This is a Good Friday “sermon.” Because of the pandemic, I cannot deliver it in person, or any of its condensed elements. So I will post the full thing here for reflection.
I will begin by speaking about the wedding at Cana. Why on earth am I starting with the wedding at Cana? In short, because the role and interaction of Jesus and Mary at the wedding feast point to the role and interaction of Jesus and Mary at the Cross on Calvary. Thus we will learn about Calvary from Cana; and, we pray, appreciate Calvary all the more because of Jesus’s first miracle, and because of his mother, Mary. Let us then try to make clear some of these lessons.
Firstly, I will speak about the wedding that happened in Cana. You may take a moment to read John 2:1-11, if all the details are not already familiar to you.* It was an ordinary Jewish wedding, in a poor, backwater village, of people who happened to have known Mary of Nazareth. Mary, and her son, the newly appearing rabbi with some of his followers, went to the wedding. Given the occasion was “a wedding,” a marriage, let us recall the place of marriage in God’s creation, then the place of marriage with the coming of Christ.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created marriage. It was their idea, their creative Word, that made this reality: “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, so that the two are one flesh.” Then, as “one flesh” they are to “be fruitful and multiply,” for “it is not good for man to be alone.” Marriage is unitive and procreative. This is simply reading the book of Genesis for the most basic elements of human existence in God’s creation. But we move beyond these facts.
The Church teaches that Christ made marriage into a sacrament by his presence at the wedding of Cana. The full significance for marriage is that Christ, by working the “sign” of turning water into wine, with all the attendant details surrounding said sign, put a plan and promise in place. This plan and this promise at Cana was ultimately opened up for the world by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. One effect of the promise was that Christ Himself would be present in the marriage bond, as the means of grace, for the the vocation of marriage: the heaven-bound path of the marriage covenant. All Catholic doctrines and disciplines concerning marriage flow from this biblical fulfillment. We will unpack them just a little bit more.
The qualities of marriage reflect the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This is the first thing to be said about marriage and the Messiah. Christ gave his life for the salvation of the world, totally and freely. Marriage as a Christian vocation must be, for the baptized person, a path of following Christ, bearing in the marriage itself a total commitment to Christ: freely, totally, faithfully. These qualities, from Christ and always pointing to Christ, must be permanently included in the unitive nature of marriage, and in the procreative nature of marriage. Thus the union of the two spouses as one flesh must be free, total, and faithful, by Christ and in Christ. Thus also, in procreation, the embrace of children as a gift from God, and the loving nurture of children, must be free, total, and fruitful, by Christ and in Christ. In short, God’s plan for the creation of families, and all of family life – mother, father, children – is centered on Christ.
Having made a few more specific statements about the place of Christ in the sacrament of marriage, we now must turn to see the significance of marriage (at Cana and everywhere) as a sign of God’s plan for the Church. (By the Church, capital “C,” I mean the One Holy, Apostolic, and Universal Church.) God’s plan for the Church is a great and supremely important thing; marriage, as great as it is, naturally or in a sacrament, is still just the sign of a greater thing. For instance, Marriage is a union dissolved only by the death of one of the spouses (and only by such a death); the union of Christ and his Church is a marriage that can never be dissolved: “the gifts and call or God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). Christ’s approval and affirmation of the marriage at Cana is an opening for this revelation.
St. Paul says, in Ephesians 5, that from the beginning of creation God made marriage, as a natural reality, to be symbolic of a supernatural reality yet to come. It was a sign of the mystical union of Christ and the Church, a union not yet to be revealed until Christ’s birth and life, death and resurrection. Indeed, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created marriage. But, from the beginning, a spiritual kind of marriage was yet to come, a reality even greater than earthly marriage: Christ and the Church, wedded faithfully to each other for eternity. Let us look at the reality in the accounts of both Cana and Calvary.
The Fathers of the Church give spiritual interpretations of the events at Cana, taking it as a sign not only of the coming of the Messiah, but of the giving-way of Judaism to the Church. This idea was expressed in the middle ages by the great Marian writer Rupert of Deutz. Noting that Mary was the primary one invited to the wedding feast at Cana, and that Jesus and his disciples “were also there” because of Mary, Rupert makes this exalted statement: “the only true festival and heavenly marriage feast is the one where the mother of Jesus is there.” Because, he says, “[false teachers] have their feasts elsewhere, where the mother or Jesus is not”! (Hugo Rahner, Our Lady and the Church, pg.56). For a true feast, for the full joy of salvation in the Church, Mary must be invited. Otherwise it is not the wedding we want to celebrate. It is not the true marriage of things human and divine.
The fidelity of the Church is seen in Mary’s presence at Cana. The life of the Church is shown in the miracle of Cana. Jesus’s reply when his mother points out that there is no more wine is more than a simple “Mom, what do you want from me now?” It goes much deeper. As he expresses a seeming refusal to work a miracle, and certainly a hesitation if nothing else, Jesus invokes the mysterious criterion of his “hour.” “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” The working of a miracle, then, is connected to, (or should only be rejected on the basis of), the “hour” that Jesus claims as his own. We know that this “hour” would be the hour of the Cross, the time of our Lord’s Passion. In hindsight, the working of the miracle seems to have hastened the hour of Jesus. The Messiah had lived over a decade of silence and complete obscurity, in peaceful prayer with his human family, and with his Heavenly Father. But as soon as he worked his first “sign” his disciples “began to believe in him.” And within three years he would undergo crucifixion. And if this is so, it seems obvious why Jesus was reluctant to work this miracle.
This is the relation of the sign of the miracle to Jesus’s “hour.” But what of the relationship between Jesus and his Mother? “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus seems to say that the concern of Mary should not be his concern unless his hour has arrived. As far as the immediate wedding feast goes, this expressed his hesitation, his contingency. As far as his “hour” is concerned, these words are an indication of the part that Mary would play at the Cross. It shows God’s plan to form a visible Church from that hour of the Cross, where these words would be spoken: “Behold your son. Behold your mother.”
When the miracles start, the Hour is close at hand. When the Hour comes, it is time for the Church to be revealed. Then Mary’s concern would be Jesus’s Concern, to the utmost, and visa versa. Jesus’s response “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me?” is really a hidden promise of the Church to come! The Church is the Communion of Saints. Christ infused this communion with everything necessary for salvation by uniting his mother and the beloved disciple at the Cross. Yes, it would have to wait until Pentecost for that salvation to be shown publicly to the world. The Church would be born into the world later, but it was fully formed on Calvary.
Just as earthly marriage brings forth children to make a family, so Calvary brings forth members of the Church united as the Family of God. And these new spiritual children are born of a spiritual union, which is like marriage, but even greater than it. When Mary is called the Bride of the Holy Spirit, what we really mean is that she IS in herself, the very prototype of a human person united to divinity by faith in Christ. In the scriptures, the closest analogy we can see for that union is to see her, faithfully standing next to her Divine Son, crucified, at the scene of our redemption. It is the marriage of humanity and divinity, and it is just as powerful as any analogies we can make with the sacrament of marriage.
“Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana.” This was a promise of the Church. At Cana Jesus “revealed his glory” with a sign. Now, with Mary, the Church reflects the glory that Jesus revealed at Cana, glory made eternal by his death and resurrection. How does the Church do so? Firstly by faith, and then by continued signs and miracles.
Firstly by faith: “his disciples began to believe in him.” Just as fidelity is in the nature of marriage, so it is essential to membership in the Church. The faith of the first disciples would be completed, and become indefectible, in the Church as a whole, after the Paschal Mystery. It was between Calvary and Pentecost that all believers were united by the word of Christ to the “Woman” of perfect faith, a family Mother. The greatest effect of this “Marian” faith in the Church is that the Church lives consciously in the glory of the Paschal Mystery. We have no hope, no salvation without the death and resurrection of Christ.
Do we recall the sacrifice of Christ each day?
Does a day go by when we do not take note of a crucifix?
Does a day go by when we do not call upon Mary our heavenly Mother?
Would we say our prayers are true acts of faith, carried out in love and with hope of heavenly glory?
With this faith, and for the sake of this faith, the signs and miracles continue. Each miracle in the Church reveals the glory of Jesus, just as his first miracle revealed his glory. But that glory cannot be tied solely to his miracles. It must be permanently tied to the hour of the Cross. The proclamation “we have seen his glory” means not so much that we have seen impressive feats inexplicable by natural causes. It means we have traveled with Christ through the cross to the Resurrection.
Jesus could not work any miracle at Cana without bringing about his hour. We cannot work any miracles in the Church, unless we are living in the hour of the Paschal Mystery. We must be firmly united to Christ, on his Cross and in his resurrection.
Do we pray for miracles?
Is our true motive, and greatest hope, the conversion of souls and the salvation of the world?
What part do I contribute to the “mighty deed” of spreading the Gospel?
How do I participate in the death of Christ by sacrifices of my own?
Are my acts of charity done expecting nothing in return but union with Christ?
Let us pray.
O God, who on Calvary did entrust me, in the person of the Beloved Disciple, to Your Mother and Your Church, grant that I may always remain firmly united to You in that same faith with which she stood by Your cross. May Mary, Your mother and mine, sustain my faith and the faith of my family and my loved ones. May her prayers help us to live in Your hour, especially in our trials, that Your glory may be revealed in us, and we may come at last to perfect union in Your resurrection, and at Your wedding feast, You who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.
*The Wedding at Cana.
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” [And] Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.