Homily of Bishop Noel Treanor, Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Whitehead
Parish of Carrickfergus
I. The Word of God : overture for the ordinary liturgical season until Lent
Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Lk. 3.15-16. 21-22). That feast rounded off the celebration of the incarnation of God as a human person in the child Jesus, born of Mary, and parented by her and Joseph. Today the liturgy of the Word pushes out the boat into what is called the ordinary season and for three weeks until Lent begins. Sunday on Sunday you will notice that the gospel readings for the Sunday readings for this Year C will come from the gospel according to Luke.
But you are right! Today is an exception.
The gospel text today is from the gospel according to John. Why? Why did the Church and its liturgists make this exception and take the account of the marriage feast at Cana as the gospel text for today?
In short, the liturgy of the Word on this Sunday is like a musical overture for rest of the liturgical year. As we set out to follow Jesus’ mission, his work, that will lead to Calvary and the Resurrection, this gospel text, the extracts from Trito-Isaiah and from St Paul underline the utterly new life that Jesus ushers in to human existence.
The setting for this first sign is a family wedding. Once again in an ordinary setting, this radical newness, this religious meaning, is seen at work.
Since Christmas the dominant scenes and contexts of God’s presence and of divine revelation have been the manger/ the crib, family settings and now a marriage scene. Next Sunday with St Luke the setting and context will move to the synagogue. Human ties, family, the theatre of human life and existence, are God’s first point of entry. Thereafter come the Temple, the Synagogue, the Church, where we celebrate and come to know God and whence we are sent each time to live and proclaim the Good News.
II Listening to the Word of God we engage with the eternal and inter-generational drama of salvation
So today’s readings score the overture of new life, new hope – the new Christ-centred dynamic – that makes a transforming difference. This new and different quality is reflected in water becoming not just wine, but new wine.
The lines from Isaiah chapter 62, one of a series of songs in Third Isaiah, leave behind references to world and everyday events and moves unto another plane, a plane of language about a vision and identity for a people of faith.
An identity is given in faith to Jerusalem, to God’s people, gathered after the horrors of wars, infidelity, consequent exile. That identity is given by God :
You will be called by a new name
One which the mouth of the Lord will confer (Is 62.2)
That identity is to reflect and refract a source of life and light from beyond itself :
You are a crown of splendour in the hand of the Lord
a princely diadem in the hand of your God (Is 62.3)
These images evoke our identity as Christians, received in baptism and lived through the witness of our lives as reflective of God’s love and presence.
The extract from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12. 4-11) hails the diversity of that witness, a reflection of the manifold and mysterious gifts of the Holy Spirit present in the Church, in this and every parish, in the Christian community.
As we listen to these extracts from the Word of God at Mass in our lifetime and generation, we are like the shepherds who went to the manger. We are like the servants who filled the jars with water, or the Magi who went in search for the child. We too have seen sometimes the great things God does … in our own lives, in the complex and oftentimes surprising web of our family lives and in communities. We, like each generation, have to live and pass on to others and the young this Good News, this Word of New Life in Christ.
III. This harsh world, “ red in tooth and claw”
How do we carry this faith, the new wine of Christian hope and resilience, and keep it alive in such a harsh world and against so much of human experience that seems to negate the love of God?
Your own recent experience here at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Whitehead, points up this question. Yet on foot of that lamentable and tragic attack, we see the power of the gospel at work within the entire Christian community here in Whitehead and the surrounding area. The support and the friendship you received from the Christian Churches here, make present in human terms the spiritual and powerful reality of the love, respect, mutual support in a Christian community that is capable of changing human hearts and structures of society. This same gospel-inspired Christian togetherness and witness to mutual respect and love has been seen in past and present in several other areas of this land.
This Gospel-inspired lifestyle is an essential key for the neighbourhood, economic and political future of our society.
As Christians living on this corner of a small island in an ever more precarious world, be we cleric or lay, politician, community leader, entrepreneurs, journalist or social commentator, we need urgently to waken up to the resources of our common Christian heritage to lead us out of the blind alleyways of fear-driven politics, divisive protests and self and mutually destructive violence. The week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a week when we all, in street, pub, club, back-room, public service, Church and temple, need to awaken to the urgency of the gospel call to each one of us to shape a future of respect and care for all without exception, no matter what our past. We need to do this before it is too late.
Sectarianism is a deep rooted and many-sided problem in our society. It is the local social virus of disrespect of the Other, of the Stranger, of the person who is different from me. The Gospel of Christ, shared by all Christians, is the ultimate antidote to this age-old disease that is crippling our society once again. Whitehead at prayer ecumenically shows the abiding transformative power of the sign wrought by Christ at the wedding feast in Cana (Jn.2.1-12) for this country and our society today.
As we approach the week of Prayer for Christian Unity and as you undertake the Inter-Church Walk this afternoon and the Inter-Church Service this evening, we should pray with all Christians that together we may witness to the power of the Gospel to change lives and outlooks here in Northern Ireland in such a way that fear is replaced by love, destruction by growth, and darkness by light. Amen.