This first “sign” of Jesus’ public ministry as recorded by John presents many avenues for commentary . The role of Mary and her intercession in the moment and in the continuing life of the Church. Jesus’ way of addressing Mary, and its ties to Genesis. A wedding feast as an expression of life with God. Perhaps you heard some of that today.
But there is a bigger picture to consider. One that helps us look further than a self-absorbed focus on What This Says to Me About My Life.
Jesus never acts completely alone, and never for the sake of pleasing others. The Father is always the starting-point of his actions, and this is what unites him to Mary, because she wished to make her request in this same unity of will with the Father. And so, surprisingly, after hearing Jesus’ answer, which apparently refuses her request, she can simply say to the servants: Do whatever he tells you (Jn 2:5).
Jesus is not a wonder-worker, he does not play games with his power in what is, after all, a private affair. He gives a sign, in which he proclaims his hour, the hour of the wedding-feast, the hour of union between God and man.
He does not merely make wine, but transforms the human wedding-feast into an image of the divine wedding-feast, to which the Father invites us through the Son and in which he gives us every good thing.
The wedding-feast becomes an image of the Cross, where God showed his love to the end, giving himself in his Son in flesh and blood — in the Son who instituted the sacrament in which he gives himself to us for all time. Thus a human problem is solved in a way that is truly divine and the initial request is superabundantly granted. Jesus’ hour has not yet arrived, but in the sign of the water changed into wine, in the sign of the festive gift, he even now anticipates that hour.
Jesus’ definitive hour will be his return at the end of time. Yet he continually anticipates this hour in the Eucharist, in which, even now, he always comes to us. And he does this ever anew through the intercession of his Mother, through the intercession of the Church, which cries out to him in the Eucharistic prayers: Come, Lord Jesus!. In the Canon of the Mass, the Church constantly prays for this hour to be anticipated, asking that he may come even now and be given to us. And so we want to let ourselves be guided by Mary, by the Mother of Graces of Altötting, by the Mother of all the faithful, towards the hour of Jesus. Let us ask him for the gift of a deeper knowledge and understanding of him. And may our reception of him not be reduced to the moment of communion alone. Jesus remains present in the sacred Host and he awaits us constantly. Here in Altötting, the adoration of the Lord in the Eucharist has found a new location in the old treasury. Mary and Jesus go together. Through Mary we want to continue our converse with the Lord and to learn how to receive him better. Holy Mother of God, pray for us, just as at Cana you prayed for the bride and the bridegroom! Guide us towards Jesus — ever anew! Amen!
Although today is a Sunday, which takes precedence, note that today is also the memorial of St. Anthony of the Desert, or St. Anthony of Egypt, the father of Christian monasticism.
Around the year 270, two great burdens came upon Anthony simultaneously: the deaths of both his parents, and his inheritance of their possessions and property. These simultaneous occurrences prompted Anthony to reevaluate his entire life in light of the principles of the Gospel– which proposed both the redemptive possibilities of his personal loss, and the spiritual danger of his financial gains.
Attending church one day, he heard –as if for the first time– Jesus’ exhortation to another rich young man in the Biblical narrative: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Anthony told his disciples in later years, that it was as though Christ has spoken those words to him directly.
He duly followed the advice of selling everything he owned and donating the proceeds, setting aside a portion to provide for his sister. Although organized monasticism did not yet exist, it was not unknown for Christians to abstain from marriage, divest themselves of possessions to some extent, and live a life focused on prayer and fasting. Anthony’s sister would eventually join a group of consecrated virgins.
Anthony himself, however, sought a more comprehensive vision of Christian asceticism. He found it among the hermits of the Egyptian desert, individuals who chose to withdraw physically and culturally from the surrounding society in order to devote themselves more fully to God. But these individuals’ radical way of life had not yet become an organized movement.
The seeds of Anthony’s disdain for letters, his obedience to his parents, his attentiveness to the scripture readings in the Lord’s house, and keeping what is good in his heart, come to fruition near the end of St. Athanasius’ account and indicate the true end of spiritual reading: the attainment of the wisdom of God.
St. Athanasius reports that “Antony was also extremely wise.” St. Anthony was visited by many Greek philosophers seeking him out in the desert to ridicule him. When they came to mock him on the account that he had not learned his letters, he asked them:
“‘Which is first- mind or letters? And which is the cause of which- the mind of the letters, or the letters of the mind?’ After their reply that the mind is first and an inventor of the letters, Anthony said, ‘Now you see that in the person whose mind is sound there is no need for letters.’”
These and many others departed in amazement that an untrained man living in the wilderness could possess such understanding. He was “gracious and civil, and his speech was seasoned with divine salt, so that no one resented him.”
St. Anthony draws our attention away from the current obsession with material literacy and towards the true nature of literacy that sees that the real ends are the sane mind and sound heart. Though reading is of real instrumental value, the act of reading is a means to an end, not the end itself. The ends remain the proper consumption of spiritual food and hearing words is closer to the source than reading words. In spiritual reading, the written word is accompanied by extra but similar work to hearing the spoken word: the words have to be translated into a form that is audible and intelligible to the human heart.
In Mathew 4:4, when the Devil tempts Christ to turn stones into bread, our Lord responds by declaring that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Just like we need bread for material existence, the words that proceed from the mouth of God are spiritual food, exponentially more important than bodily food and the objective of spiritual reading is to feed our souls by the bread that “proceeds from the mouth of God.” Spiritual reading is feeding our souls. St. Anthony didn’t abandon the feast of spiritual reading; he attuned his ear to revelation, his soul to the Holy Spirit, and his heart to the will of the Father so effectively that the written word was an unnecessary mediation. We will benefit far more from an attuned ear and willing heart than a sharp eye and keen mind.
Food for thought in the Information Age. I often consider how in the present glut, I know a lot more than I might have in a previous era, but I am certainly no wiser.