Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran at the Grotto, Lourdes
Elphin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes
Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran at the Grotto
30th August 2018
Most families have the experience from time to time of visitors calling unexpectedly. They are not coming in; they are not staying, but “yes, ok, just a cup of tea in the hand”. As a child I was often sent out the back door as visitors came in the front door. My mission was to cycle at full speed to the shop for milk, or biscuits, and to be back before the kettle had boiled. So I do understand the idea of a mother turning to her son and saying: “We have no milk”. I would never have replied “What has that to do with me; my time has not yet come”.
The Wedding Feast at Cana is somewhat different. Mary was not the host; she was the guest. But she saw a crisis looming for the young couple and she wanted to help, so she turned to Jesus and said: “Son they have no wine”. I wonder what did Mary expect him to do. Towards the end of the Gospel we are told: “This was the first of the signs given by Jesus. He let his glory be seen and his disciples believed in him”. Maybe Mary had seen things in the family home that nobody else had seen. Mothers are very perceptive. They know what we are thinking even before we know ourselves.
Jesus, as the story goes, made no commitment to do anything. But Mary turned to the servants and said: “Do whatever he tells you”. Mary clearly knew that Jesus would want to help the couple. She trusted him and she invited the servants to trust him.
Scripture scholars tell us that wine is a symbol of joy. The wedding feast was the beginning of married life; a time that should be full of joy for the young couple and for their family and friends. Some of you will understand how fragile the “joy of love” can sometimes be in the face of a crisis. How frightening it must be for a couple to have the first serious row in their married life. How devastating it must be when they have to face illness, or the loss of a child, homelessness or unemployment. “They have no wine!”
At Cana, on the surface, Jesus saved the embarrassment of the couple and the party went on, but I think this miracle is really about the compassion of Jesus who is with us always in those moments when the joy runs out and when it seems that there is nothing that we can do.
“Do whatever he tells you” is another way of saying “trust him”. What does it mean to trust in Jesus? It doesn’t mean just sitting back and doing nothing, leaving everything to Him. In the case of the servants, it means cooperating with Jesus. They played their part, filling the stone water jars, as he told them to do. Jesus then played his part, transforming by the power of his Spirit, what they had brought. We see the same thing happening in some of the other miracles of Jesus, as for example when he fed the five thousand with the loaves and fishes provided by the little boy. He would gladly do the same in our own lives and in our own families, if we trust him.
There is a world of difference between faith and superstition. Lots of people believe in the supernatural. They believe in all sorts of powers that come from crystals, or symbols or black cats. They may even believe that there is a god who is powerful and who can makes things happen or stop things happening whenever he likes. That is superstition.
Faith is a relationship of trust. It is not just about trusting in the power of God, it is about trusting in his goodness. If we trust in his goodness, then we can with confidence “do whatever” he tells us. In many ways that is also the story of Lourdes. Bernadette describes Mary as a “beautiful lady”. She grew to trust Mary, because she recognised her goodness; the beauty was not just skin-deep. She did what Mary asked her to do.
One of the central “dogmas” of our culture is the “right to choose”. Nobody should tell me what to do. I can do what I like. Oddly enough, and you may have noticed this yourselves, we have more laws now than we ever had before. That is because, when people focus exclusively on the “right to choose” and do not freely accept the “responsibility that goes with “choice”, the fabric of society and of human relationships begins to break down. In the end we need new laws to get people to do, what they would do anyway if they were listening with their hearts. If we don’t have relationships of trust, which are warm and life-giving, then we end up with contracts which are cold and joyless.
Faith in Jesus Christ is about accepting the fundamental goodness of God and recognising that, in following his divine plan, we find the path that leads to life. The source of “new wine” or “joy” is in doing whatever he tells us. Like the servants, we can only know what he wants us to do if we listen to him.
As you possibly know, just before he left for the airport last Sunday, Pope Francis met with the Irish Bishops. He spoke with us for about ten minutes. Toward the end of the meeting he said:
“There is another thing that I always say, but it bears repeating. What is the first duty of the bishop? I say it to everyone: it is prayer. When the Greek-speaking Christians complained that their widows were being neglected (cf. Acts 6:1), Peter and the apostles created deacons. Then when Peter explained the matter, he concluded by saying: “We [apostles] will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word”. So I throw out a question and each of you can answer it at home: how many hours a day does each of you devote to prayer?”
It is also true to say that, whenever Jesus himself was about to do anything important, he went aside on his own to pray. That was not just a little ritual. Jesus knew that the heart of his mission was His relationship with the father. The relationship with the Father is also at the heart of who we are as bishops or priests or members if the lay faithful. It is not just about knowing that he is out there somewhere. It is a relationship of trust; of listening to whatever he tells us and trying to do it in our lives.