20 Jan 2019

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C.

This morning’s story of Jesus’ “first great sign, given at Cana in Galilee,” is dazzling in its scale. Jesus turns wine into water, but not just enough wine for those at the wedding reception to drink, but about 800 litres – enough to drown them in! (Jn 2:1011)

There’s also enough theology here to drown a congregation in! Today is, for instance, the first time in the Gospel that people came to Jesus for help. It’s the first time, too, that they brought their needs to His mother, asking Mary to intercede on their behalf. And help He did! It was very revealing. On Epiphany Sunday oriental potentates with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh testified to Jesus as King of kings; on Baptism Sunday the Heavenly Father by words and the Spirit attested to Jesus’ identity as the Beloved Son; so on this Cana Sunday by changing water into wine Jesus testifies to Himself as the only Son of God, letting His glory be seen.

One point in our Gospel story which is worth noting is the reason Jesus performs this miracle: not of His own impetus, but at the request of his Mother. Indeed, He initially refuses, telling Mary that His time had not yet come. But Mary remains steadfast in her faith in her Son, as she does throughout His life, and so intercedes for the newlyweds.

This intercession speaks of the power of Mary to come to our aid, and so it is right that we should celebrate Mass today in this spectacular Shrine to that same woman who intercedes always for each one of us. The journey was not an easy one, but as Mary herself could tell us, few things worth having are! The foundation stone of this Shrine was laid in 1920, just two years after the greatest war history had ever seen, a war from which many never returned, and many of those that did returned disillusioned, depressed, desperate. In response, the laying of the foundation stone of this shrine declared an optimism that only faith can provide, hope for a better world. Construction continued through the Great Depression, through the Second World War: nothing could daunt those who envisioned a national church in honour of Our Lady. These events of the surrounding world slowed the construction – the final work was only completed in 2017 – but it never stopped it. Mary’s intercession is powerful indeed!

But our readings today remind us of our own call to imitate Mary not just in her steadfastness, or her faith in God’s plan, as I described in my last homily; but also in her intercession for others. Mary doesn’t try to turn the water in to wine herself – that’s not her job, and to do so would be presumptuous, to say the least. But what she does do is use her position of influence as Mother to Jesus to ask him to help out this poor couple, who would have been incredibly embarrassed in ancient Judaea to run out of wine at their own wedding.

This is what St. Paul’s getting at in our second reading, when he reminds us that we all have our own unique talents, all given by the one Spirit (1 Cor 12:4-11). We are called, like Mary, to intercede for others, using our gifts and talents, whatever they might be. God invites us to intercede for each other’s needs. He allows us to draw our family and friends into our prayers by asking our Mother to intercede for our intentions, as she did at Cana, or by directing our prayers to God as intercessors for others ourselves.

‘But how do I know what my gifts and talents are?’, you might ask. Well, that’s what this World Youth Day is all about – finding our place in God’s plan, finding our own unique gifts given us by the Holy Spirit and the good things we might do with them. The pilgrimage we are on is more than a physical journey into a Central American country most of us have never seen before: it’s also a journey also into ourselves, to find the Spirit of God that resides within the tabernacles of our hearts, and let that Spirit guide us so we might say, with Mary, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.’

So, during this pilgrimage, I encourage you to really look at yourself: ask yourself what gifts you can bring to the service of God and others? How might you help others spiritually as Mary and Jesus did at Cana, if not by working miracles? What talents do you have as a ponderer, pray-er, organiser, do-er, supporter? Some of you here might well be suited to being priests or religious, and I invite you to take that up with me or one of the chaplains or someone else you trust. Others of you will be spouses, parents, teachers or otherwise builders of the kingdom of God. Once you think you’ve found some answers to the question of how your life fits best into God’s plan: embrace it! Let WYD Panama be the spark that lights the fire of your faith, a fire that burns bright into the darkness of fear and disbelief, a fire that burns long through the days of our lives.

But like every miracle, of course, our service of God is only made possible by Christ’s presence. Reflecting upon today’s miracle of wine from water the mediævals rightly sang Mary’s praises as intercessor but credited God not her as the ultimate source of all graces. They also emphasized the importance of God’s physical form, His human face, in our receiving those graces. For, as they suggested, it was only when Jesus looked into the jars of water and saw His reflection that “Nympha pudica Deum vidit – et erubuit“, the shame-faced water saw its Lord – and blushed!

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C.,

Well, here we are at the largest church in North America, and one of the top ten largest churches in the world! Like our Land Down Under, this country was consecrated to Mary, our Mother: ours under the name of Mary, Help of Christians, and theirs the Immaculate Conception. Just as Mary is mother to all, so too this church has 70 chapels dedicated to Mary as venerated in many different cultures – worth taking a look!

So today, as we celebrate Mass with our shared mother, the Mother of Our Lord, let us bow our heads and recall those times we have been less than model children…