In an 1894 letter to her newlywed cousin, St. Therese of Lisieux wrote: “I am asking our Lord to be as generous to you as He was to the bridal pair at Cana. May He invariably change the water into wine! I mean, may He prolong His gift of happiness, and as far as possible sweeten the bitter trials you will meet on your way. Trials! Fancy introducing that word into my letter—how could I?—at a moment when I realize that life for you is all sunshine.”
This morning, I begin with these words spoken by this great Doctor of the Church 122 years ago partly because she references the Wedding at Cana, but mostly because her words contain great insight and wisdom. How so? Well, for those who are married or presently contemplating marriage, St. Therese delivers the goods absent a sugar coating: In marriage, there will be both happiness and trials!
Now for those of us who are married, we sit in absolute understanding of this. We have loved and cherished and built a life. On the day of our marriage, we stood before God, family, and friends and said ‘I do.’ And on the arrival of our children, we were struck with awe. And for those of us blessed with grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, even deeper feelings well up inside of us. In a certain sense, as the Little Flower promised, these blessings become like an armor for us when heartbreak alley unfolds before our eyes or the song, I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden, begins to play. This past week, I have been thinking of these things and came to remember meeting an older couple who many years ago greeted me after Mass. At the time, I was just days separated from my ordination. With an awareness that my wife and I were raising four young daughters, they noted that they had four grown daughters. With her husband standing beside her, the woman spoke first and kindly asked me their names and how each of them was doing. When it came time for the man to speak, however, his facial expression changed and his two words for me were these: Good luck!
Today, I mention the reality of ups-and-downs in our lives for a simple reason: such twists-and-turns of our daily lives are best navigated in relationship with Jesus Christ! And on this Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Holy Scriptures given us for this liturgical celebration provide us with some important insights for living out and making sense of our lives. In them, we will find three powerful movements: joining, rejoicing, and pouring.
For humans, there is perhaps no more powerful image than the joining of a man and woman in Holy Matrimony. In Natural and Divine law, this truth is crystal clear and eternal and, despite efforts to the contrary, will forever withstand the unwise winds that blow in our time. As Creator, God’s law will always trump Man’s law! Given that marriage is the foundation of society and that the marital act cooperates with God in bringing about new human life, do any of us think it a surprise that Jesus’ first public miracle occurs at a wedding? In the Gospel of John (2:1-11), we are invited to this wedding ceremony where Jesus and Mary are invited guests. At a certain point of the celebration, we are told that Mary becomes aware of a difficulty and declares to Jesus: “They have no wine.” After this, one question and a series of important instructions begin to unfold: “How does your concern affect me?”…”Do whatever He tells you.” …”Fill the jars with water.” In the end, St. John tells us that “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.” Through this newfound belief, the disciples would eventually come to see Jesus as the Bridegroom and the Church as His bride. And if we remember, this imagery was earlier spoken by the Prophet Isaiah (62:1-5): “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.” And so, as the wine is poured at the Wedding at Cana, the disciples come to see Jesus, albeit imperfectly, as the wine that will be poured out for the many. And in regard to the grapes used to create the wine, Jesus is not simply the vine grower, but rather, He is the vine itself; a vine that from the day of our baptism, Jesus calls us to join and remain forever attached.
After joining, the second movement, rejoice, is clearly reflected in the title of a book I read years ago: God Acts-We React. Having joined ourselves to the life of God, what more can we do but—rejoice! Like the Psalmist (96), we break into song. We sing to the Lord a new song! We sing to the Lord to bless his name! We tell his glory to the nations! We give to the Lord glory and praise that is due his name! But sadly, how many of us do this each day? A deacon friend and I meet regularly for lunch and I confess that I look forward to his memorable words before the food is delivered: Shall we thank the boss? Each time, I reflect whether I thank the boss enough—each day of my life.
After joining ourselves to the Lord and rejoicing, how often do we praise Him for the gifts He pours out upon us? As St. Paul (1 Cor 12:4-11) notes, God pours out His gifts of love upon us through the Holy Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, and tongues. Having distributed these according to His Divine Will, I confess that as one who has taught thousands of students through the years, I am continually amazed by the different and varied gifts given others and that I constantly remind them that these gifts are given not just for you, but for the many.
But, I wonder. In our ever-increasing techie world, so many of us seem joined at the hip, 24/7, with devices of every kind. Having allowed our iPhones and Fitbits to shape every waking moment of our lives, what time is left to discern the voice of the Lord, let alone join ourselves to Him, rejoice in Him, and praise Him for the gifts He has poured out upon us? While I do not advocate that we fully separate ourselves from the progress of our time, I do wonder whether we are losing our capacity to hear God’s voice. This past Wednesday, the Old Testament reading (1 Sam 3:1-10, 19-20) at daily Mass recalled the story of Samuel and Eli. If you remember that scripture passage, the young Samuel, over and over, reminds the wise Eli that he is hearing a voice. Eventually, Eli tells Samuel that if he hears the words again to say: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And of course, he does. This is good advice for us, as well. Through daily prayer, weekly Mass attendance, celebration of the sacraments, and following our baptismal vocation, may we be granted the grace of hearing the Lord speak to us deep within our hearts. By doing so, we will be assured that Jesus is always close to us and that He walks with us through our happiness and trials. In walking with us, He continues to pour out his many blessings and graces upon us— if we but recognize them.
Today and every day, may the words of St. Therese to her newlywed cousin also be for you and me: “I am asking our Lord to be as generous to you as He was to the bridal pair at Cana. May He invariably change the water into wine! …May He prolong His gift of happiness, and as far as possible sweeten the bitter trials you will meet on your way.”