Saturday, November 12, 2011

‘Permanent Truths’ at Jeremy and Kelly’s Wedding Mass

The late William Barclay, a great scripture scholar, estimated that Jesus produced something like 180 gallons or 818 litres of wine at the wedding feast of Cana. He added that no wedding party on earth could drink that much wine. Well, Professor Barclay was a Scots Presbyterian, and probably never imagined the size of a Prairie wedding!

But the point he makes is beyond dispute. This is no ordinary miracle; it is much, much more than an act of kindness to an embarrassed host. Jesus did something he fully intended to surprise and delight us two thousand years later.

And he intends this sign to surprise and delight us today.

It might seem obvious for Kelly and Jeremy to choose to hear a story about a wedding at their wedding; and if you know Jeremy, it might also be obvious why he liked a story about good wine. But if you know them both, you will recognize their choice as anything but obvious. They have chosen to put the sign of Cana in front of us today as a statement of faith and hope.

Today Jeremy and Kelly invite us to forget their own wedding for a moment, and take a trip back to that small village of Cana.

Lovely things are happening there: we learn that Jesus is no killjoy, that he liked a party, and that he had a delicate concern for people's feelings. He also believed in keeping his mother happy.

(I should mention, by the way, that the words "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me" are not as awkward as they sound to us. In their language, Jesus was speaking to Mary in a perfectly respectful way; he addresses her lovingly as "Woman" even from the Cross.)

But planted right in the midst of this joyful event—and weddings were certainly the high point of social life for the poor and often-oppressed Jews in Palestine—we find permanent truths.

Today, Kelly and Jeremy declare their faith in enduring truths about marriage and, even more importantly, about Christ himself, for it was at Cana that he first showed his glory; it was there, as Professor Barclay says, that his disciples caught a dazzling glimpse of what he was.

Let's look first at what the sign at Cana tells us about marriage. We know from St. Paul that marriage is a sign of the loving union between Christ and his bride the Church. But Cardinal Marc Ouellet takes this a step further: he says that marriage is a sign of the union between the Creator and his creatures.

In his remarkable book Divine Likeness, the Cardinal tells us that the wine at Cana, and the exhilarated apostles who drank it, symbolize the presence of the Holy Spirit. And that presence of the Spirit is connected to the nuptial union between God and humanity.

In other words, Christian marriage both symbolizes and proceeds from the covenant God made with humanity in Christ.

The Cardinal even says that the sign at Cana is a key for reading all Christ's other signs, since it elevates human marriage to a symbol of the eventual fulfillment of all creation in the Kingdom of God.

Jeremy and Kelly, your union today is rooted in what we learn from the Old Testament in the Book of Genesis: that you were created in the image and likeness of God. Your marriage wonderfully participates in his original plan for creation. But it's also rooted in the New Testament truth that Jesus revealed at the wedding feast of Cana: it is a sacrament through which you participate in the spousal love of Christ and the Church.

Before such lofty theological heights make us dizzy, let's head back to the humble home at which the wedding of Cana was celebrated. At Cana Jesus chose to do the first of his many signs. Why? What does that tell us about him?

William Barclay offers a wonderful answer drawn from the words Jesus speaks to Mary: "My hour has not yet come."

All through the Gospels we find Jesus speaking about "his hour." In one place it is the hour of his emergence as the Messiah; most frequently it is the hour of his suffering and death. By speaking of his "hour," Jesus makes it clear that what happened at Cana was much more than a divine act of human kindness: it was part and parcel of the mission he received from his Father.

"All through his life," Professor Barclay writes, "Jesus knew that he had come into this world for a definite purpose. He saw his life not in terms of his wishes, but in terms of God's purpose for himself."

Kelly and Jeremy, I know very well that this is exactly how you see your marriage: in terms of God's plan and purpose for your lives.

You would not see things that way if Jesus had not caused changes in your life that were like water into wine. Along the path of discipleship, you heard him say "follow me to a wedding feast like none other."

And elsewhere in John's Gospel, our Lord says "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

As missionaries and as Christians, and now as a couple, you have taken him at his word. He has convinced you by the sign of Cana and many other signs that he offers a life like none other, an exhilarating life, a life so abundant that even 818 litres of superb wine can't really begin to represent it.

Today, your family and friends rejoice in the love you have for one another; but we rejoice even more in the love that God has for you, and for each and every one of us.

So I invite you now, in the presence of Jesus and his Mother, before your friends in heaven and your friends on earth, to stand before the altar and enter into this sacred covenant of life and love.

Jeremy and Kelly, both full-time missionaries with Catholic Christian Outreach, also organized a prayer vigil the night before their wedding. My homily at that occasion may be found here.




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