READINGS: ISAIAH 62:1-5; I CORINTHIANS 12:4-11; JOHN 2:1-12
When I think of the word "Catholic", there are so many things that come to mind: the Eucharist, the Rosary, First Communion, Confession, Parish Festivals, things like that. And I know you’ll think it strange, but when I think of the word "Catholic" my mind conjures up for me an Irish Tavern on Connecticut Street in Washington, D.C. It’s called the 4 Provinces and when I was in the seminary, during my time at graduate school, it was one of my Catholic places to be. On a Friday or Saturday night, I would gather eight to ten of my friends, and we’d take the Metro to the 4 Provinces, where we would grab a center table for a very holy night. It was a great pub back in those days. Slinking in the shadows were those who looked like they might belong to the IRA–an element of danger. Out and about on the other tables were the yuppies of Georgetown or tourists from all over the world. And then there was us–seminarians from The Catholic University of America, quaffing Guinness, slamming our glasses on the table as we sang with the Irish band of love and betrayal, country and glory, God and wonder–and it was fantastic. Almost everyone in there was Catholic. We felt at home, knowing that not all churches are full of stained glass. I remember the singer in the band, a lovely girl with a golden voice. She was singing an old Irish Song, called the Leaving of Liverpool–of how Irish sailors had to leave the ones they loved for Austrailia, and she sang it perfectly. We all toasted her performance and she called out from the stage. "Well thank you lads. I can tell from your response you must either be sailors or seminarians!" Which caused us all to laugh. It was her standard line given when a crowd of young men liked her song. And we invited the band over and bought them a drink and told the singer that yes indeed we were seminarians. Even in the dim light of the 4 Provinces, we could see her blush and we all laughed again. It was a great time to be young. I’ve been there seldom since and to this day when I see my friends from those times, we still talk about the great fun we had, but no one asks why it was fun. It’s not that the place was Irish. It’s not that the beer was good. It’s not even that we were young and guys do stuff like that. These were memorable times because friends came together, we sang, we drank responsibly, we laughed, we welcomed the stranger, we were perfectly and totally human. And when that happens–the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and in the ordinary, God is made present. It’s a sacramental moment. And that’s just what happened at the Wedding Feast of Cana.
I. Where Christ Is, There Is Life; Where Christ Is Not, Life Decays!
A. You can just hear the steward gasping in surprise, "This was water, now it’s wine, and the best I’ve ever tasted. How did you do this?" And I think Jesus never answered; instead, throughout the day in Cana of Galilee, when those who were enjoying the wedding celebration saw Jesus, they would say, "Wherever he goes, he brings life!" That’s what they would say.
B. Christ couldn’t bear to see a wedding feast destroyed--so he acted. Whatever he touched, turned to life. A stable became a Church; a wedding became even more joyful, sick people became well; women were recognized and given dignity; sinners were forgiven, a funeral procession became a celebration of life. Where Christ is, there is life. And where Christ is not, life decays. When Herod’s soldiers entered Bethlehem--they didn’t find the Baby Jesus, but they found all the boys two years old and under and killed them. When Jesus was twelve and absent from Mary and Joseph in Jerusalem, they thought they’d lost him--and they were distraught, their family in crisis. When Judas left Jesus at the Last Supper and went out into the night, he left Christ and Judas was left with evil plots and his own despair, and finally his death. Where Christ is not, life decays.
C. Christ became human so that we might become more like God. What that means is simply this: Christ came to give life, and by his example he shows us how to do the same. There is so much more going on here than just the discovery of a few more jugs of White Zinfandel for a wedding. Where Christ is, there is life; where Christ is not, life decays.
So we are faced with the choice: are we going to stay with Christ and be givers of life, or are we going to leave Jesus and become givers of death?
II. Stay Close To Christ Through The Sacraments
A. John’s Gospel was written to answer the question: "Now that the witnesses of Christ are all dead, how will we ever keep in touch with our Lord–who will tell us his stories; how will be experience his Presence?
B. And John gives the answer: You will stay in touch with Christ when you stay close to the Church and the Sacraments he gave her. The wedding feast at Cana tells us that with Christ, marriage is holy; without the presence of the Lord of love, marriage is in trouble. The feeding of the five thousand, another big miracle in John’s Gospel, tells us that Christ is the bread of life. By eating him, we live; away from him we starve in the desert.
1. Jesus takes the ordinary things of the earth-wine, water, bread, marriage, birth, death, sickness, forgiveness, and infuses all these things with his presence in the sacraments so that the things of earth become doorways to heaven, ways of encountering God, chances at being in touch with Jesus.
2. That’s what John is trying to get across in his Gospel. He’s telling us that Jesus didn’t leave us; he is with us in special ways now, through signs and wonders that communicate his presence and give life.
3. I hesitated telling that story from my days as a student. Even some Catholics are afflicted with a joyless religion. In my time as a priest, I’ve had to endure criticism from those who were not Catholic telling me that Catholics party too much, that they are not serious enough, that they have a rough and tumble religion which reflects poorly on Christianity. And I’ve always fought that. Christ was found in the middle of ordinary life. He made ordinary life holy. That’s the sacramental nature of our faith. I’m not talking just about the 7 sacraments. I’m talking about the sacramental nature of our faith which finds God in every part of life. Jesus showed us that the things of the world could allow us to see God.
III. Why Catholic?
A. What’s frightening in our day and age is how willing some Catholics are just to chuck the whole sacramental system and say it doesn’t matter. It’s like saying I’d rather watch a movie on an i-pod rather than in a theater, or listen to music coming from a single speaker rather than a stereo system, or eating oatmeal each and every day for the rest of your life instead of sitting down to a feast. Catholics are in dangter of walking away from the one sure way of encountering Christ. We can’t let that happen.