Sunday, January 16, 2022

A Wedding at Cana

The Gospel today proclaims the mystery of the new spiritually inebriating wine of the Gospel manifested in the Marriage Feast at Cana; a passage found only in the Gospel of John. Most of John's gospel consists of the parts called “The Book of Signs” in chapters one through twelve and “The Book of Glory” in chapters 13 through 20. The Book of Signs is constructed around seven of what we normally call “miracles,” but which John prefers to call “signs” because they reveal the glory of Jesus in a way beyond the amazement at a miracle and a cure, for instance. The seven signs all point to the meaning of the ultimate manifestation of the glory of Jesus that is in the paschal mystery of Christ's passion, death, resurrection, ascension to heaven and sending of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit—through which wounded and sinful humanity is made whole and glorious in the sight of God.

So, for example, the sixth sign in John, the healing of the man born blind points to the messianic identity of Jesus the healer of blindness and other diseases, but more importantly the healer of our spiritual blindness through the paschal mystery which illuminates our souls with the grace of his glory through the Holy Spirit. “I was blind, but now I see.” is not really a quote from a popular hymn but is rather one from this sixth sign (chapter 9 of the Gospel of John), the healing of the man born blind, a description of self with which we can all identify. The point is that we not only marvel at a miracle but are ourselves along with the blind man transformed by a sign-- just as in this Eucharist we marvel at the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but we glory in being changed ourselves, divinized by the reception of the sacrament—for example, given eyes that see as God sees, no longer spiritually blind. “I was blind, but now I see.” are our own words.

Cana is the first of the seven signs that precede the Book of Glory. Cana is also the most important of the signs in the first part of John's gospel because the other six signs, in a sense, all refer back to it even as they refer forward to the Book of Glory. This is analogous to our sacramental theology of the Eucharist in which all six of the other sacraments are bound up with the Eucharist and oriented to it. The miracle aspect of Cana involves the changing of a very large quantity of water used for ceremonial cleansing into about 120 to 180 gallons of excellent wine for pure rejoicing at a marriage reception which in the tradition of the Jews of the time lasted most of a week and was, indeed, the actual marriage ceremony. To have run out of wine in the middle of the event would have been terribly embarrassing, a social calamity. The sign value of Cana is precisely the superabundance of spiritual inebriation and joy (as symbolized in the wine) celebrating the union that is the marriage of heaven and earth in the real Bridegroom who is Jesus. Jesus is the source of all spiritual life and joy, transcending any wine or any other earthly joy.  The book of Genesis tells us of marriage that “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” In Jesus Christ, we have all become one flesh with the Son of God who has taken on our flesh in the mystery of the Incarnation in order to offer to us participation in his divinity. This is the superabundant life we receive in the Eucharist. What cheer. The mystery of the water becoming wine at Cana points as a sign to the mystery of the water and wine prepared for this celebration becoming the blood of Christ in this Eucharist—this Eucharist through which we come to share in the divinity of Christ.

The mystery of our reception of the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, is itself a sign pledging to us a sure and blessed place at the wedding feast, the ultimate Cana, the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven. The prophet Isaiah sums it all up beautifully in today's first reading:

No more shall people call you “Forsaken,” 
or your land “Desolate,”
But you shall be called “My Delight,”
and your land “Espoused.”
For the Lord delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
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.

Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese, detail. This morning's homily by Father Luke.