Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Knowing what our gifts and talents are

My Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and peace in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit be with you. I pray that the grace of God will overflow from you as superabundantly as the wine in Today’s Gospel did. You may notice that, since last week, we have undergone a transition from the Christmas season back into a few weeks of Ordinary Time before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. Our Christmas trees have been put away along with the nativity scene and poinsettias, all the things that are so visually connected with the Christmas season to be replaced by the green of Ordinary Time. We begin this season with the story of the first miracle, or sign to use the terminology of St. John, Jesus performed. Ever since last December, the primary gospel that we’ve heard at Sunday mass has been the Gospel of Luke but today we hear from the Gospel of John. I find it interesting about the story they chose to use in this respect. The Pope, in his new volume of Jesus of Nazareth, reminds us that there is a long-standing tradition with regard to the Gospel of Luke that says Mary contributed to the writing of that gospel. There are several passages in which Mary’s voice is heard throughout that Gospel. This is in sharp contrast to the Gospel of John, which mentions Mary only twice; at the wedding feast of Cana and at the crucifixion. Mary represents bookends to Jesus’ minister, she is present as his ministry begins and she is present at the end.

In the wedding feast of Cana, I’m struck by the strength of Mary. she, Jesus, and some of his disciples are invited to a wedding. I think it’s interesting that we never hear about the bride and groom, only about who attended. In any case, at some point, the wine ran out and Mary went out of her way to convince her son to perform his first miracle. This prompts two questions for me. First, how did Mary know that her son could do this? I suppose the easy answer to that question is that a mother always knows. Parents know the hidden talents and potentialities of their children before anyone else. There are many young men and women who have accomplished great things because their mothers and fathers believed in them and encouraged them even when the children didn’t believe in themselves.

Yet, this puts forth a second, related question for me: Do you think Mary knew all those years that she lived with Jesus that she was living with a wonder-worker and yet never asked him to, say, multiply her loaves, turn the water into wine at the dinner table, or double her money to make ends meet? There’s no scriptural evidence to support the idea that Mary ever asked Jesus to do so and the reluctance that Jesus shows in the wedding at Cana would seem to indicate that he didn’t. Yet, after the death of St. Joseph, how could a powerless widow have never asked her son to use his miraculous power to help her our when she was so quick to ask him to help others? Think about it: If you had a child who had miraculous power to change water into wine, would you wait until someone’s wedding to make him do it? Wouldn’t you ask him to double it at home too? After all, as I heard in an all-parish meeting since coming here, charity begins at home. But, for Jesus and Mary, it appears the needs of others come first.

We can see this in the reaction of Mary to hearing that her cousin, Elizabeth, was pregnant. Despite being pregnant herself, Mary’s first thought is to travel in haste to the hill country to see her cousin. It’s all about other people. And we can see this in the example of Jesus in the desert. We know he knew, from the wedding at Cana, that he could perform miracles. After forty days of fasting, anyone would be hungry. Yet, when the devil suggested he turn some stones into bread for food, in many ways a perfectly reasonable suggestion, Jesus declines. We know that later in the gospel Jesus will multiply two loaves and five fish for 5000 people, why not a half loaf for himself after a long fast? What are Mary and Jesus telling us through these choices? They are telling us that God’s gifts to individuals are not primarily for their or their families’ benefit for but the service of others.

That is what St. Paul also tells us when he says, “to each person is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” not just for our own good.

One of the gifts that I’ve been truly treasuring this week is Fr. Lippstock’s organizing the trip for the March for Life. To my knowledge, this is the first time that such a trip has been made by any of our cluster parishes. It is an opportunity for 24 Christians to witness to their faith and I personally want to thank those who have supported them and those who are sacrificing vacation days from work and time in school in order to attend. Please know that you will be in our cluster’s prayers as you travel and as you return. And yet, it’s now time to organize our next trip, not to Washington DC but to Ames. On February 7th, there will be an event called Operation Andrew there in which men who are aged High School Junior and older are invited to take some time to think if God is calling you to be a priest. I’ll be sending out some letters to individuals this week but, if you know of a young man who you feel would make a good priest, I’m asking each of you to make a personal invitation to him and tell him to get in touch with me about this.

Today is a good day to ask ourselves, “What gifts has God given to me. Am I using them mainly for personal profit or for the service of others?” We sometimes wonder why there are so few manifestations of the Holy Spirit in our world, so few miracles like we read in the Bible. Maybe the reason is that we have grown more selfish. If we begin using the gifts we have for the common good – like the gifts of prayer, singing, teaching, caring, sharing, encouraging, supporting, motivating – then these gifts may just grow and we may see miracles in our midst.