Homily for the Solemnity
Mary Help of Christians
May 24, 2011
John 2: 1-11
Rev 12: 1-3, 7-12, 17
Provincial House, N.R.
“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there” (John 2: 1).
Following John’s narrative, this is the 3d day from when Jesus “decided to go to Galilee” (1:43) from the place at the Jordan River where John was baptizing and had identified him as “the Lamb of God” (1:36), after Jesus had gathered as his disciples Andrew, Simon, Philip, Nathanael, and the unnamed first disciple who with Andrew accepted his invitation to “come and see” (1:39).
When Christians hear “on the third day,” we think almost reflexively of another “third day,” the third after Jesus’ crucifixion. There’s little historical significance in the number of days it took Jesus to walk from the Jordan to Cana, and John tells us nothing of the events on this journey after the dialog between Jesus and Nathanael, presumably at the outset of the journey.
John the Evangelist is careful in choosing his words; so we may suppose that “the third day” has some significance, that he means for it to be suggestive of the day of resurrection.
That allusion becomes still more suggestive with the mention of a wedding, that archetypical symbol of heaven, of eternal life. “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb,” an angel tells John the Seer in the Book of Revelation (19:9). Blessed are those who celebrate the Lamb’s marriage with his bride in the heavenly Jerusalem.
At the Jordan John the Baptist has pointed to Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” pointed to his redemptive sacrifice. On the 3d day from the Jordan, from the place of the Lamb reference, comes the wedding, as the resurrection will come on the 3d day from the Lamb’s sacrifice. The Lamb’s rising to eternal life will become a marriage feast, shared with many guests.
Maybe I read too much into John’s intentions. Maybe not.
Then the Evangelist informs us, “The mother of Jesus was there.” His first mention of Jesus’ mother is this wedding—of 2 people whose identities aren’t given to us, 2 people therefore who have no real bearing on John’s narrative. But Jesus’ mother does, and evidently as a principal of some sort because she’s named even before Jesus is. “Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding” (2:2); plainly their presence is secondary. But “the mother of Jesus was there,” in some primary sense. We don’t know whether she was invited, or she had some more important claim to be there, such as a familial relationship with the bride or the groom. Resuming the image of the heavenly marriage feast, is John, ever so subtly, suggesting to us that the mother of Jesus is a principal at the heavenly feast because she’s the spouse of God?
The vision of that other John, the Seer of the Book of Revelation, speaks of “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (12:1). The imagery evokes one of Joseph’s dreams in Genesis 37. So the woman is, in the first place, Israel, and by extension the new Israel, the community of Jesus’ disciples, including the 12. At the same time, especially since this woman gives “birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations” (12:5), she’s always been viewed also as an image of the Virgin Mother. Mary, mother of the Messiah, sums up in herself the entire people of God. She is an image of the Church. The entire Church is the spouse of Christ, the bride whose wedding with the Lamb is celebrated at the eternal banquet, yet Mary is singularly God’s bride and mother of the Son.
So the mother of Jesus is intimately involved in this wedding at Cana, image of that greater wedding to which all of Jesus’ disciples are invited. Whatever her role may have been in the historical event at Cana, in John’s narrative her role comes down to observing a problem, a potential social disaster, to interceding on behalf of those who will be in trouble, and to leading the servants to Jesus so that the trouble will be averted, the situation salvaged—salvation achieved.
It’s precisely in that role of concerned intercessor and helper that we have been invoking the mother of Jesus during our novena: “You are the mighty and glorious protector of Holy Church. In the midst of our anguish, our struggles, and our distress, defend us from the power of the enemy”—the enemies of the Church on earth, the infernal enemies of the Church, and the enemies of our souls. It’s to Mary in her role of Help of Christians that Pope Benedict especially asks us to intercede particularly on behalf of the very distressed Church of China, beset by the angry dragon of a totalitarian state.
“They have no wine,” Mary informs Jesus (John 2:3). The Jews didn’t use wine as a daily beverage but saved it for festive occasions. Thus it carries the symbolism of festivity; and for the Christian, the festival of the eschatological feast, the eternal banquet, the wedding feast of the Lamb.
The mother of Jesus observes a shortage of wine, a lack of salvation in effect. Until the hour of Jesus comes, there’s no wine. Until Jesus acts, there’s no access to the banquet of life. In her voice the Church cries out to Jesus for wine, for salvation.
The mother of Jesus also knows how to address the problem. Do you want wine, i.e., do you want to celebrate at the eternal banquet? Do you want an invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb? Then you must be a disciple. You must be one of the servants who “does whatever he tells you” (2:5). The mother of Jesus knows the way to eternal life: the way of discipleship, of listening to and obeying Jesus.
The mother of Jesus cannot herself save the situation, just as the Church—that other bride of the Divine—cannot save except insofar as the Church acts with Jesus: listens to him and does what he tells her. But both Mary and the Church bring us to or unite us to the one who does save: to Jesus.
May Mary, mother of Jesus, continue to take loving note of all that afflicts us and threatens us. May she continue to go to Jesus and plead on our behalf. May we always heed her timeless advice and listen to the Divine Word, and so be saved from the predations of the awful dragon (Rev 12:3,7) and “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Eph 1:3), chosen to be among God’s adopted children (1:5) “for the praise of his glory” (1:12), with a place at the Lamb’s wedding feast.
Stained glass window of the miracle at Cana: Our Lady of the Valley Church, Orange, N.J.