Pastor Column: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 20, 2019

Pastor Column: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 20, 2019

Msgr. Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish


Dear friends / Estimados amigos,

In an interview when she was the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice reminisced about her childhood. “My parents elected me president of the family when I was 4 years old. We actually had an election every year and I always won. I’m an only child, and I could count on my mother’s vote.”

Jesus had his mother’s vote of confidence in today’s Gospel. When the wine ran out at the wedding they were attending, Mary stepped right in to help solve the problem. She knew that Jesus could do something. She gathered all the servers together and simply told them to “do whatever He tells you.” The servants did as instructed by Jesus, and His actions resulted in His first miracle in John’s Gospel (rather, the first “sign” as the evangelist puts it, avoiding the word “miracle” throughout His gospel). And what a sign it was! One estimate suggests that Jesus made about 120 gallons of the most excellent wine when He told the servants to fill the six stone water jars with water. Jesus was the perfect guest!

Each year on the Sunday after the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, Church-going Catholics hear a reading from the beginning of the Gospel of John as we begin Ordinary Time, a new liturgical season occupying most of the twelve months ahead. This weekend we are invited to consider the first of Jesus’ signs, the wine at Cana. A small cast of characters comprised of Jesus, Mary, the disciples and a small group of characters who get to taste the transformed water-made-wine begin the story of Jesus’ public ministry. The incident lets you and I know that we are embarking on an extraordinary journey of seeing Jesus in action and being challenged to respond to who He is and what He offers. Be forewarned, however, since what the Gospel of John always offers is more than what appears at face value. There is no lack of significance to the scene the evangelist describes.

Take, for example, the small detail that is lost in the New American Bible translation of the first line of the gospel. In the Revised Standard Edition, Jn 2:1 begins: “On the third day, there was a marriage feast in Cana . . . “ The point of that phrase is not about a day of the week as it is an allusion to the day of salvation. John also subtly depicts this as the sixth day of Jesus’ activity, referring back to Genesis and the ongoing work of God. The 6th day was the crown of creation. Mary is at the wedding before Jesus arrived, a symbol of the old covenant, indicating that Mary is coming from the spiritual place of that ancient covenant. As a representative of the faithful people of Israel, who sees the wine has run out, she turns to Jesus, the long awaited messiah and simply presents the predicament.

Six stone jars, one short of the perfect number of completion are filled. They are made of stone, reminiscent of their covenant written in stone.  They are purification jars, holding water to use for ritual cleansings. The constant need for purification is a sign of the fragility of the people’s faithfulness to the covenant. Even down to the presentation of the jars, John has symbolically portrayed the inadequacy of the old covenant. The wine-less celebration is not the wedding feast for which the guests had longed.  In short, the wedding feast – with everything that it lacks – symbolizes the old covenant. Solving the depleted wine dilemma involved taking Mary’s advice: “Do whatever He tells you.” This is very reminiscent of the words that Israel uses in ratifying the Exodus covenant: “Everything the Lord has said, we will do.” And with that, Jesus performs His first miraculous sign, beginning the fulfillment of the old covenant which would ultimately end on the Cross.

As with many of the Gospel narratives, the whole appears in just one part.

 

Pastor Column: The Baptism of the Lord, January 13, 2019

Pastor Column: The Baptism of the Lord, January 13, 2019

Msgr. Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish


Dear friends / Estimados amigos,

Today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the “official” end of the Christmas season in the Church’s liturgical year. The descent of the Holy Spirit onto Jesus and the voice of God from heaven mark the final epiphanies of the Christmas season. After all the work of putting up/taking down, throwing and attending parties, perhaps a visit to a long-distance family member or friend, some might feel that this is the time to settle down for that “long winter’s nap” that Clement Moore immortalized in one of our favorite Christmas poems. The northern hemisphere is at its darkest. Lent comes in a few weeks. The Eagles cause us heart palpitations every January playoff game. Maybe it is time for a break (and another Vince Lombardi trophy!)

But today Isaiah, the prophet of Advent, reappears and wakes us up with the affirmation that all is NOT dark. Should not our hearts be filled with energy? The energy of God’s promise to do the seemingly impossible: that “every valley shall be exalted; every mountain and hill made low?” National politics and world news will probably fill 2019 with rough country. But Isaiah is the prophet of hope. He tells his audience that God rules by a strong arm.

John the Baptism, the great saint of Advent, also makes a return appearance in today’s readings. In the gospel account Jesus is no long the babe of Bethlehem. The Magi’s visit is a dim memory. Now the adult Jesus is, by all casual glances, an average Jewish male, a blue-collar worker, living in an occupied country with high taxes, trying to make a living for himself and his widowed mother. When Jesus stands at the banks of the Jordan before John the Baptist, however, the air is shimmering with excitement and a spark of expectation, lit by John. Could Jesus be the One they have awaited? 

Jesus reflects on what His baptism means for Him without us ever knowing His thoughts. Does He ponder going down into the water a symbolic death and his rising from it a forecasting of new life for him leading to His resurrection? We could ask the same questions of ourselves. Our baptism was not a “one time only” celebration. It stays with us throughout our lives. It carries the shadow of the Cross, along with the promise of new life leading to a share in Jesus’ resurrection. Baptismal grace carries with us on our life journey.  The heavens may not open for us, but our God is a God who is involved with us and close. We are never left alone in pain or suffering. God loves us with an unconditional love. Even in the darkest of times, God is there. Resurrection is always on the horizon.