TO THE EDITOR, CATHOLIC TIMES, CREDO FOR 14.1.01
SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (C)
FR FRANCIS MARSDEN
“The Book of Life begins with a man and a woman in a garden. It ends with Revelations” was Oscar Wilde’s quip. More accurately, it ends with the celestial wedding feast of the Lamb. Those who have recently been turning Oscar into a gay icon should heed his deathbed conversion to the Catholic Church. “I should like to die a Catholic. The Catholic Church is for saints and sinners: the Anglican church is for respectable people.”
This weekend the Liturgy sets before us St John’s Gospel account of the wedding feast of Cana. It is the first of the seven great “signs” or miracles of this Gospel, the final one being the Resurrection itself. The Church usually reads this passage as Christ’s blessing upon the natural union of marriage: by His presence and His generous miracle at this young couple’s nuptials, He sanctified marriage and raised it to the level of a Sacrament, which communicates the Divine reality of true sacrificial Love.
As St Bede writes: “To show that all the states in life are good . . Jesus deigned to be born in the pure womb of the Virgin Mary; soon after He was born He received praise from the prophetic lips of Anna, a widow, and invited in His youth by the betrothed couple, He honoured the wedding with the power of His presence.”
In the little Franciscan church at Kefr Kana, in the hill country 6.5 km outside Nazareth, they keep six large, stone water jars on the altar of the crypt, in memory of Jesus’ transformation of 500-700 litres of water into top quality wine: a symbol of messianic abundance, not an invitation to get paralytically drunk.
It was Mary who noticed the poor young couple’s social embarrassment when the wine ran out, and she who brought the problem to her Son. At first He seems to have been reluctant to intervene: “Woman, why turn to Me? My time has not come yet.”
St Alphonsus de Liguori commented: “Why are Mary’s prayers so effective with God? The prayers of the saints are prayers of servants, whereas Mary’s are a Mother’s prayer, whence flows their efficacy and their authority; and since Jesus has immense love for his Mother, she cannot pray without being listened to . . “
The Cana Gospel invites us to ponder Christian marriage, so much under attack in the modern world.
Christian marriage is a very special form of friendship. It is a friendship which permanently unites the lives of a man and a woman. They join their futures together irrevocably in one life-plan, under God’s guidance, open to the bearing of children and the raising of the next generation in the love of God and neighbour. It therefore involves sexual fidelity to each other
Openness to children is an essential part of Christian marriage. A priest cannot perform the wedding ceremony for couples who are determined to deliberately exclude fruitfulness from their marriage.
Marriage is a covenant whereby man and woman "give themselves to each other and accept each other." They form a communion of life and love, of companionship and caring. By their loving, they can bring into existence third or fourth or fifth persons, their children. The cooperation of husband and wife in this creation of new life is a reflection of God’s fruitful Love.
As 'two become one flesh' in sexual union, by God's gift a new human being of infinite value can come into being. Man and woman become co-creators with God of new human life. He infuses an immortal soul into that which is conceived. That child will continue to live for all eternity.
That is why the begetting of children should take place only within marriage – so that even the first moments of the baby’s life are graced by the Sacrament of Marriage, strengthening and purifying the parents’ love.
The child bears the genetic, perhaps also the spiritual, characteristics of both its father and its mother. A child is the greatest gift a couple can give to one another, and one of God's greatest gifts to them both. "The children . . should consolidate that [marriage] covenant, enriching and deepening the conjugal communion of the father and mother." The family is thus the primary human society, the matrix within which all positive values in human life can be passed on to the next generation, in an atmosphere of love and understanding.
Sexual intercourse, in its unique potential to call into existence a new human person, destined to live for ever, is therefore an act which touches upon the shores of eternity. Every person on earth originates from this union of father and mother.
For these reasons it is a precious act worthy of immense reverence. Healthy traditional societies sense this even subconsciously. They have elaborate courtship rituals and wedding ceremonies. A sense of modesty permeates their social customs. Shame falls upon those who go against these mores.
Contemporary western society, however, has lost sight of these fundamental truths. Wallowing in a morass of pills, coils and condoms, it has replaced procreative sex with recreative sex, and the world is filled with the aberrant consequences of that fatal miscalculation – the trivialisation of sex and marriage.
How few weddings most parish priests are asked to perform these days! I could show you parishes where 90% of baptised children have unmarried parents. Some urban areas are facing the wholesale breakdown of marriage and family life. More fathers walk away from their children than ever before in British history: feminist belligerence has provoked some of this irresponsibility.
When God wants to breathe new life into the world or into the Church, He rarely starts by forming committees. Instead, He sends the Holy Spirit and inspires a generous love in the hearts of His sons and daughters, to create a new religious family or a human family: a love that bears fruit in offspring. Every convert, every religious vocation, every baby is a sign of hope for the future of the world, and of God's confidence in humankind.
Each new child brings into the world a particular and unrepeatable "image and likeness" of God Himself. Therefore God is present in human fatherhood and motherhood in a very special way, as the source of this "image and likeness of Himself." This “image and likeness” exists primarily in the immortal soul, secondarily in the genetic constitution. Begetting is a continuation of the great act of creation.
Man is "the only creature on earth whom God willed for his own sake." Every person who exists has been willed to exist by God. You may have seen the car sticker: "Drive carefully, most people are caused by accidents." Amusing but totally untrue. Human beings may make "mistakes", but God does not. "At the moment of conception itself, man is already destined to eternity in God" (JP II).
The evil of contraception are evident in the way some modern “parents” taunt their offspring: “You are only here because there must have been a hole in the condom.” What does that do for a young person’s self-image? “I’m a contraceptive failure, a mistake, mis-begotten, unwanted, unloved.” No wonder we have problem kids on the streets. But they are the result of problem parents.
It is God’s plan that every youngster should have a secure and stable home background. The traditional family model is God’s model, not a social invention. It is the modern “alternative family structures” which are the unnatural social inventions. "The primordial model of the family is to be sought in God Himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of His life. . . The divine We is the eternal pattern of the human "we". (JPII, Letter to Families)
A growing boy or girl needs good male/female role models to teach him/her what it means to be a man/woman. When one parent is absent for whatever reason, the child is disadvantaged.
If this happens through the death of one parent, through the mourning process the child can grow into a deeper faith. However, it is more difficult to cope with divorce or infidelity. Children realise that the love which once brought them into existence is now denied, or grown cold, or turned to hatred. They are remarkably resilient, but divorce profoundly affects their behaviour and subconscious psychology.
The natural partnership of marriage is blessed and hallowed by Christ's Church with the graces of the Sacrament of Matrimony. A natural human love is transformed like water into wine, to share in the Divine exultation. Grace underpins the spouses' human love with a much stronger, divine Love, to deepen their joy and to see them through times of crisis: "love can be deepened and preserved only by Love," that love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.