January 20th, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
I don’t think that there is any doubt that today’s Gospel except from the second chapter of St. John is one of most people’s favorite scenes from the New Testament. It is very concrete. It is very earthy. It describes a scene with which we are all familiar and it inserts both Jesus and his mother into that scene in a very dramatic and pleasurable context. There was a wedding in Cana way up north in Galilee. It must have been quite an affair. The text begins by stating that the mother of Jesus was there and then adds that Jesus and his disciples had likewise been invited to the happy celebration. Well, if you add 14 people at the last minute, it must have been quite a crowd. To me that also seems to be indicated by the fact that for a long period of time the wine had run out causing Mary to say to her son, “They have no more wine.” You know the story. Jesus’ first move is to act unconcerned. Mary gives directions later, “Do whatever he tells you” and that, of course, is to fill good sized vats with water. In an outcome that would have made any Irishman happy, the water is not only changed into wine but the very best wine!
This story is told endlessly as a way of documenting the influence that Mary has over her son. Maybe we have made a little too much of it but it is certainly a wonderful story and it shows a very human Jesus. He is with friends, he is at a wedding, they have been celebrating for a long period of time and he takes action to eliminate embarrassment – all very human traits – and ones that we should think of when we are praying to our Lord. While we worship Jesus as divine, we must, at the same time, be conscious of the fact that this was a real human nature through which he was dealing with us, a nature that enables him to be one with us and enables us to more easily identify with him.
Care for any more wine?
Posts tagged: water
January 20th, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
We have a wonderful tradition in this country of trying to spotlight various issues and problems by designating a particular day as that issues day. Well, a new one recently appeared that gives me some encouragement and it is called World Water Day. I think that most of us take water for granted. You want a hot bath? It is the spigot on the left. Many people have their lawns watered by a timer and involves them very little other than paying for their water. However, we should not be too casual about water and its importance.
To know how important water is let yourself be separated from it for a short period of time and soon a desperate need will arise. When we deal with cities and large concentrations of people, the need can be extraordinarily difficult to provide. This has given rise to the development in segments of the American business community. They ought to “capture” water and sell it to those who would like to do it. This is at odds with the American tradition since once our cities became modernized they took over the securing, purifying and distributing of water. Water was to be in public hands.
One of my favorite organizations, Corporate Accountability International, is leading the struggle to alert people to the dangers that can come to all of us if water becomes a private commodity. A much smaller entity than the general public can control – who gets it and what they pay for it. CAI is waging a nation-wide struggle to make us realize that. They have published a report on the subject documenting that people across the country overwhelmingly support the critical need to invest in the nation’s public water systems while keeping them in public hands.
Those struggling to keep water sources public need to be concerned about certain activities at the World Bank. Tragically, the Bank is driving global water privatization at a chilling human cost. With original financial analysis and powerful case studies, Corporate Accountability International is demonstrating how the Bank must divest from private water projects to run with actions with its stated mission of alleviating poverty and supporting sustainable development. In privatization, communities bear the costs of skyrocketing rates, decreased water quality and undermining of democratic processes, and finally, a failure to extent access to those who need it.
Don’t take that hot bath for granted.
We all know that good communication is a never-ending struggle. For most of us, the word, written and oral, is the most common tool of communications. In addition to the word (which is itself a symbol!), there are other tools to assist in moving an idea from one person’s brain to that of another. On that list of alternate forms are symbols. In the Medieval world before widespread literacy came among us various shops and trades would have their own symbol placed over the door and visible from the street. The barber pole, the three balls over the pawn shop. These instruments were devised and understood by the general public.
The Catholic Church has always understood the importance and value of symbols and used them from the very first generation of Catholicism. One of the earliest and most common was the Greek word ichthus, which means fish. It was taken from the first letters of the expression “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Early Christians would mark their houses with the symbol of a fish indicating that Christians lived here and telling the Roman authorities nothing. The use of the fish as a symbol of the follower of Jesus fits in very well with some of the bible scenes relating to the Sea of Galilee – these are abundant monumental and literary witnesses to the popularity of this formula. With the passage of time and the cessation of persecution, this particular symbolism is seldom seen today.
Naturally, the most widespread Christian symbol is the cross. It dominates almost everything we do. We cross ourselves on entering the church. We cross ourselves when beginning or ending prayer. It is marked on our buildings – on our bodies. We are constantly adverting to the cross and it is, of course, the symbol of our redemption. It provides us with an opportunity to continually recommitting ourselves to Jesus.
We walk into a church, tip our fingers into a bowl of holy water, a symbol reminding us of our baptism. We should try to remember to say in a meaningful way, “I am here in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. If we are conscious of that, it provides us with a constant recommitting of ourselves to our faith, to our Lord, to our coming salvation.
During its very first chapter, the Church, the community of faith, was totally and completely Jewish. Jesus, the apostles, the disciples, all of the followers and all early members were of the Jewish blood and faith. However, very early on the total Jewishness of the Church begins to be altered, and men and women beyond the confines of Judaism begin to be received into the community of believers in Jesus.
Today’s first reading describes a dramatic scene where a Roman officer has a vision that he should send for Peter and find out more about the message that Peter has been preaching, that Jesus had risen from the death and ascended into heaven. It is a beautiful excerpt. Peter receives Cornelius and his entire household into the Church, but then, guided by the Holy Spirit, makes a decision of tremendous importance for how the Church will be developed on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 13th
He asks rhetorically, “What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have from being baptized with water?” The answer, of course, is NOTHING and so this whole Pagan household was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. From then on, the missionary Church was on its way.
Helping to build the Church was the responsibility of the apostles and their early followers, but that responsibility continues even to this day. There are so many ways that we can be missionaries in our day-to-day lives. The best, of course, is to give an example in all of our dealing with people to be Christ-like – gentle and kind, honest and generous. Throughout its history, the examples of its holiest members has always been the greatest single cause for receiving converts into the Church. The example of the Christian life has always been much more influential in helping the Church to grow than theological discussions, as important as those may be. Throughout its history, the Church has always needed saints, extraordinary men and women whose lives really mirrored the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We have always needed them and never more than we do today.
On a separate note, tomorrow is MOTHER’s DAY- may God BLESS all the MOTHERs, and those who take on a motherly role here on earth!
The salvation history is just loaded with wonderful stories and images relating to water. In the book of Genesis, the creation story tells about God separating the land and the waters on the third day. One of the best water images is the fact that humanity is given a new life when Noah saves so many species from dying in the great flood. As an infant, Moses is placed in a basket in the Nile River in order to protect him from the pharaoh. When escaping Egypt, the chosen people walked through a dry area with miraculous walls of water on either side. Jesus begins his public life by being baptized in the Jordan River. In his first miracle, Jesus changes water into wine. While hanging on the cross, his side is opened by a spear and blood and water come forth. After the Resurrection, the apostles see Jesus walking on the water. Peter attempts to join him but not with complete success.
The one that I like the most is the image of the Church as being a boat, the bark of Peter. Just as Jesus slept through a storm on the Sea of Galilee while the boat bounced to and fro frightening the apostles nearly to death, so the bark of Peter has for 2,000 years continued to be bounced, thrown up and down, turned this way and that and despite the height of the waves and the power of the wind, it has stayed afloat. That is the outcome of Jesus’ promise that the Church would last, that Jesus would be with us until the end of time.
The Church is always going to be battered by the tides of history. Confusion and convulsion is always part of human existence. The boat’s crew always needs to endeavor to keep it in as close to perfect shape as is possible. We need the right equipment, the right directions, the instinct for survival and certainly an ability to utilize the winds to move us in the right direction and not blow us off course. Those winds are really blowing right now but with all my heart I believe that the Holy Spirit is at the tiller!
There is a great deal of diversity among the many, many different churches that place themselves under the name “Christian”. They differ in organizational structure, and important aspects of theology and in relationship to the world around them Despite all this diversity, the one great unifying factor of all of these “Christian” churches is acceptance of the importance and necessity of baptism. Catholics baptize. Lutherans baptize. Baptists baptize, etc., etc., etc.
Having said this, most of us are aware of the fact that although baptism is a great unifier, it is practiced in several different forms. Many of today’s fundamentalist churches practice by immersion- that is, the person being baptized is actually submerged briefly beneath the water, only to emerge quickly as a baptized Christian.
Some of the older churches such as the Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Episcopalians, use a simpler form, namely pouring blessed water over the head of the person being baptized, whether that person is an infant or an adult.
Those using immersion properly see baptism as symbolically entering into the death and resurrection of Jesus and this is wonderfully symbolized by the person being baptized going beneath the water (symbolizing death) only to rise from the water (symbolizing return to life). Personally, I think this is truly meaningful symbolism but it has some logistical problems connected with it. Rivers are not always convenient. The churches using flowing water over the head of the person hold that water is the essential matter and form of baptism, as long as it is poured with the one baptizing doing so in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is interesting that immersion has made a come back in many Catholic parishes.
Regardless, Catholic tradition accepts both forms, so the choice is yours!
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 10th)
People all over the world who follow global economic developments are concerned about a frightful situation that is developing. Food costs are going up very rapidly and the income of much of the world is not. The populations of China, India and Brazil, because of their improving economic productivity, are able to produce larger amounts of grain and other commodities causing the price to increase rather rapidly. In the meantime, an unhappy combination of floods and droughts is cutting production somewhat. That combination naturally makes for higher prices.
This situation makes the Gospel over the next three weeks much more relevant to our thinking. Today, the Gospel is that excellent parable from Jesus in which he describes utilizing good agricultural conditions – good land, water and sunshine. This, of course, is his method of getting the people’s attention regarding how they respond to God’s message. It is an excellent example and causes us to ask ourselves do we really hear God’s message Sunday after Sunday, are our ears really attentive to what God is calling us to do and to be? Or are we constantly distracted, choked by the brambles of daily life or too anxious about our day-to-day problems? Today, the voice of Jesus reaches across 2,000 years and challenges us to examine ourselves in terms of our response to his message.
Ultimately, everything depends on that response!
Today’s Gospel is an absolutely delightful story. A long excerpt from John’s fourth chapter is the fascinating story of Jesus passing through Samaria having an important conversation with a Samaritan woman at the town well. Violating the social rules and custom of the day, Jesus, a single Jewish male, asks the Samaritan woman for a drink. That brings on a marvelous conversation between the two in which the woman tries to artfully change the subject each time Jesus gently directs her towards being completely honest. This simple story, about which all of us are familiar, has many implicit meanings and values. One is the relationship between Jesus and women. Another is the relationship between ourselves and foreigners.
Next week we get another wonderful story, namely that of the man born blind. Don’t miss it!
A small organization in Austin really deserves encouragement and support. I am referring to the Workers Defense Project, an organization of laborers and their supporters that endeavor to ensure that all workers are treated with dignity. Do you know what one of their prime projects is? Getting the Austin City Council to ensure that all construction workers have a right to drinking water and rest breaks. Did you hear that? The right to drinking water and rest breaks!
Construction work is always difficult but working under that Texas sun really adds stress and difficulty to this labor. In addition, many of these workers are employed on roofs or on asphalt paving projects. There the temperature can be 120°. According to the Workers Defense Project, nearly one-third of Austin’s construction workers are denied drinking water at work and 41% do not receive rest breaks on the job. Why not get involved and send a message to the Austin City Council. Visit http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/council/
In this age where CEOs routinely pick up many, many millions of dollars, labor in an air-conditioned office, we ought not to deny men and women whose collars are blue the dignity, respect and support that honest labor brings.