’s shadow. And they are healed. Not Jesus’ shadow. Peter’s.
            -- There are the “incorrupts.” These are the men and women who were canonized saints. During the process of canonization, they were excavated from their graves and were found not to have decomposed one bit. How is this explained? I particularly like the miracle of St. Januarius. A vial of his blood liquefies unexplainably three times a year. It’s been doing this since about 300AD.
            -- Throughout history, we have seen many Eucharistic miracles. In Laciano, Italy, for example, in 700AD, a priest consecrated the bread and wine at Mass, which became the Body and Blood of Christ. But, instead of remaining under the appearance of bread and wine, they visibly changed into tissue and blood. Science verified this and confirmed that the species is of the human heart.
            -- In 1531, Mary appeared to a Mexican named Juan Diego. Long story short: a miraculous image appears on his clothing, a tilma made of cactus pulp. Ordinarily, this would have disintegrated after 20 years. We are over 480 years now and it is still intact. Not only that, but scientists have examined the tilma and have found many peculiarities: they don’t know why it is still intact; they don’t know how it was painted; and they have verified something amazing: if you were to take a microscope and look in the eye of the Blessed Mother in the image, you would find 13 small figures. They are the reflections of those who were in the room as the tilma was unfurled. This is not a religious belief but an observation of science.
            -- In 1854, Mary once more appeared to a poor girl in Lourdes, France. Long story short, this girl, Bernadette, was to dig into the earth with her hands. A spring bubbled up where she dug. The waters have been miraculous; science has verified thousands upon thousands of miraculous healings from this water.
            -- In 1917—in this last century—three children claimed that Mary was visiting them. They told people and said that Mary was going to show them an amazing celestial event on a particular day. Over 70,000 people gathered to see what would happen. It poured down rain. And then the sun came out, danced, appeared to plummet to earth, and then returned to its normal state. Everyone—and they were not all Catholic—observed this. And miraculously, everyone’s clothes were dry. 40km away, the event was observed. And the secular newspaper of the area—O Seculo—noted for its anti-Catholic tendencies, reported the historicity of the event. The predicted event was verified by science.
            -- In our own lives, we see many miracles. Maybe the miracle of a paralyzed man walking again; the birth of a child; the near-miss on the highway, … In my own life, I have seen many miracles. Just this past week, I anointed someone who was dying. She was fairly comatose and hadn’t opened her eyes in a while. After anointing her and praying with her, she opened her eyes. Her family, which was gathered all around, noticed this. After I was done praying, they told me how this was amazing to them. How they could tell that she was seeing something, responding to the prayers and to someone in the room whom they couldn’t see, but she could. Yes, God continues to guide.
            But one person in the room had a little seed of doubt. “Maybe it was the chemicals or something.” The family member couldn’t give himself entirely to God’s presence at work. He had to reduce it to chemicals. Now, I didn’t respond. But I wanted to. I would have said something like, “sure: it might be some chemical in the body that is responding right now at this particular moment. But don’t you find it odd that it should happen now? And wouldn’t it make sense that God would so ordain the body that such a chemical might respond now so that we might look to Him now? Maybe there is someone behind the chemical that is trying to get our attention.”
Science can verify religion’s claim. Science and religion are not enemies. Science can point to the truth-claims of religion; and in religion, science finds its fulfillment.       
            But let’s be honest. More and more people are becoming atheists. And many are scientifically minded. But this strikes me as interesting: because basic science says that one should wait until the experiment is over until one draws conclusions. In the case of the atheist, the atheist has already drawn the conclusion: God does not exist. But they have done so despite limited knowledge and without the life-experiment having come to its completion. They make their conclusion too soon.
            But I will also admit: for many people, the existence of God is not merely an intellectual issue. It is an emotional one. And it all boils down to a question: Does God love me?
            Again and again, I hear people say: "Father, when it comes to God, I feel absolutely nothing. Some people “feel” God, but I don’t. I pray my heart out, but nothing happens." … This is the heart of the scientist, isn’t it? They are looking for verifiable observations.
            Some go so far as to question whether or not they could be loved by anyone at all. This is the creeping doubt that results.
            A priest responded in a letter to one such person. Here is what he said:
Dear Friend,

If the world had its way, there would be no roses. There would be pavement and businesses and a sea of cars busily traveling to and fro, hurriedly seeking out the latest fad and the next-best-thing. The reality is: today, people have forgotten about the roses.

How can a rose get the world's attention? I don't know that it can. The problem, then, is not with the rose. The problem is with the world. The world around us does not give its attention to the things to which it should be giving its attention. And if the roses had feelings, they would probably be feeling the way you do: abandoned, alone, and wondering why no one pays attention to her.

But you are a rose.

Someday, the world will rediscover the beauty of roses. In the meantime, the roses must remain strong and beautiful, soaking in the sun and the rain alike. The roses must not wilt, for what a tragedy it would be if the world should want to discover roses again, only to find that the roses have wilted! No, the rose must continue to bloom: it must continue to believe itself to be beautiful. And that they are loved.

And you are.

I will tell you, my dear: you need not seek the attention of the world. Seek the attention of the one who created roses in the first place. Now, I know that you often doubt the goodness or the attentiveness of God…. But doesn't that make you like the world that has forgotten the goodness rose?

Don't be like the rest of the world that has forgotten the beautiful things around it!–
else you have become just like the rest of the world that doesn't pay attention to you! Pay attention to that small, abandoned one that no one pays attention to. And who is that small, abandoned one? It is God. He is there in the corner, forgotten by the world-- just like you. Just like the roses.

I know that you want God to make you feel all warm and excited inside. But that is not how God is going to get your attention.  You see, God is going to get your attention in much the same way that roses get our attention: by inviting us to come closer. You see, my friend, we cannot discover the treasure of a rose—that is, its beautiful fragrance—by observing from a distance. We have to press our nose real close and close our eyes.

 If you, of all people, refuse to attend to Him who is so much like you, then how should we expect the world to notice Him-- and, also, you?—much less, a rose.
Remember my dear, only three kings followed the star. The rest of the world ignored it.

You have God's attention.

That you should not feel Him is not a sign that He is not there. Think about it for a moment: if people don't "feel" your presence it isn’t a sign that you aren't there-- is it? Of course you are there! And so is He. Therefore, like those whose attention we wish to have, we must become more attentive to the God who is in our midst, but who we often overlook—like the roses.

It is easy to overlook Him because we expect Him to give us good feelings. This is one of the reasons why people overlook us: we don't give them that immediate rush of feel-good-ness. It takes work to get to know us. And in a face paced, microwaveable world of give-it-to-me-now, people don't want to do the work, so they don't get to know us. The same can be said of God: it takes work to get to know him. But because people don't want to work at knowing Him, they promptly give up.

Remember: Jesus compares our discovery of God to be like finding a buried treasure. 

At the same time, Jesus encourages us: "seek and you shall find!"

How interesting! You and Jesus are both like buried treasure! Maybe you have more in common with Him than you think! And if you are like Him, wouldn't that make Him love you more? Maybe we need to remember that and bring that buried treasure to the surface of our awareness: that we are so close to Him and that He treasures us and He wants us to keep looking for Him. For we are His buried treasure-- which means He is looking for us!
Did you know that? That God is looking for you? And that you have treasure to bring to him?

You have gold within you. Frankinsence. And myrrh. You have gifts to bring.

Again, you might not feel it. But take your own experience: you are searching frantically for love and for God. God is searching even more for you. That is why he gives you a star. That is why he gives you the example of the saints. And all the miracles of history. Even the small miracles of every day life: like breathing, laughing, and roses.

How will He find you? How will you find Him? It's not a matter of how, but of when. In the meantime, you continue to call out to Him and to be the beautiful rose He has made you to be. There will come a day when you realize that He's found you and that you've found Him.

And then you'll realize too: He's been there with you, in you, alongside you all the time. The whole time. Even now.

Yes, the Lord does love us. He wants us to find Him. That is why He gave the Magi a star. That is why He gives us a thousand little miracles in the course of a day—if only we would seek them!
And so, if you are 16 or 60 and doubting God, I say to you: give Him some time. Give yourself some time to finish this experiment.
To the 16 year old, I say that someday you will see the miracle of life: the birth of a child. You will fall in love and your views will change.
To the 60 year old, I say that someday you will see the miracle of life: heavenly life. You will fall in love and your views will change.
Aren’t these themsleves reasons that we should hold off on the doubt for now?—for we haven’t seen it all yet. Let God show you some things. Let Him give you a star. Let Him show you a miracle or two.
And seek that star out. Look for the miracle. For God has promised: “Seek. And you will find.”