The meal at the house of Jesuit students was coming to an end. We had invited the parents and young sister of Gerry, one of our companions, for evening meal with us. Gerry’s sister Molly (a person with Downs Syndrome) was bored with the conversation. But she noticed what was happening. It was time for coffee. Two young students left the table and went to the kitchen. They were there for what seemed a long time. As everyone was waiting patiently for the coffee, young Molly piped up, in a loud voice: ‘I think they’ve run out of sugar’. And her da replied naturally, giving a glance at the table, ‘Molly you’re right – they don’t have any sugar!’
Like the students in that house, we too experience shortages of what’s vital to us, from time to time. When someone we love dies, we might wonder, how will I ever be able to continue? And similarly, when a key relationship in our life breaks down. Or when unemployment or sickness shatters our hopes and plans, and leave us flattened. Like the family hosting the wedding when the wine ran out, we can feel powerless, dejected, without any energy to go forward.
At the wedding feast, when the wine ran out, Jesus changed the water into wine. This is good news for us today. God’s graciousness towards us is at work. Jesus’ name is Emmanuel – God with us. God is on our side. Precisely in our loss, in our need, when the battery runs out, Jesus may enter and bring new life, like those large water containers at the wedding feast, filled to the brim, almost overflowing. We think of another picture Jesus used – the sack or big bag of grain, filled so generously that the grain is spilling over. The big water containers filled with fine wine show us that God is a generous giver.
However, Jesus does not work alone. In some way he needs our cooperation. In the noisy crowd at the wedding, it was his mother Mary who noticed the embarrassing situation. It was Mary who gently nudged her son, and whispered, ‘They have no wine’. Just like Mary, we too remind Jesus of people who are in need. We pray for them. We hold them before the Lord, and we ask Him to help them, to guide them, to protect them. We all pray for those dear to us, and those we know. Parents and grandparents pray for children (at whatever stage in life) and for grandchildren. Their prayers are valuable. Like Mary, we tell Jesus of their need. And at Mass and other occasions, we pray for whole categories of people in especial need – prisoners, the homeless, those who flee violence and poverty in their homelands with the hope of a better life elsewhere.
Mary in her turn gets the banqueting staff involved. ‘Do whatever he tells you’, she says to the waiters. So it’s not just Jesus and Mary who are responding to the wine drama. The waiters, men and women doing an ordinary job, are part of God’s generous engagement with this situation of need. Their efforts too contribute to the miracle of transformation. Jesus invites us to trust that our humble efforts at being faithful, at being loyal, at serving people in ordinary ways, are being transformed into something pleasing to God. When we live and think and act out of patience with others (and ourselves!), out of service and forgiveness, then we believe that we too are contributing to how God’s plan is unfolding.
At the start of exploration in space about 1960, then US president Kennedy visited the space station, and met the high-tech engineers. As the president was leaving the building, he spotted the cleaner, mopping the floor. ‘And what are you doing?’, quipped the president. ‘ I’m helping to put a man on the moon’, the cleaner replied. In God’s plan, each person’s contribution is important. Let’s not undervalue what God might be doing through us – our word of encouragement to child or adult, a smile of welcome, our desire to find the right word, or indeed a hospitable silence, when faced with an upset colleague or family member.
‘Do what he tells you’, Mary says to the banquet staff. Deep down, we want to align our hopes and desires with those the Lord has for us. For us to be able to hear the Lord, we need to give him space – some of our time, and our desire to focus on him by switching off what might distract us, like the ping from the mobile fone. We call this disposition, prayer. We make a space in our day or week where He can reach us perhaps more clearly. God is always communicating to us through the events of our day. The radio waves are always there. But prayer is like adjusting a radio, so that we can hear the station more clearly, with less distraction. Like Mary, we tell him of people who are running short of what they need; those people include ourselves when we are in a spot of bother. We ask His help, and some small indication of what we are to do. We trust that He will indicate some small step that we can take, here and now.
The prayer of Teresa of Avila comes to mind:
‘Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.’
We take heart from the Lord’s overflowing generosity to us. We ask for the grace to co-operate with Him in responding to His plan.
Brian Mac Cuarta SJ