Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: Is 62:1-5;  1 Cor 12:4-11; Jn 2:1-11

It seems to me that we are all programed to be self-centered – to look out for our self or to put it another way to look for our self. St. Augustine said that he is a mystery to himself. I think this is true of all of us. We are a mystery to ourselves and so we continually are looking to push back the boarders of this mystery, always on the lookout for insights into who we are. If we read a novel we look for the character we can identify with, who sees things the way we do or better we are sucked into seeing things the way the protagonist does. When we get engrossed in a book we can sort of set aside our identity and take on a new one for a change. Or, if we read a biography we look for commonality between us and the subject. I was once reading a biography of James Joyce and I found some common ground – Joyce was a terrible speller. Joyce and I are much alike. The syllogism could be – James Joyce is a terrible speller, I am a terrible speller, therefor I am like James Joyce.

Moving to more serious matters. Knowing our propensity for looking for ourselves through reading, what can we say about today’s Gospel, the Wedding Feast at Cana?  We can enter this story in so many places. We have all been to wedding receptions. It is nice that Jesus and his disciples were there and his mother. The whole village must have been there for the amount of wine they drank. There is mention of 6 stone water jars holding form 20 to 30 gallons each. If we take the high number we are talking about 180 gallons of wine! That is 3 ½ oil drums of wine. This part of the story loses us because what kind of wedding reception have you ever been to where they bring in 180 gallons of wine after the first batch runs out?

Let’s look a little deeper into the story. It is a wedding reception. Weddings are about love, fidelity in love, life time commitment to love. We are getting into spirituality and symbolism here. God is love and Jesus is a manifestation of God’s love for us. His presence in the world is not just a symbol but a real marriage between God and us humans. This Gospel is part of the Epiphany cycle which is about manifestation, revelation and disclosure. It is, as John tells us. The first sign Jesus give. The other thing to notice is that Mary is there and she acts, she intercedes on behalf of the host. This act has been extended into history where even today Mary is considered a powerful intercessor for the faithful. The rosary is still the most popular intercessory prayer in the Catholic world: “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”. And here is the major sign contained in this story – Death and Resurrection.

Look at what Jesus did, he changed water into wine. There must be more to this than saving mbarrassment for the host. There are physical laws that keep water from just becoming wine. Laws of nature. In other words there is a border that has to be broken for water to become wine. Jesus has the power to supersede the laws of nature. The physical laws we live by, the borders that keep things from exchanging identities. Jesus changing water into wine is a sign of our sharing in his death and resurrection. One of the greatest and most strict borders that we live with, one of the most unbreakable physical laws that we have to endure; one of the greatest mysteries of our life is that we have to die. When we search for our self we might be looking for an escape from death, and a way out of this unbreakable law.

By changing water into wine Jesus is showing us that God is not bound by our laws of nature or laws of physics.   This is the first of his signs leading up to the greatest sign of them all, his Resurrection. No one has ever broken through the law of death, no one has crossed the border between death and life except Jesus and in him we do the same. By the law of our nature we die but like the water into wine, blind into sight, withered into straight, our death is changed into life. We will live in the new creation where borders, and laws keeping things apart will be removed and all will be one in Christ Jesus our lord.


Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: 1 Sam 3:3b-10, 19; 1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20; Jn 1:35-42

A few years ago, Facebook Chief Officer Sheryl Sandberg published a best selling book entitled “Lean In”.  In the book, she addresses herself to women and challenges them to consider that, it might not be men who are holding women back, and preventing them from realizing their potential; Sandberg suggests it may be women themselves who are limiting their possibilities in life by certain unreflective choices they are making, especially with regard to marriage and raising children.  The expression “Lean in”, is it turns out, a moral exhortation, ventured upon by Ms. Sandberg, a claim concerning what is good for women; what will bring them true happiness and fulfillment, a claim concerning an objective moral good, toward which they should “lean in”, that is, strive for with greater passion and focus. 

But in what direction does a woman “lean” to attain her objective good?  Where is “in”?  The book suggests that for a woman to “lean in” means venturing beyond the household and child rearing, to compete for coveted jobs, big salaries, success and prestige in the corporate world.  And yet, we know that women today do not agree concerning where their objective happiness and fulfillment are to be found, or even whether there is an objective moral norm that would ground such a judgment.  An Amish woman raising eight children on a farm in Pennsylvania, appears to be “leaning in” with all her heart and soul, and is leaning in a very different direction than Sheryl Sandberg.  Are we to say the Amish lady is “leaning out”?  Where is “in”?  And who decides?  Someone needs to whisper in Sheryl Sandberg’s ear that, “lean in”, as a moral exhortation might be a hard sell for an audience who doesn’t agree where “in” and “out” are. 

Likewise, when I hear Fr. James Martin call for the Catholic Church to “build bridges to the LGBT community,” it sounds to me like a moral exhortation; a claim Fr. Martin is making concerning an objective moral good: in this case, friendship between the church and the LGBT community.  But I want to say to him: “Father, building a bridge requires that you have at least two plots of solid ground: one you are building from – and another you are building to.  But Catholics in the U.S. are markedly divided and ambivalent concerning the issue of homosexuality.  And LGBT, if it is a community at all, is so fluid and amorphous that, by the time I finish this homily, they’ll have added two more letters to their name.  How do you build a bridge between two places that are in continuous motion?  There is here a deeper and more urgent question: Where does one establish a foothold to even make a beginning at moral progress in a world where moral norms don’t stay in place, and everything is fluid? 

I offer these reflections by way of helping us appreciate the question put to Jesus by his first disciples in this morning’s gospel: Jesus, noticing they are following him, asks the disciples: “What is it you want?” Their answer is very interesting: “Teacher, where are you staying?”  “Where do you stay?”  “Come”, Jesus says, “and I will show you where I stay.”  And, we are told, “The disciples went to that place where Jesus stays, and stayed there with him for an entire day.”

Brothers and sisters, I wonder if your heart is aching as mine is, to be with the first disciples in that place where Jesus stays.  Is it not a wholly satisfying and blessed thought to imagine oneself in that place with Jesus and remaining there with him all day?  We believe the place where Jesus stays is the Center of history.  Everything that came before him, points toward his coming, and everything that comes after points back to him as the source of its meaning.  The place where Jesus stays, is the Center, and if everything in this world wobbles, becomes relative and uncertain, Jesus remains, and waits for us in that place he stays. 

This week end, we are pleased to be hosting about 30 students from the University of Notre Dame.  On Saturday, they met with a few monks and one of the monks asked them: “There are any number of places you could have gone for your retreat. What made you choose a Trappist monastery in the middle of a cornfield outside of Peosta Iowa?”  In response, they shared with us their history of visiting Trappist monasteries which maybe left unanswered the question of why they choose to make retreats at monasteries.  Before you depart this morning, let me share with you an intuition I have about why you are here. Maybe the reason you came to New Melleray this weekend is that a still small voice deep inside whispered to you that this monastery incarnates a mystery that mystery you might call “the place where Jesus stays.” 

Brothers and sisters, the place Jesus stays is Truth; the place where Truth is revealed to be Love; where sin is changed into reconciliation and peace; where error is changed into right worship, death is changed into life and where you discover that all this great news is not just this or that person’s opinion, but as divine revelation is actually true.  The place where Jesus stays IS reality and unless you visit and spend some time with him in that place, you are not in reality, and may not even be “leaning in” the direction of reality.  Having rested and prayed with us here for a few days, I hope you have been restored and encouraged, and maybe something more.  Who knows, this weekend might be for you, an experience like that of the disciples in this morning’s gospel, an experience that changes your life.  That can happen in this place and, when you return to the campus at Notre Dame, I will thank you if you tell your friends I said that.


Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings:  Is 49:3, 5-6; 1 Cor 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34

“Called to be an apostle.”  Saint Paul understood this about his vocation, his call: that he was called.  His vocation, while really his, was someone else’s idea and initiative.  The same for John the Baptist: “the one who sent me.”  John came, but only because he had been sent. And the same for the Servant the prophet Isaiah talks about. It was the Lord “who formed me as his servant from the womb,” and for Isaiah the prophet himself: “Whom shall I send,” “send me,” “Go.” In our Catholic understanding, vocation is God’s idea and his initiative. It may, in fact, be God’s idea for us “from the womb”; but usually the vocation is only recognized later in life and then, recognized, accepted, which step in the process is something else again; and accepted, acted on and, finally, followed through with. Paul compared his vocation to a miscarriage, but at the end says, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). John the Baptist expresses something very true about most vocations: “I did not know him,” John says, twice.  Or, as Paul said to the one who called him on the road to Damascus,  “Who are you, Lord,” reminding us Moses’s question to Yahweh when he called and sent him— “Who shall I say you are?”  There is this unknowing that is part of a vocation; the sense of your being known and even owned, if not invaded, but not knowing very well who the knower, caller, invader is, nor what it is you are supposed, exactly, to do.

“The reason I came was that he might be made to Israel,”  but, really, what did that mean, pouring water on people? How could John have understood that? While it is true that the church by nature is missionary, and while it is true that every Christian has the privilege and the duty to bear witness to Christ through a coherent life of prayer, service, and personal simplicity, often in suffering, even death, nevertheless, there have always been among the People of God those called to dedicate themselves to a particularly intense and intentional form of discipleship: Isaiah the prophet, Paul the apostle, John the martyr, and, as we will commemorate this week, Anthony the hermit, Cyprian Michael the monk, and Agnes the consecrated Virgin. Like Abraham our father in faith who, called went out, “but not knowing where he was to go,” and like Thomas Merton who said, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end,” so most of us who are called, given a vocation, respond with a great degree of unknowing, like Paul who after being called, for three days was unable to see. It is only in the going out and in the going, step by step, that we discover what we are called to and where it will end.

The going is the thing, or, in the case of the monk, the staying. Yet, says Vatican Council II, “This response can be made only when the Holy Spirit gives its inspiration and strength. For those who are sent enter upon the life and mission of Him who ‘emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave’”—Behold, the Lamb of God— “They must be ready to stand by their vocation for a lifetime” (Ad gentes 24).

We note the strong sacramental and Trinitarian flavors of our Gospel passage from John: The Eucharist—Behold the Lamb of God; Baptism in water for enlightenment, Confirmation—Baptism in the Spirit; the Father who sends, the Son who is revealed, the Holy Spirit as Gift and Burden. Vocations are initiated, nourished, and made clear by the reliable accompaniment of Grace, and the never-exhausted support and consolation of the Church. Jesus himself shared in the unknowing of the call, the doubt, and the darkness: “I am troubled now. What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?” (Jn 12:27). Faithful to his vocation to be Lamb of God, Jesus is revealed Son of God, the destiny, too, of those who are called in his name, called by him by name, “Come, follow me.”