January 22, 2019 // Bishop's Column: In Truth and Charity

‘Let it be done to me according to your word:’ World Youth Day

The following is the homily given by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades to World Youth Day pilgrims in Panama City, Panama, on Jan. 20.

St. Francis of Assisi Church in the old city of Panama City, Panama features a mosaic depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary.

We begin our World Youth Day pilgrimage of faith here in Panama on this Second Sunday of Ordinary Time with the Gospel of the Wedding Feast of Cana. As you know, the theme of World Youth Day is Mary’s response at the Annunciation: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” These words reflect Mary’s basic and fundamental attitude and spirit, the same attitude and spirit that we see at the wedding feast in Cana: faith and openness to God’s will. Mary felt compassion and affection for the bride and groom. She wanted to help them in their very embarrassing situation of having run out of wine. She turns to her Son and says to Him: “they have no wine.” Mary didn’t assert her own will. With trust, she turned the situation over to her Son. She entrusted a very human need over to Jesus, not telling Him what to do and not asserting her own desire. She is always the handmaid of the Lord; open to God’s will. She leaves the problem to Jesus when she says: “they have no wine.” Mary trusted in her Son’s power and love, that He would come to the rescue to help the young newlyweds. And, of course, Jesus did.

We learn from Mary in today’s Gospel to be compassionate to those in need, to be gracious and willing to help others, and not to be indifferent bystanders when people are in need or in trouble. Mary teaches us to be aware of the problems of others and not to ignore them. She could have just ignored the problem of the bride and groom running out of wine at their wedding feast. But no; Mary had pity on them. And she interceded for them with her Son.

So in this Gospel, we learn from Mary to be compassionate toward others and to pray for them and their needs. We also learn from Mary at Cana how to pray: not by asserting before God our own will and our own desires, however important they might be or however reasonable they may seem to us, but rather to bring our needs and desires before the Lord and let Him decide what He intends to do. “Not my will, but your will be done.” Mary teaches us this. “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” We learn from Mary humility and generosity in accepting God’s will and believing that He knows what is best for us, what is our true good.

Jesus’ words of response to His mother may seem a little strange at first, even a little harsh. He says to her: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” First of all, children at that time, like today, wouldn’t address their mothers as “woman.” There’s obviously a deeper meaning here. The title “woman” reflects Mary’s place in salvation history. It recalls the account of the creation of Eve. Adam gave her the name “woman.” The woman Eve was the mother of all the living. Mary is the new woman, the new Eve, the woman whose “yes” to God gave us Our Redeemer, reversing the “no” of that first woman. On the cross, at the moment of our redemption, Jesus would again address His mother as “woman.” He said to her: “Woman, behold your son,” thus entrusting John and all of us to her loving care. Mary became the mother of the redeemed, our spiritual mother. Jesus said to John and to all of us: “Behold your mother.” On the cross, when Jesus gave us His love to the end, when He gave us His life, He gave us His all, including His holy mother.

Back to Cana and Jesus’ question: “woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” Mary’s concern and Jesus’ concern were the same: to do the will of the Father. But wasn’t Mary’s concern about helping the newlywed couple? Jesus is thinking more deeply here. Of course, He’s the Son of God; He can help the couple. He can do a miracle, but His hour had not yet come, the hour of His glorification, the hour of His passion, death, and resurrection. Mary accepts this. Her Son’s hour had not yet come. So she simply says to the servants: “Do whatever He tells you.” She encourages the servers to obey Jesus. She does the same with us. She is not only our mother who intercedes for us like she interceded for the couple — she is also our mother who encourages us in the way of discipleship, instructing us to obey her Son, to do whatever He tells us.

Though Jesus’ hour had not yet come, He accedes to His mother’s request and helps the newlywed couple. His hour had not yet come, but He does something that anticipates that hour of His glorification on the cross. He gives a sign in which He proclaims that hour, the hour of another much greater wedding feast, the wedding feast of the Lamb, the hour of the union between God and man in which He is the Bridegroom and the Church is His Bride. Jesus anticipates that hour with the sign he performed, the changing of water into wine. He turned a huge amount of water, between 120 and 180 gallons, into wine. What Jesus does here is He helps the couple at the wedding feast obviously and saves them from embarrassment, but the sign is much more. Jesus transforms the human wedding feast into an image of the divine wedding feast in which He gives us every good thing, represented by the abundance of wine. With this simple miracle at Cana, Jesus anticipated the hour of His glorification on the cross when He abundantly bestowed the grace of salvation upon us, His people. The superabundance of Cana is a sign that God’s feast with humanity had begun. This is the feast we celebrate ever anew in the Eucharist. Jesus celebrates the marriage feast with us here and now. We are united with Him when we receive His Body and Blood. He gives us His life and strength and grace. The Holy Eucharist is truly an anticipation of the wedding feast of heaven.

Every day this week, we will have the blessing of the Holy Eucharist. He will give Himself to us each day. He will change bread and wine into His Body and Blood. Every day we will receive Him and be filled with every heavenly blessing and grace.

Throughout this week, may Mary our mother intercede for us and for all the people we are praying for, like she interceded for the newlywed couple at Cana! All week, we will sing and meditate on her words at the Annunciation: “He aqui la Sierva del Señor, hágase en mi según tu palabra.” “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” Mary’s words to the servants at Cana “Do whatever He tells you” express the same disposition. It is the disposition that all believers, all of us, should have toward God: humility, receptive openness to God’s will, and lively obedience. These are the basic attitudes of discipleship. They are fundamental for growing in holiness. And that’s why we’re here in Panama with young disciples from all over the world, with adult leaders, priests, bishops, and Pope Francis: to grow in holiness as disciples of Jesus. With the help of Mary’s prayers, may this week help all of us to grow in discipleship, to grow in holiness! Let us entrust ourselves, our diocese, our families and friends, and all the pilgrims here in Panama to our Blessed Mother’s loving intercession!

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