Sunday, January 17, 2010

Miracles Happen

2 Sunday C #66

Is 62, 1-5
Ps 96
1 Cor 12, 4-11
Jn 2, 1-12

Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
January 17, 2010

Deacon Tom Cornell

Pray for the people of Haiti. And give what you can. They are a beautiful, a strong, a resilient people. Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America, the only nation whose independence was gained through a successful slave rebellion, and there are some even now who can not forgive Haiti for that! Pact with the Devil indeed! Satan cuts better deals that that! Haiti is very poor, still its people are energetic and creative, artistic and musical. Before we moved up-River, our family lived in a tri-lingual parish in Brooklyn, St. Ignatius Loyola, in Crown Heights. The three languages were English, of course, Spanish for the Hispanics and French for the Haitians, and for unity celebrations we used Latin. Oh, how they sang, the Haitians, the Latin Gloria, the Latin Credo! It’s been over thirty years since we left Brooklyn. I recently ran into the priest who is in charge of ministry to Haitians for the Diocese of Brooklyn. I asked how are they doing, our old neighbors. They were so poor. Are they moving up the social and economic ladder? He assured me, yes, in one generation’s time almost all their kids are in college! My nephew, Joe Tomasiello, teaches fifth grade in Florida. Most of his students are children of Haitian immigrants. “What are they like?” I asked him. “They are a teacher’s dream,” he said, “respectful, curious, eager to learn, and their parents keep them that way.” These are a wonderful people, a Christian, a Catholic people. They are family. They deserve our help. The U.S. bishops are urging all the parishes nationwide to take up a special collection at Mass Saturday and Sunday for the quake victims. Give what you can.

Now to our Gospel reading. Miracles happen. They really do happen. I know it. I’ve experienced a few. The Number One miracle in my life is my wife Monica. Do you remember the song that Motel the Tailor sings in Fiddler on the Roof ? He has just won his bride, Tevya’s eldest daughter, and he compares this to the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, “Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles,” he sings. That’s how I felt when Monica said yes to me, and I’ll bet there are more than a few men in this congregation today who know exactly what I mean. We never deserved them. They loved us anyway. Just like God. But there are other miracles too – the Catholic Worker is broke, it’s winter, there is no fuel in the tank to heat the women’s house. We picket St. Joseph, that is, we pray for his intercession as protector of families. Out of the blue a truck pulls up with a tank full of fuel oil, a gift! The kids need shoes. A check arrives in the mail, the exact amount needed to buy the shoes. And there are other stories, so many. Miracles of healing.

Today’s Gospel story is the miracle of the water turned to wine at the wedding feast at Cana. It’s reminiscent, in a way, of the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Jesus fed five thousand men, and more women and children too, with five loaves of bread and two fish. Some scholars interpret that story as a moral miracle, not a physical miracle. They suggest that the real miracle wasn’t that Jesus took a few pieces of food that could reasonably be expected to feed four or five people and, by the power of God, stretched them to feed a thousand times as many with plenty left over. They say the miracle was that Jesus so softened the people’s hearts that when this meager food was passed around, one man took a piece of cheese out of a hidden pocket in his cloak and added it, then another man put some bread he had stashed away into the basket, and another, and another did the same until everyone was sharing what he had intended to keep only for himself. The people’s closed minds were opened and their hard hearts were softened by Jesus’ words and his loving presence. Isn’t that a more impressive miracle than a simple multiplication of loaves? Yes, I suppose so. But I’m not in a position to tell God what miracles he can or can not perform or how. Understand that story as you will, as long as it strengthens your faith in God and in his son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m happy with the literal reading myself.

The story of the water turned to wine at Cana, that’s harder to put a symbolic, a moral meaning to. And it’s such a nice story. Jesus blesses married love. Marriage is an honorable state, so we are told in the wedding ceremony, ordained by God. It is more than honorable. It is divine! Read the Song of Songs in the Bible. Married love is a foretaste of heaven. Unless, of course, you have made the wrong choice. Then it can be something else altogether. This story tells us that Jesus wants people to be happy, to have a good time. That’s a lot of wine!

Do miracles really happen? Is it reasonable to suppose that God is going to tamper with the laws of nature, suspend laws that he himself decreed, for my convenience or Aunt Tilly’s? The whole point of the Old Testament, the overarching message of the Hebrew Bible is that God enters into history. God cares. He didn’t just set the universe in motion with the Big Bang and leave it at that, walk away, as it were. But if God cares so much, and if God is all powerful and merciful, then why do the innocent suffer? Why are children crushed under the rubble of their homes in Haiti? There is no satisfying answer. But it helps to know that God suffers too. In the fullness of time God sent his only begotten son into this world, not to suffer, that wasn’t the point, but to enter totally into our experience, and that means suffering. God suffers too, on a cross, in Haiti, in Marlboro.

But miracles! Why do they seem to happen to believers and not to non-believers? Well, the fact is they happen to non-believers too, whether they like it or not. God is not constrained. He doesn’t take orders. The sun takes a spin at Fatima, thousands see it, attest to it, although no astronomical observatory records the event. A spiritual force is set in motion that takes seventy years, but it brings down an empire. “How many legions does the Pope have?” asked Joseph Stalin. Now he knows! Bernadette’s spring still flows, with healing water. San Gennaro’s blood still liquefies. No one can explain it. Why don’t things like these happen to Unitarians? Don’t ask me! Some say it’s because Catholics are more gullible. These miracles are not essential to Catholic faith; you don’t have to accept them. Public revelation ended with the death of Saint John the Evangelist. If they don’t help you get closer to Jesus and his mother, then forget them. But I’ll stick with Bernadette and the children of Fatima and San Gennaro too.

Maybe miracles happen more often to people who believe they can happen than to people who insist they can not. I have seen the blind regain their sight, as with Robert McNamara, and I have seen the lame walk in Selma, Alabama, and prison doors fly open, and minds open and hearts soften.

Believe! 