Although this is the year of Luke, today’s Gospel reading comes from John. It is the famous Wedding Feast at Cana. It is important to point out that Jesus was no stick in the mud. He enjoyed parties and dinners. He liked people. In fact, most of his miracles and teachings happened at social gatherings. I had a pastor who liked to say, “There is no meetin’ without some eatin’.” When we gather together at table, many great things can happen.
There is a close tie-in between the Gospel and the first reading from Isaiah: God calls us to a new existence in which we are fed. God wants us to be happy. He wants us to take delight in the things of creation. More importantly, the most often used image of heaven is that of a wedding feast. Why? Everyone is usually happy at a wedding. There is good food, a lot of alcohol, and people are free to be themselves. In traditional wedding feasts, the party goes on for several days. It is no wonder that people came to associate weddings with extended feasting and revelry.
A wedding banquet has a loveable cast of characters. Each plays his or her role. Many different and unique individuals comprise the guest list. And that’s what makes the feast interesting. So too in the Church: the second reading reminds us that there are different spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit. Each one of us has a particular role to play. The challenge is determining which role is mine.
Once we have discerned our particular talent or gift, we must exercise it. The greatest sin against the Holy Spirit is failing to use the talent or gift that we’ve been given. Although it wasn’t Jesus’ time, at Mary’s request, he exercised his gift. He could no longer hide it. He could no longer be anonymous. Shortly after his baptism in the Jordan by John, Jesus had to get to work and begin his ministry. Perhaps he wanted to remain on the sidelines a bit longer, but life happened and he needed to do what he had been called to do.
As we enter into Ordinary Time, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I holding back on exercising my gift or talent?” Am I sitting the sidelines watching life pass me by or am I getting actively involved?
Time is short and fleeting. When we sit down at the Eucharistic banquet what happens to us? Does our meeting and eating result in great things? If not, why not?
Today marks the official end of the Christmas Season. Over the past few weeks we have seen Jesus grow from an infant to a pre-teen to an adult embarking on his ministry. This feast of the Baptism of the Lord reminds us that the ministry of Jesus began with his being filled with the Holy Spirit. So too, our ministry as Christians begins with our baptism whether as an infant or as an adult. The major difference between our baptism and that of Jesus is that almost immediately after his baptism Jesus began to proclaim the Gospel. For most of us, we ease into our mission as Christians. We take time getting our feet wet. And for some of us, our ministry as Christians never takes off.
Even prior to his baptism, Jesus was proclaiming the kingdom of God. He was drawing people to himself as an infant, teaching them as a pre-teen, and being identified as the Christ by John the Baptizer. Today’s feast is a challenge to us that we must do what Jesus did. We need to bear witness to who God is by living as Christ did. The first reading from Isaiah reminds us that we have been chosen by God and have been given a ministry. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to draw people to God and invite them to conversion of mind and heart.
After today’s celebration, we enter the time of Winter Ordinary Time. This year it is very short as Lent begins in mid-February. The question upon which we are called to reflect is, “How do I live out my baptismal calling?” Do I take Isaiah’s words to heart? Do I proclaim God’s kingdom? Do I point out the Christ is the midst of the assembly?
Our baptism means that we must act. We cannot sit on the sidelines and complain about what should be; rather, we need to work for the change that we know needs to happen. Jesus’ own ministry was very short; yet look at how much he accomplished. What will our accomplishments be with the time we’ve been given?
As we begin the New Year and celebrate the great feast of Epiphany, it is an opportunity to look back on 2015 and ponder how God was working in our lives. Moreover, we are invited to trust that God will be with us in the coming year. We continue to contemplate the wonderful mercy of God, that in his love, he gave us a savior who transforms us into the people we were destined to be.
For your reflection, I invite you to meditate on this prayer which Pope Francis quoted during his Christmas greetings to the Curial officials gathered in Rome:
“And so may mercy guide our steps, inspire our reforms and enlighten our decisions. May it be the basis of all our efforts. May it teach us when to move forward and when to step back. May it also enable us to understand the littleness of all that we do in God’s greater plan of salvation and his majestic and mysterious working.
“To help us better grasp this, let us savour the magnificent prayer, commonly attributed to Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero, but pronounced for the first time by Cardinal John Dearden:
“Every now and then it helps us to take a step back and to see things from a distance.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is also beyond our visions.
In our lives, we manage to achieve only a small part of the marvellous plan that is God’s work.
Nothing that we do is complete, which is to say that the Kingdom is greater than ourselves.
No statement says everything that can be said.
No prayer completely expresses the faith.
No Creed brings perfection.
No pastoral visit solves every problem.
No programme fully accomplishes the mission of the Church.
No goal or purpose ever reaches completion.
This is what it is about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that others will watch over them.
We lay the foundations of something that will develop.
We add the yeast which will multiply our possibilities.
We cannot do everything, yet it is liberating to begin.
This gives us the strength to do something and to do it well.
It may remain incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way.
It is an opportunity for the grace of God to enter and to do the rest.
It may be that we will never see its completion, but that is the difference between the master and the labourer.
We are labourers, not master builders, servants, not the Messiah.
We are prophets of a future that does not belong to us.”
May the year 2016 be a time of openness to God’s loving mercy and may each of us strive to be willing instruments of God’s love as we continue to make present the Christ Child.
This is the last bulletin of 2015. Today also happens to be the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This celebration invites us to be a better family of believers. We all come from a family: Some from a more traditional family; others from a blended family. Some of us are products of broken homes or abusive environments. There are even some who are a family of one. So today’s feast can sometimes be painful, especially if your family was not like a Norman Rockwell painting.
It is often said, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” In some senses that is true: we are a product of our parents and family members. We do not have a choice of where to live and with whom to live while we are growing up. However, as we age, we can chose people whom we consider to be our “family.”
I know of many individuals who no longer associate with their biological or adoptive family members, for whatever reason an estrangement has occurred. In these cases, they have created their own circle of friends who form their family and they celebrate significant life events with these close friends.
The point of today’s feast is not to make any one feel shame because his or her family is not “perfect” or “the norm;” rather, the readings encourage us to treat our familial groups (whether biological, adoptive or created) with mutual respect and honesty.
The first part of the second reading from Colossians is especially helpful in this regard: “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another….and over all these put on love….and be thankful.” These words apply to every situation: families, friends, classmates, co-workers, as well as those we meet in random situations.
While it is true we cannot choose our families, we can choose how to treat one another. May today’s feast challenge us to treat everyone we meet in 2016 with love and compassion.
As we come to the end of the calendar year, I want to take this opportunity to thank you, my parish family, for blessing me this year. Thank you to our staff. Thank you to all who volunteer in various capacities throughout the year. Thank you to all who participate through their attendance at Mass and other functions. Thank you to all who are homebound, yet continue to support St. James through their prayers. May God continue to bless you in 2016.
As we enter into the final week of the Advent season, we may be tempted to anticipate Christmas. Yet the Church invites us through this week’s readings to continue the process of preparation. The first reading reminds us that the most insignificant place can become great because of God’s intervention. Bethlehem was small, yet from it came the Son of God. So too, out of our “smallness” God can use us as his instruments to bring about great things.
In our preparation we should continue to make real changes in our lives rather than create sacrifices and offerings as a way of atoning for sin. If we really want to prepare for Christ’s birth, change the way that we live our lives. Eliminate sinful behaviors and attitudes as the way in which we welcome the Lord into our midst.
The Gospel recounts the visitation of Elizabeth by Mary. How do we respond when we encounter Christ in other people? Do we give praise to God? Do we even acknowledge that Christ has visited us? This fourth week of Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of Christ by actively seeking out his presence in the world around us, especially in the persons we meet each and every day.
As you continue your final preparations for the great feast of Christmas, take some time for yourselves. Spend time with the Lord. Relax and be thankful for the many blessing you have received over the year. And above all, ask God to continue to use you as his instrument of bringing Christ and peace into our world.
On behalf of all of the staff here at St. James, I want to wish each of you a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, and holy New Year. May God who has begun the good work in you, bring it to fulfillment in 2016.