Don't you know
that I long for you
as you long for me,
that, I, too yearn
for that eternal embrace
when I will hold you
that nothing will separate
you from me
or me from you?
Gently, I will kiss your tears,
my fingers tracing away
until you look up in wonder
and gaze into my eyes,
as the one for whom you wept
though you did not know it.
And together we shall laugh
like youthful lovers
ready to risk all
for the marriage feast;
and together we shall dance,
awkwardly at first
but in step
with the beat of our hearts
as we become accustomed
to new ways of being
(E.A. Stewart, Wyndham Hall Press, 1989)
Greetings, SBT Readers:
The nuptial imagery in our first reading, Is 62, prophesies the redemption of Jerusalem, a time of forgiveness and vindication in which the city, no longer desolate, will be the Lord's Bride. These words hold contemporary relevance for the Catholic Church, as well as for individual Christians.
Isaiah's message is future tense. All verbs anticipate a time when God will act to restore the dignity of Jerusalem; in some future time, nations will behold the city's glory, no longer calling her "forsaken," but referring to her as
because God delights in her.
Can we say the same of the Catholic Church? Never has the Church's reputation been so low. Though we can look back at history and cringe at the Crusades, the Inquisition, the selling of indulgences, political maneuverings and the antics of less than saintly popes, all pale in comparison to the epidemic of clerical abuse and cover-ups that has come to light in our era. The Church Triumphant has become the Church Disgraced. Instead of "saving souls," the Church has driven them away; churches are empty and church property is being sold off to finance astronomical legal settlements. Instead of evangelizing, the institutional church is now focused on damage repair and damage control.
There is a long road ahead. First, the Church has to become the Church Penitent. Personally, I don't believe we have reached that point. The people and most of the clergy are shell-shocked but little has been done to address their spiritual angst. In fact, for decades, victims have been threatened into silence or treated with disrespect. It is the sheer number of survivors who are demanding justice that has brought the Church to its knees -- but this public humiliation does not necessarily mean penitence or conversion. At the highest levels of the institution, the "boys' club" still operates, with lies, denials, and cover-ups still haunting us.
Like the ancient city of Jerusalem, we need to earn a new name by returning to our God. This will entail dismantling clericalism with its culture of privilege, entitlement and cronyism, while addressing systemic sexism with its marginalization of women and their gifts. It will involve moving beyond spiritual atrophy -- that is, beyond religion reduced to rules and obligation and beyond rote liturgies that fail to engage worshipers on a spiritual level. It will mean engaging in spiritual formation that brings both laity and clergy into an ever-deepening intimate personal relationship with Jesus; at the same time, the laity need more exposure to scripture and the church's rich teachings on social justice.
What will it take for true restoration? What does it mean to be "espoused to God" as a church? When will God delight in us again?
Sunday Video Chat
is back! To all those who sent me their comments, thank you! I appreciate knowing that
helps you in your faith journey!
And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had been turned into wine, without knowing where the wine came from— although the servers who had drawn the water knew —, the headwaiter called the bridegroom, saying,
"Everyone serves good wine first,
and then when guests have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now."
The marital theme continues in today's Gospel. In this much-loved story, Jesus changes water into wine, thereby saving the wedding feast when the wine runs out. It is the first sign of Jesus' divinity as presented in John's Gospel. Interestingly enough, the miracle involves six massive stone jars used for ablutions, in other words, for ceremonial or ritual cleansing. These jars -- each of which holds 20-30 gallons-- are empty, and so Jesus instructs the servers to fill them with water. John tells us that the servers fill the jars to the brim-- an amazing feat considering they don't have access to running water. Perhaps the household has a private well, but whether the servers have to draw water from the house's water source or whether they have to venture to the local community well, filling those jars is a massive undertaking -- rather like filling six bath tubs but without the benefit of a faucet! I find myself wondering how it is that the servers follow Jesus' instructions, especially when their task is so labor-intensive. There are no complaints that we know of, but Mary does instruct them to do whatever her son tells them; the fact that they obey suggests either that she has status in the gathering or that the servers are desperate enough to try anything. And so they do as they are told, asking no questions, raising no objections, even when Jesus instructs them to draw water and present it to the headwaiter to taste. These nameless, faceless servers are crucial to the narrative; they are not developed characters but simply take care of logistics. John doesn't even describe their reactions when they realize the water has become wine.
As with many of the Gospel stories, it is useful to explore the symbolic aspects of the text. This brings us back to those six empty jars. Hewn of stone, the jars would be expensive which suggests that purification rites are important to the householders. The fact that they are empty is also worth noting. Perhaps the wedding guests have purified themselves with the water, prior to the celebration, and no one has had the time to re-fill the jars. Whatever the case, the jars are now empty and Jesus is instrumental in having them filled again. We are like those empty jars when we neglect our relationship with God. Just as an empty ceremonial jar serves no purpose so we become "useless" on a spiritual plane when the well within dries up. When we neglect our relationship with God or when we take a detour from the spiritual journey, then we are no better than an empty stone jar. Jesus, however, has the power to fill our emptiness, just as he does for the Samaritan woman (Jn 4). Then, when we allow him back into our lives, he can transform mere ritual observance (the water) into the wine of union with God. From emptiness we journey to fullness; from tasting the waters of spiritual renewal we can then progress to the wine of passion, to ecstasy with the Beloved.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- Have you ever felt like an empty water jar and, if so, were you able to find fullness?
- In times of feeling spiritually empty, to what resources or spiritual practices do you turn to find fullness again?
- What typically depletes you spiritually?
- On a scale of 1-10, how passionate is your relationship with God? Are you comfortable with this assessment or do you seek deeper intimacy with God?