January 18, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 62:1-5) Reading II (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)
Gospel (St. John 2:1-11)
In the Gospel reading today from Saint John, we hear about Jesus working His first miracle and this takes place at a wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. There are several points from this Gospel that we need to consider this morning. The first is the simple fact that Jesus worked His first miracle at a wedding, which tells us something about the dignity of the married state. For all eternity, those who go to heaven are going to be living in the marriage banquet of the Lamb, and so Jesus begins His public life at a wedding ceremony to point out not only the dignity of married life in this world, but to point out the reality that what married life establishes here and what it points to and prefigures is the marriage of our souls to Jesus Christ for all eternity.
In this way, we must understand that in God’s providence He does not see married life as less than, as secondary, or as any kind of diminutive form of life as if somebody could not survive as a priest or a nun then they would simply have to be married because what choice would they have. That is not the way God sees things at all. That is a tragic misunderstanding of the way some people have looked at vocations within our society, but that is not God’s way of looking at things. Every vocation comes from God, and every vocation has the dignity of a call by Almighty God Himself. It is not “less than” to be in a married state. In fact, I think that it is very clear and easy to say today that to be married and especially to raise children in this society is the single most difficult vocation in the Church today. And so the grace that is present for married couples is quite profound right now, and the dignity of your married state must be understood. It must be accepted and it must be lived because everything in the world is gravitating against you, but everything in God is in your favor because it is God Himself Who has called you to this state to live according to the vows that you have made and to love one another every single day for the rest of your lives.
Now when we look at marriage, we also recognize that even now it symbolizes the union of each one of us with Our Lord. This is to be lived out in the spiritual life. If we think about just aligning these two points of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony (where there are two persons for whom God works a miracle and unites their souls so the two of them become one) and what happens in our spiritual lives, when we look at the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the prophet is speaking about Israel in the objective sense and he tells Israel, “You will be a glorious crown in the hand of Your God, a royal diadem held by the Lord. You will no longer be called ‘Forsaken’ or your land ‘Desolate’, but you will be called ‘Espoused’ and ‘My delight’.” It goes on to make very clear the marital imagery that is being used to be able to say, “As a young man marries a virgin, so your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.” Well, this not only is true for all of Israel in general, it is true for every single person who is part of Israel – or of the New Israel, as it is now – because we realize that on the day we were baptized our souls were espoused to God and the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – began to live within our souls. The Trinity continues to live within the soul of each and every person who is in the state of grace. In this way there is a divine intimacy that is ours, an intimacy into which each one of us is invited, an intimacy which we express most perfectly when we receive Holy Communion.
So, especially for those who are married, you can relate this to your married life; but for those who are not, then focus especially on what happens at the communion rail and before the Blessed Sacrament. If we look at marriage on the natural level, we see that what sometimes happens is that the relationship begins to wane. Things become kind of ordinary. They become routine, boring, and maybe even frustrating, painful, and difficult. But it is in these difficult times in a marriage that the love grows. It feels like it is going backwards. It feels like things are not going the right way. There is going to be at that point, of course, a temptation to abandon the relationship because things do not feel right. Well, I would suggest to you this: If you think back to the day that you were married, I trust, hope, and pray that for all of you who were married that that was an extraordinarily wonderful day, but I would also submit to you that that should be the least glorious day of your entire married life because every single day your love for one another should grow. Every single day your relationship should be deeper, more beautiful and more profound than it was the day before. Now they are not all filled with the emotion that is present on the day that you got married, but the emotions are all secondary; the love is what is primary. As I have told you many times before, you did not vow that you would have happy feelings toward one another every day for the rest of your lives, but you did vow that you would love one another every day for the rest of your lives. And that love must grow.
Now relate that to the spiritual life. On the day that you were baptized you were espoused to Jesus Christ. That love for Christ is to grow every day. When you come forward to the communion rail, that union of your soul with Jesus Christ is expressed in the most beautiful way as Jesus gives Himself entirely to you to be received as a gift. He asks that you would do the same for Him. Now ask yourself, “What is my disposition as I come forward to receive Holy Communion? Am I distracted? Is it just routine? Is it just going through the motions because I do this every day or every week and it just doesn’t mean a whole lot to me? It is the same thing over and over again, so I just go through the motions mindlessly.” Now ask yourself what is the disposition of Our Lord toward you when you receive Holy Communion. Do you think that because He does this day after day for 2,000 years now that He does not pay any attention, that it is just routine for the Lord, that He is just going through the motions? Certainly not. He is giving Himself to you in love. Every single day it is new. Every single day it is complete. He does not give Himself to you in part; He gives Himself to you in whole. We need to mirror His disposition.
And then, just like in married life, we need to spend time with Him to develop that relationship so that our love for Christ grows more and more profoundly every day. Saint Teresa of Avila tells us that only when we achieve the heights of the spiritual life – that is, when we achieve perfection – do we enter into what she calls the “mystical marriage”. So we see that what already is present in reality from the moment that we are baptized finds its fulfillment and completion only at the height of the spiritual life. The same happens in marriage. On the day a couple is married, their souls are united but that union must grow and become more complete every single day. If one looks at a couple who has lived out their married life for many, many years, we recognize that the two do truly become one. They act like one another. They speak like one another. The fact that they are male and female is sometimes the only way you can tell the two of them apart; they become so much alike that they truly are one.
If you have truly lived your married life, you will help one another to overcome your weaknesses and your sins, pointing out your faults to one another out of charity, not to tear one another down but to help one another to grow. Jesus does the same thing for us in the spiritual life. He points out our faults in love and He gives us the grace to overcome them and helps us to grow in holiness. And as we continue to grow and overcome our sins, the Lord then gives to us the grace of complete union, that mystical marriage where the two become truly one in every sense of that word. We see again that mystery in what Saint Paul tells the Galatians when he says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me.” That is exactly what each one of us is to do. Mystical marriage is the point at which our will and the Will of Jesus Christ are one and the same. We are to be so united with Christ that, just like a couple who has been married for many years, we should act like Jesus, talk like Jesus, think like Jesus. In fact, we are to bring Jesus Christ into the world. That is the dignity that is ours as Christian people.
Now we need to relate this to one other point that we see in the Gospel reading, and that has to do with Our Blessed Lady. She comes to Our Lord and points out that this young couple has no more wine, and the response of Our Lord strikes us as being rather disrespectful, as a put-down to His mother. “Woman,” He says, “what is this to you and to Me?” Or as the translation today said, “What is your concern to Me?” Well, if we look at that just on the surface, it seems rather disrespectful. When I talk to the kids at school about this passage, I just simply ask them, “What do you think your mom would do if you went home from school today and said, ‘Woman, what’s there to eat?’ You would not have a very happy response from your mom, would you?” But Jesus is the One Who gave us the Fourth Commandment and He never sinned. The Fourth Commandment properly translated says, “Glorify your mother and your father.” First of all, no self-respecting Jewish male would ever disrespect his mother in such a vile way. But, secondly, one who lived the Fourth Commandment perfectly obviously did not; He glorified His mother perfectly. And if we live the spiritual life, as I have already mentioned, we become perfectly conformed to Christ and we too will glorify His mother perfectly. So what exactly does it mean?
Well, if we look at this passage from John 2, we see Jesus telling His mother that His hour has not yet come. So we see a woman and an hour. If we look in John 16, we see a woman and an hour, the hour when a woman is to give birth. In John 17, Jesus in His high priestly prayer tells us that His hour has now come, the hour for which He came into this world. It is the hour for the Cross. And so, in His hour on the Cross Jesus looks down upon His mother and repeats the exact same thing. “Woman,” He says, “behold your Son.” If we look at the Book of Revelation, we see once again in chapter 12 a woman in her hour, about to give birth, laboring in pain; and there before her is the dragon, flaming red with seven heads and seven horns, who is also called the ancient serpent or Satan. All of this goes back to Genesis 3:15 where we hear about the woman who will crush the head of the serpent. In God’s statement to Satan, which is the first proclamation of the Gospel, He says, “There will be enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers.” There are only two persons in Saint John’s Gospel whose names are not mentioned; that is Saint John himself, who calls himself the “beloved disciple” and that is so that you will insert your name wherever it says “beloved disciple”, and Our Blessed Lady, who is simply called either the “mother of Jesus”, or twice from the lips of her own Son she is called “woman”. Her name is never mentioned specifically to call attention to the fact that she is the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15 and that what is happening in the hour of Christ is the fulfillment of that pro-evangelium, that first Gospel, of Genesis 3:15.
So Our Lady, then, is the prototype for us. She is the exemplar of what the spiritual life is to be because she is the spouse of the Holy Spirit, just like each of us; she is the mother of the Son; she is the daughter of the Father. We saw last week that at the moment we were baptized God could say to us, “You are My beloved son (or My beloved daughter).” We were espoused to the Holy Spirit. Like Our Lady, we are to bring Jesus Christ into the world – in a very different way than what she did – but we are to live the life of Christ and He is to become incarnate in us and through us by the way we live our lives. And so if we think about Our Lady’s union with God, with the Three Persons of the Trinity, that is exactly what we are to do. We must understand our dignity. Look at that first reading again and put your name in where it talks about Israel, because you are a member of the New Israel. You are a child of Our Lady and of Our Heavenly Father. You are espoused to the Holy Spirit and you are called to complete union with God, a union with God that is similar to that of Our Lady and that is so profound that Jesus Christ will live in you and through you, that it will not longer be you who lives your natural earthly life but it will be a life of faith in Jesus Christ Who loved you and gave Himself for you. You will be able to say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me.”
That is the fruit of the mystical marriage of your soul with God. It is not something beyond you; in fact, it is precisely what you are called to for all eternity and it is to begin now. For those of you who are married, this is to be lived on two different levels: one in your relationship with God, and one in your relationship with your spouse. For those who are not married, and especially those who are consecrated to Our Lord, it is to be lived in the most complete, selfless, and perfect manner of love for and union with Jesus Christ. We are to live as a child of Our Heavenly Father, to live as the spouse of the Holy Spirit, and to live as the parent of Jesus Christ in whom He will become incarnate, not in a womb as in Our Lady but in our hearts and in our lives so that we will recognize our dignity – the dignity of the vocation of Holy Matrimony, the dignity of each and every Christian person who is baptized and who has the Holy Trinity dwelling within them and has this profound relationship with the Three Persons of the Trinity as Our Lady did. She is the model for all of Israel. She is the model for each one of us. As she has done, so we are to do: to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, and bring Jesus Christ into the world by our lives.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.