The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Morning of Reflection: The Healing Ministry of Mary

About a month ago I was asked to lead a morning of reflection for the Ministers to the Sick of the parishes in our little corner of the Diocese of Orlando. I decided to focus this two-hour period of prayer and reflection on "The Healing Ministry of Mary." I gave the talk this past Saturday morning and have included it here in its entirety.

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The Unique Role of Mary

Good morning! It’s a blessing to be here with you today. And because I’m not a golfer, I can think of no better way to spend a Saturday morning. Let me begin with [another] prayer. After all, there’s no such thing as too much prayer.
Heavenly Father, we come to you this morning in praise and thanksgiving. We praise you and bless you and adore you, for it is through you alone that we have our very being.

We thank you for Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who brought redemption to a sinful world and offers us the gift of eternal life. Because we are gathered here in His Holy Name, we know He is with us.

We thank you for the gift of Your Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Wisdom. Father, send your Spirit to be with us today, to banish any trace of evil from this holy place and from our hearts, so all that we think, say, and do conforms to your Holy Will.

We thank you in a special way, today, for our Blessed Mother, Mary. For she is the perfect woman, the perfect mother, a gift to us from Your Son and her Son, Jesus Christ.

Finally, we thank you for our ministry, our ministry of healing to those who are sick in body, mind and spirit. Like Mary, may we learn the humility of always pointing, not to ourselves, but to Jesus, the source of true healing.

We ask all this is Jesus’ most precious name. Amen.
Well, now, isn’t that better, knowing that Jesus Christ is here with us this morning and that His Holy Spirit will be here as well to guide and inspire us?
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Before we start, let me take just a moment to introduce my companion in ministry, my wife, Diane, who for 43 years has supported me, encouraged me, taught me, prayed for me, occasionally chastised me, and through it all, loved me. She is the mirror of Mary in my life.
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When Donna asked me to speak to you, she also asked me to give this morning of reflection a title. Without really thinking very deeply about it, I suggested, “Why don’t I talk about the Healing Ministry of Mary?” Well, Donna seemed to think that was just fine, but later I said to myself, “What was I thinking? Why did I say that? What do I really know about Mary’s healing ministry? And how can I possibly spend a morning talking about it?” That’s when I got this funny feeling in the pit of my stomach …Oh, boy, what have I done?

But then I remembered that when I first volunteered to lead this morning of reflection, I had offered a brief prayer, just a few words, to the Holy Spirit. I hadn’t asked for anything specific. It was really just one of those little “Help me!” prayers. I’m sure you’ve all offered up a few hundred of those in your lives. Of course, I then immediately forgot about it.

Fortunately, the Holy Spirit doesn’t forget. How did St. Paul put it in Romans 8?
“…the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” [Rom 8:26].
And as Luke tells us, Our Lord Himself promised His disciples,
“…the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” [Lk 12:12].
So…I’d like to be able to blame any mistakes I make today on the Holy Spirit but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way. I think we’ll all agree that anything good today comes from Him; and, sadly, all the not-so-goods come only from me.
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A morning of reflection should include some time to reflect. And so, as we make our way through these reflections this morning, I will occasionally stop talking to give us all a few minutes to reflect in silence on the movement of the Spirit in our hearts.

These little personal moments of reflection and meditation may have nothing to do with what I’ve said. You may well find yourself confronting some other, seemingly unrelated corner of your life. For, as Jesus told Nicodemus…
“The Spirit blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” [Jn 3:8].
We are here in Jesus’ name and so God is with us. Accept His presence. Don’t resist the Spirit. Let Him move where He wills within you. Open your heart to Him today, and follow His lead. For through the Spirit, through Him alone, will you come to know God’s will for you.
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St. Francis of Assisi
Let me begin by saying: Peace and blessings to you!

That’s the very greeting of peace and well being with which Francis of Assisi embraced his 13th century world – really a Gospel message of healing. Francis had experienced such deep inner conversion that the peace of the Risen Christ permeated every fiber of his being. And so he was particularly sensitive to that which divided the human heart -- violence, hatred, envy, anger, lack of forgiveness, greed and materialism, illness – and pained by this division, he became an “Instrument of Peace” to so many who were deeply in need of healing.

Those who responded to his evangelical invitation discovered that life really was worth living and, and they discovered, too, a love far deeper than they ever dreamed possible. True liberation from those things that divide our hearts comes from allowing ourselves to be lifted by a God who loves beyond words. And Francis, the peace-giver, was one of those rare people who put others in touch with this source of all peace, this healing power of God…and in doing so he always turned directly to the Gospel.

Of course, we Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the source of this healing from which flows such gentle power. Jesus told us clearly, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly” [Jn 10:10]. And He went about that Holy Land of the Patriarchs bringing the remarkable gift of newness to people. Through a word, a touch, a smile, and sometimes a challenge, He brought physical, mental, and spiritual healing. And through these healings He brought to birth the Kingdom of God that has finally broken into a fallen world.

Now, to help Him in this ministry Jesus also gave us His Mother. I’m sure there’s no need here to exaggerate the role Mary played in the story of our salvation. It’s a role and a story with which we’re all familiar. The story of how Mary willingly and courageously accepted the remarkable mission God asked of her – how she agreed to bear the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

Her role is described well in the gospels, especially in St. Luke’s Gospel; for Luke paints the most vivid portrait of Mary…and what a portrait it is! He describes beautifully those scenes we all know so well.
The Annunciation by Gabriel at Mary’s home in Nazareth [Lk 1:26-38]…

The Visitation – Mary and Elizabeth greeting each other at the door to Elizabeth’s house [Lk 1:39-56]…

The birth of our Lord in the stable at Bethlehem [Lk 2:1-20]…

Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple [Lk 2:22-38]…

And years later, Mary and Joseph searching for and finding the young boy, Jesus, once again in the Temple [Lk 2:41-52].
Luke paints these scenes in rapid succession in the opening pages of his gospel…and then nothing…or almost nothing. Oh, the gospels include a few other scenes, but most are brief and fleeting.
In Mark, for instance, we encounter Mary on the road, seeking Jesus in the midst of the crowds that gather around him [Mk 3:31].

In John we see Mary at the wedding in the village of Cana, and we encounter her again at the foot of the cross [Jn 2:1-12; 19:25-27].

And finally, in the Acts of the Apostles, Mary joins the disciples in the Upper Room as they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost, the day the Church was born [Acts 1:14].
These are all wonderful scenes! Marvelous events! But they really give us only glimpses of the Mother of the Lord. And in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, we find a fleeting reference to Mary as a woman wrapped in the brightness of the sun [Rev 12:1-6]

But, in truth, Mary is more often a woman wrapped in something else; she’s a woman wrapped in silence. Indeed, one of my favorite books about Mary is titled just that: A Woman Wrapped in Silence. A woman wrapped in the silence of God.

And so, this morning I hope we can all take some time to join with Mary, to step into that silence, the deep silence of God on that day when, as a young girl, Mary was given a choice.

Have you ever considered what that choice could have meant for her? It could have cost her reputation in her hometown of Nazareth. It could have ended her engagement to Joseph. It could even have led to her being stoned to death by an angry mob. After all it was the people of Nazareth who later tried to kill Our Lord [Lk 4:16-30].

The Annunciation
We know the choice she was given. And, oh, are we ever grateful for the decision she made. But what I want us to contemplate today isn’t the choice she was given or the decision she made. What I want us to consider…is the silence…the deep silence that preceded her “Yes.”

What did Mary see in that deep silence of God? Was it a silence so deep, a sorrow so profound, that it carried within itself the shock of every crime, every sin ever committed, every evil plot ever devised. Did that silence reveal to Mary all that her Son would bear as He carried that Cross to His death? Did she realize then that the sins of the world would be laid across His back and pounded through His hands and feet?

What was the color of that silence? Was it as black as the night? Like a night in some back alley?  Or was it silver, like the flash of a knife or a sword?  Or was it red, like the color of blood? Or blue, like a bruise on the skin?

And, never forget, in the silence of that moment, the redemption of the human race hung in the balance. Was all this revealed to Mary in that instant when she pondered her decision and what it might mean? Did Mary peer into the very heart of God, into the sorrow of God?

I’m sure she did, because God wouldn’t hide the truth from her; He would want her to know what she was agreeing to, what this would mean for her and for her Son. How fortunate for us that Mary was “full of grace” – so full of God’s amazing grace that there was room for nothing else – no room for doubt, no room for cowardice, no room for selfishness, no room for the sins that so often turn you and me from accepting Our Lord into our hearts.

For only Mary, only the grace-filled one, could possess the depth of faith and courage to say “Yes” to God’s plan to deliver the world from the power of darkness, and from the evil we do to one another.

And what a remarkable plan! It’s a plan of love, a plan arising from God’s hope that we will turn from our sinfulness and accept Him into our hearts. It’s a plan of divine forgiveness, a plan founded on God’s desperate hope that His outrageous mercy might, someday, trump the power of addiction, the anger of revenge, the death of love and the violence of hate. And it’s a plan in which Mary played such a key role.

1,600 years ago the universal Church came together at the Council of Ephesus and gave Mary a title: Theotokos, a Greek word when translated literally “the one who gives birth to God” or “God-bearer”.  In doing so the Council confirmed that, yes, because she is the Mother of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, she is truly the Mother of God.

As the God-bearer, Mary brought Our Lord into the world, and presented Him as the Father’s gift to all humanity. And so, today, let us learn from her, and follow her example.

When we receive the Eucharist, when we receive the Real Presence, the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, we too become God-bearers. Just like Mary, we are called to carry Jesus to the world, to all the others in our lives. How especially true this is for you who are ministers to the sick, bearers of Christ’s Body and Blood. As we come together to reflect on our ministry as God-bearers, joining this ministry to Mary’s healing ministry, let’s also unite our prayers to hers.

Let us pray that the darkness of sin will be overcome in this world and that the light of love — the way of Mary’s Son — will take hold in our hearts and the hearts of all. Let us pray for peace: peace in the world; peace in our country; peace in our cities and communities.

But how often in our prayer do we focus only on the hearts of others – the dictators, the terrorists, the criminals, the haters, the selfish, the politicians, all those bad, bad people? Like the Pharisee who thanked God he was not like that sinful publican [Lk 18:9-14], how often do we focus on them but ignore what’s around us and within us? Oh, we are all guilty of this and so much more.

And so today we pray especially for peace in our parishes and peace in our homes; but most importantly, we pray for peace in our hearts.
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We’ll stop now for our first moment of quiet reflection.

Jesus, reflecting Mary’s response to the angel, tells us to pray, “Thy Will be done.” What obstacles to the Peace of Jesus Christ have you allowed the evil one to place within you? What’s keeping you from abandoning yourself totally to God as Mary did? What’s keeping you from accepting His Will?

A Personal Testimony

Now, what exactly is the healing ministry of Mary? I’ve decided to answer this question by taking a mixed approach – through Scripture and personal example and Church teaching. I hope this approach will help all of us understand that, through Mary’s intercessory prayer, we can experience the healing power of Jesus Christ.

Let’s first examine our devotion to Mary, a long-standing devotion that reaches back to the Church’s very beginnings. It’s a devotion that has its roots in the Gospel:
“From henceforth all generations will call me blessed…” [Luke 1:48]
These words of the Mother of Jesus are found in her beautiful prayer of praise, The Magnificat. Given to us by St. Luke, they are words of truth, prophecy and commission. Mary, having accepted God’s invitation to be the Mother of Our Lord, realizes that she has been truly blessed, and in all humility – for she can act in no other way – realizes too that those to come, “all generations”, will regard her in the same way.

It’s a prophecy and a statement of fact, but it’s even more than that. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Mary also issues a commission, a command, by that same Spirit to all generations, to the Church.

It’s also important to realize that, right before Mary prayed these words, Elizabeth foreshadowed them by greeting Mary, “Most blessed are you among women…” [Luke 1:42]

“Most blessed” – in other words Mary isn’t simply blessed as you or I might consider ourselves blessed when something good happens to us. No she is “most blessed”. She is unique among all women. And as Luke tells us, when Elizabeth uttered these words, she was “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

They are, then, words we must listen to, for they are not just Elizabeth’s words, or Luke’s words, but God’s Words. And as God’s Word it sets Mary apart from the rest of humanity. As Pope Benedict has written:
“The recording of these words in the Gospel raises this veneration of Mary from historical fact to a commission laid upon the Church of all places and all times.”

And this teaching by the Church is reinforced again and again in Scripture. Once again in Luke, we hear the angel’s words as he greets Mary. Gabriel, a messenger from God Himself, an angel always in God’s presence, obeys and greets Mary with God’s Words. A literal translation of that greeting is: “Rejoice, full of grace. The Lord is with you.”

And why should Mary rejoice? Because the Lord is with her…Oh, boy, is He with her – so with her that she is full of grace. She is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies; for example, the Messianic prophecy of Zephaniah:
“Shout for joy, daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, daughter Jerusalem!” [Zeph 3:14]
Mary, this young Jewish girl in Nazareth, preserved from sin as the perfect vessel for the Incarnation of the Son of God, is Daughter Zion. Indeed, the Greek word for “Rejoice” that Luke uses to translate the word spoken by the angel when he addresses Mary, is used only four other times in the entire Septuagint. And all four are prophetic announcements of messianic joy.

Yes, Mary is full of grace, so full that no sin can reside within her. For how could the Son of God share this living tabernacle with even the slightest presence of evil? And so, as we begin our examination of Mary’s healing ministry, which is also our ministry, I want to stress that where Mary is, so too is Jesus. Mary’s entire being, her one mission is to carry Jesus, to bring Him into and to the world, to point to Him always while exclaiming in all humility, “My soul doth magnify the Lord…”

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And so, once again I ask, what exactly is the healing ministry of Mary? Well, let me offer you two examples: one a very personal example and another an example from almost two centuries ago.

Some years ago, while going through a stack of family papers, I came across a letter dated March 8, 1945, and soon discovered that I was the subject of the letter. It was written to my grandmother by a Father Andrew, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement at Graymoor, in Garrison, NY.

Now I was just a little tyke at the time, having been born in the late summer of 1944. And I was also very ill. To this day I don’t know exactly what was wrong with me. I was once told it had something to do with my pancreas. Heck, I don’t even know where my pancreas is, much less what it does. I just know I have only one of them and it’s pretty important.

Anyway, the result was that I didn’t gain weight as a healthy baby should. Indeed, in all the photos of me at this time I bear a striking resemblance to those poor, starved souls who would soon be liberated from Nazi concentration camps. It seems I grew vertically, but not horizontally. I looked really pitiful, and the doctors pretty much agreed I wouldn’t survive.

But then my Irish grandmother went to work, praying and asking – badgering? – others to pray too, including, it seems, the Franciscans at Graymoor. In his letter Father Andrew really wasn’t very encouraging – some words about God’s will and “I’m sure everything possible is being done…” But, then, in his last paragraph, he wrote: “I am enclosing a little Miraculous Medal which you might like to send to his parents for him.”

Well, Grangi…isn’t that a horrible name for a grandmother? My older brother, her first grandchild, couldn’t pronounce “Grandma” and called her “Grangi” instead. Of course it stuck.

Anyway, Grangi did as he suggested and sent the medal to my mother where we lived outside Washington, D.C. It was during the War and my father was an Army officer. Anyway, Mom immediately pinned the medal it to my clothes. A few days later a doctor at Walter Reed Army Hospital diagnosed the problem and prescribed the cure. Within months I was a relatively normal, increasingly chubby, little baby. (Sadly, the chubbiness remains.)

Now I realize that no inanimate object, not even a medal blessed by a holy Franciscan, can heal anything. It’s not the medal, but God, who heals. But God heals in faith, through the faithful prayers and actions of those who love Him. And pinning on that medal was an outward, public sign of the faith of both my mother and her mother-in-law, my grandmother.

It was also a sign of Mary’s perfect faith, her perfect maternal love. Can anyone among us love Jesus more than His Mother? Can you imagine, then, the power of her intercession? For it’s that power we call on when we wear such a medal bearing her likeness. We are simply asking Mary to intercede for us, to go directly to her Son for our sake.

Recall the wedding feast at Cana when Mary turned to her Son and simply said, “They have no wine.” I’ve always thought that something similar happened on that March day in 1945, that Mary just turned to Jesus and said, “Their little boy is ill.” In both instances she merely described the situation and let her Son do the Father’s WiIl.

Now, how do I know Mary was involved? That’s easy. After all, it was through her that the Miraculous Medal, or the Medal of the Immaculate Conception as it is more properly known, came into being.

St. Catherine's Visions
Our Blessed Mother appeared in 1830 to St. Catherine Labouré, a young sister in the community of the Daughters of Charity in Paris. In a series of visions Mary described in detail a medal she wanted made, a medal inscribed with the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

Catherine informed only her confessor about these visions, and worked through him to ensure the fulfillment of Mary’s wishes. And in her humility Catherine did not reveal that she was the visionary until shortly before her death almost fifty years later.

With the approval of the Church, the first Medals were made in 1832 and distributed in Paris. Almost immediately the blessings promised by Mary began to shower down on those who wore her Medal, and the devotion spread like wildfire. Marvels of grace, health, and peace as well as many conversions followed, and before long people were calling it the “Miraculous” Medal.

One of the more remarkable of these miracles involved a wealthy Jewish banker and lawyer named Alphonse Ratisbonne. As a result of his brother’s conversion to Catholicism and subsequent ordination as a priest, Ratisbonne had developed a deep hatred for the Catholic Church.

But despite this, he had become friends with another convert, a baron who dared him to wear the miraculous medal and recite daily the Memorare, that beautiful prayer asking Mary to intercede. It was written by St. Bernard in the 12th century.

Mocking the faith and the Church, Ratisbonne agreed to do so while quoting a line from The Tales of Hoffman: "If it does me no good, at least it will do me no harm."  And with that, the baron's little daughter placed the miraculous medal around Ratisbonne’s neck. And he promised to recite the prayer daily.

In case you’ve forgotten, listen to the words of that brief prayer:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but, in your mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.
Such a simple prayer.

Ratisbonne Brothers, Priests
Anyway, not long afterward, while visiting a church to help the baron arrange for the funeral of a mutual friend, Ratisbonne had a vision. Here, in his own words, is how he described what happened to him:
"I was scarcely in the church when a total confusion came over me. When I looked up, it seemed to me that the entire church had been swallowed up in shadow, except one chapel. It was as though all the light was concentrated in that single place. I looked over towards this chapel whence so much light shone, and above the altar was a living figure, tall, majestic, beautiful and full of mercy. It was the most holy Virgin Mary, resembling her figure on the Miraculous Medal. At this sight I fell on my knees right where I stood. Unable to look up because of the blinding light, I fixed my glance on her hands, and in them I could read the expression of mercy and pardon. In the presence of the Most Blessed Virgin, even though she did not speak a word to me, I understood the frightful situation I was in, my sins and the beauty of the Catholic Faith."
As you might imagine, he converted, and later became a priest just as his brother had before him. And he was just one of many similar conversions attributed to the faith of those wearing the Miraculous Medal.

[Note: you can read about Alphonse Ratisbonne and his brother here.]

Again, there is no superstition, no “magic” connected with the Miraculous Medal. It’s not some good-luck charm. Rather, it’s a testimony to faith and the power of trusting prayer. Worn by the faithful, it’s a constant reminder that God’s greatest miracles are those of patience, forgiveness, repentance, faith, and conversion. God uses this medal as an agent, an instrument to bring about certain miraculous results, to manifest His Will in the world.

Don’t let others tell you this is mere superstition, for we encounter it also in Scripture. For example, in Acts Luke tells us:
“So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” [Acts 19:11-12]
And we see it as well in the gospel. Once again it’s a woman, another image of Mary in the world. Matthew devotes only 3 short verses to his description of this incident:
A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, "If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured." Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, "Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you." And from that hour the woman was cured. [Mt 9:20-22]
What a different healing we witness here! Following Jesus, this long-suffering woman, whose ailment makes her ritually impure in her society, dares not confront Jesus face to face. Her hope is manifested in her faith: “If only I can touch His cloak…” Such hope and faith and love are beyond words.

In faith she touches only the tassel on His cloak and is healed, physically and spiritually. Her faith in “Who He is” became so clear and certain that she leaps beyond the rules of men to attempt the one essential thing: to cling to God Himself, the one true source of the re-creation she seeks.

Jesus turns and looks at her, at her whole person and raises her out of the anonymity of the crowd. “Courage, daughter, your faith has saved you.”

The tassel of Jesus' cloak, like the face cloths and aprons that had touched St. Paul, or the Miraculous Medal I wear around my neck, have no power in themselves. It is our faith that saves us, a faith demonstrated by our use of such sacramental objects.

As He had on other occasions, Jesus provides the antidote to fear: courage. And again, too, the emphasis is not on the physical cure, but on salvation itself. Jesus is telling her, your faith has not only healed you and saved you, but it has transformed your life. Everything you do from now on will reflect the quality of that healing. You will live as one who has been healed, one who will now see your ailment as the occasion that brought me into your life.

Do you see now the different paths that lead to God’s healing power? We can be so filled with faith that, like the once-blind Bartimaeus, we leap with joy when the Lord calls us. Even before we are healed – a healing we never doubt, not even for a moment – we know that the healing and the call are all of one piece.

Like this woman who followed Jesus, are we willing to search for God and recognize Him when He comes to us? Are we humble enough to reach out to Him in faith, knowing all that we have, all that we are, all that we will ever be is a gift from God Himself? In her utter weakness, she trusts because she believes. It’s this childlike trust that God demands of us, His children.

A few years ago some dear friends made a surprise visit as the passed through central Florida on their way home. Diane and I had just had a late brunch, but we invited Nancy and Joe to join us for coffee and ice cream. And for the next few hours we just sat together in the living room telling stories about our grandchildren.

Now our friends have a grown son who suffers from Marfan’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue. One of his children, Allie, is a beautiful little eight-year-old girl who’s about as smart as they come. She also suffers from the disease, but bears her sufferings and pain with remarkable grace and humility for one so young.

Now Allie, who was only about four at the time, was sitting next to her grandmother in church when the congregation joined together before Communion in declaring their faith: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. Say but the word and I shall be healed.”

Allie turned to her grandmother and asked, “Grandma, what’s that mean?”

Nancy said quite simply, “It means that Jesus will always be there to take care of you.”

And Allie just smiled and said, “Good.”

Yes, it is good isn’t it? Little Allie sees what so many others don’t. It is good that only God loves with the love that can heal. It is good that our God loves so much that He’s willing to go to the cross for us. It’s good that Jesus on the Cross is God with skin on, a God up close and personal and touching, a God who actually cares for each and every one of us.

And He is God, brought into this world and given His humanity by a Mother who knows the humility of weakness, who knows the sorrow of a witness to suffering. But it is through this weakness, this humility that God manifests His power. As Mary told St. Catherine, “God has chosen the weak things of this earth to confound the strong.” She also said, “Now it must be given to the whole world and to every person.”

And over a hundred years later it was given to me, a sickly infant who would benefit from God’s healing power through the intercession of His Blessed Mother and the faith of two women in my life. And so, my personal introduction to Mary’s healing ministry occurred when I was only six months old, before I was even aware enough to appreciate it.

But Mary and her healing ministry have remained with me through all the decades that followed: encouraging me with her mother’s love; picking me up when I have fallen so many, many times; healing my broken spirit; and always…always turning me toward her Son.

You see, brothers and sisters, in her perfect humility this is Mary’s only desire: to lead us to her Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
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At this point I ask you to take few minutes to reflect on your own life, or perhaps on the life of someone close to you, in which Mary’s healing ministry became manifest. After a few minutes I’ll ask anyone who wishes to do so to share their reflection with all of us.

A Mother’s Love

How many mothers are here today? Well, moms, do you agree with me that when a child suffers, so too does its mother?

"Behold your Mother."
Think about it, then. Mary is our Mother as well. After all, didn’t Jesus give her to us as he hung on that Cross? Go to John’s Gospel and listen again to those words…
“Woman, behold your son…” and “Behold, your mother.” [Jn 19:26-27]
When we suffer, so too does Mary, except her love is greater than any other mother’s love. And she will do whatever she can to help us when we come to her in faith.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, in his wonderful little book, Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing, writes…
A mother’s love for her children is simple, deep, and unconditional. She loves her children simply because they are her children. She can’t help it.
There’s a wonderful passage in scripture, from Matthew’s Gospel, where we see this kind of maternal love clearly manifested. It’s not long, so let me read it now. It’s from Matthew 15:21-28:

Then Jesus went from that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

But he did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But the woman came and did him homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.
How wonderful is that, and at so many levels? Jesus has left the Holy Land behind and entered the unholy land of the pagans, the place of the Gentiles. And He’s being badgered by this Canaanite woman, this pagan, who keeps shouting at Him. Who is she?

The disciples certainly didn’t think much of her, did they? "Send her away…”

And isn’t it interesting that this pagan should come to Jesus as her Lord and Savior, using His Messianic title: “Lord, Son of David”? But we sense that this encounter between her and Jesus was long scheduled by the Father; nothing will separate them.

Yes, filled with the Spirit – for who else could tell her who Jesus is? – she comes to Jesus to be saved and Jesus comes to save her. What about our encounters with Jesus? Are they like this? Jesus is seeking you and me just as he sought her. He’ll gladly leave the holy behind and enter the land of our sinfulness. But first we have to turn to Him, just as she does, screaming her need, her fervent intercessory prayer.

“Lord, help me,” she cries. It sounds so self-centered doesn’t it? “Help me.” And yet it’s exactly the opposite; it’s completely selfless. For her daughter’s distress is her distress: “Have pity on me,” she begs. “Lord, help me,” she pleads, as if she and her daughter are one. She has become her daughter’s voice, her daughter’s hands…just as Jesus became One with the Father and became His hands, His feet, His voice, His Word in the world.

Yes, Jesus recognizes in this woman an image of His own mission. Does His silence, God’s silence, stop her? Does she turn away, or change her approach? No, because she knows that God’s silence is a sign of His grace.

And yet, she worries. Her questions, her worry, are no different from what we experience when faced with God’s silence. But if we would just stop worrying and listen, we can come to hear God’s Word in the silence.

Of course, the disciples can’t stand it: “For crying out loud, Jesus. This woman’s driving us nuts. Do something, will you?” But Jesus dismisses them just as He seems to have dismissed her: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." It shuts them up, but not her. Again she cries: Lord, help me. My daughter’s affliction, this evil within her, is my affliction. I am a loving mother just like your Mother. Help me, Lord.

And then Jesus utters that seemingly horrible insult: "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." How can He say such a thing? Isn’t He the Good Shepherd? Isn't He the merciful One?

Yes, He is. But He’s also the teacher and she is the student. He’s leading her and all of us to the Truth. And in her humility she doesn’t disagree, does she? Yes, we can almost hear her say, “I’m just a dog in search of its master.”

What a trump card she plays, for she knows what will result. In her deep faith, and filled with the Spirit, she knows Jesus will answer her prayer. After all, how can the Son of God turn her down? She could have asked Him, “What on earth are You doing here among the pagans? Is this Your plan, to encounter those in need and then just ignore them?” 

Oh, she understood the truth, the divine secret, that to win – to be overtaken and sheltered and saved – she must allow herself to be defeated by Jesus. She and you and I win only by submitting to God, by adoring God, and finding that adoration accepted.

Unknowingly, she is following the perfect example of Mary, the one who submits, the one who accepts the Father’s Will regardless of the consequences, the Mother who ponders these things in her heart. The whole drama is shot through with an indestructible passion of faith, with the woman’s inability to conceive of Jesus, of God, as anything but an inexhaustible fountain of mercy.

Yes, it’s all about faith. “Kyrie,” [Lord] she cries out four times in this brief encounter. “If you’re indeed the all-powerful Lord,” she seems to say, “then you must be Lord of all, the high and the low, the sheep of Israel and the dogs of the pagans. I don’t care which I am, only that I am with you. If you’re truly the One Son of the One God, then you too are my personal Lord, you too are my redeemer, and my rejoicing over it will never end.”

How different she is. So many today demand that God serve them at their table, but not her. She will gladly stay on the floor, under His table, at His feet. She has no problem with the glorious, heavenly crumbs falling from Jesus’ hands. For she knows that wherever Jesus is, there is abundance; wherever sin is, God’s compassion ensures that grace is there too, superabundantly. In the same way we know that in the Church today, at the altar, at the Eucharistic table, Christ’s mercy will forever rain down those crumbs of the bread of life.

"You’ve got great faith, woman," he says.Won't it be wonderful when he says the same thing to you and me?

But before that glorious day, we must respond to a more urgent question, a question God’s Word asks of each of us through this brief passage: How do you pray for others?

Do you see yourself as one with others, as united with those for whom you pray: “Help me, Lord.” Do you come to Him in faith, in the deep faith of one who knows that through God’s love nothing is impossible? Do you brush aside the discouragements, the obstacles, the oh-so-helpful people who tell you that God really doesn’t care about such things? He’s really not all that concerned about these little problems. And, yes, some of them are disciples.

Jesus calls us to be childlike, to come to Him with the faith and trust we see in children toward their loving parents. I can remember as a child, when I wanted to do something that needed my father’s approval, I would go first to my mother, begging her to “Talk to Dad. Get him to agree.”  She was very wise, though. If what I asked was problematic she would explain, calmly and lovingly, why it could not happen. She had a way of taking the sting out of the rejection. But if she thought it was okay, she would inevitably bring Dad around.

Yes, who is more loving than a mother? And no mother is more loving than the Mother of Our Lord. Again quoting from Fr. Longenecker’s book:
“Mary is like the mother who goes with her injured child as they enter the hospital to be healed. Mary is like the loving sister or aunt who sits by the bedside as we endure a long illness. She is like one of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity who care for the dying until...She doesn’t heal us. Jesus does. She is there as the vitally important sister, mother, nun, nurse, and friend. Her prayers are those of a mother for her children.”
By interceding for us, this is what Mary does: she brings God’s healing power and grace to a sinful people in a broken world. It is this sinful condition that leads to our broken world, for we too often choose evil over good. This is why we need Jesus. This was the purpose of the Incarnation: to provide the cure to the disease that is sin. This is why He healed, to make a frontal assault on sin and its symptoms. And in doing so He healed not only physically, but spiritually. He brought forgiveness of sin to every healing.

“Sin no more” [Jn 8:11], He told those He healed. “Repent and believe in the Gospel”[Mk 1:15].

This is why Mary is such a gift to us…for Mary, immaculately conceived, free from all sin, can be our guide to repentance, our guide to choosing good. She is the very best of mothers, concerned only for what is good for us.
_____________

Let’s again take a few minutes to reflect in silence, and ponder some things in our own hearts:

How does a mother’s love reflect God’s love for us? What does this mean to me personally, and how can I bring this to my ministry to the sick in a positive way?

We can share some of our reflections later.

Mary’s Healing Ministry: Taking Jesus to Others

The Church, entrusted with the extending Christ's mission in time and space, is given two essential tasks: evangelization and the care of the sick in body and in mind. Indeed, God wants to heal the whole of each man and woman, and in the Gospel the healing of the body is a sign of the deeper recovery that is the forgiveness of sins [see Mk 2: 1-12].

It’s not surprising, then, that Mary, Mother and model of the Church, is invoked and venerated as "Health of the Sick". As the first and perfect disciple of her Son, as she guides the Church Mary has always shown special love and care for the suffering. As witnesses to this are the thousands of people who go to Marian shrines to invoke the Mother of Christ and find in her strength and relief.

If I had to choose a favorite scene from the Gospels, it might very well be one depicted in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. You’ll recall the angel Gabriel told Mary that her relative, Elizabeth, had conceived a child in her old age and was now in her sixth month. And so Mary traveled from Nazareth in Galilee to visit Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah who lived in the hill country of Judea.

Luke provides a wonderful description of the arrival of Mary at the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah, an event we call the Visitation:
During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”


And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
[Lk 1:39-56]
At first glance these verses seem to tell us very little, other than providing us with a nice heartwarming and pious story. For too many, that’s probably the end of it; and they go on without giving these events a second thought.

But the Holy Spirit didn’t inspire Luke and his fellow evangelists simply to relate pleasant stories. No, He had a definite purpose, one you and I can begin to discern when we plumb the depths of meaning present in this brief passage.

Perhaps the best way to begin is to picture the scene in our mind’s eye. It’s a scene that artists, including virtually all the great masters, have tried to depict. But, you know, they all seem to miss something. Mary and Elizabeth are usually depicted very formally as if they were ladies in waiting at some Renaissance court.

Interestingly, such formality is totally absent from the scene described by Luke. To begin with, Mary and Elizabeth were Jews, women steeped in the exuberance of their Semitic culture. When they laughed, they laughed joyfully. When they cried, the tears flowed in torrents. And when they mourned, they wailed. They didn’t hide their emotions behind a facade of respectable restraint.

In fact, I have seen only one painting that depicts the scene as Luke describes it. I don’t know the artist’s name because it’s an unsigned illustration in, of all places, an old St. Joseph’s Sunday Missal. It shows the older Elizabeth, standing at her doorstep, her arms spread wide in greeting with a huge smile spread across her face. How does Luke describe it?
“Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb…’”
These words weren’t whispered. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, shouted them out to heaven itself. Maybe the world didn’t hear her, but I’ll bet her neighbors in that tiny village did…and so did the angels worshiping at the Father’s throne.

Thanks to that same Holy Spirit, Elizabeth knows who it is that visits her…and she is overwhelmed by the revelation. Her joy tempered by humility, she asks her young cousin a question. Although it goes unanswered, the answer is there, right before us in the person of Mary.

When she embraces Mary, Elizabeth knows instantly that everything has changed, that everything her people have longed for – freedom, forgiveness, salvation – is now alive among them. In a world where women could not legally testify, Elizabeth became God’s witness, testifying to the truth.
“But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Who indeed? Quite simply, Elizabeth is the mother of the prophet; but she is also someone in need. For one day, in that land of high plateaus and rugged valleys, the one who was barren became fruitful dispelling the emptiness of her life.

When the archangel reveals this to Mary, she doesn’t hesitate. For Elizabeth was old and would need support and assistance during the final months of her pregnancy. Driven by love, with no regard for her own needs or even the slightest tinge of pride in her new status as Mother of God’s only Son, Mary leaves at once to care for Elizabeth. And this was no stroll down the block. The journey from Nazareth in Galilee to the little village in the hill country of Judea was a long and perilous one, a good three or four days’ trek.

So what are we to make of Mary, this young girl, probably 15 or 16 years old, who would undertake such a selfless act of charity? Why does Luke include this incident in his Gospel? Because Mary is presented to us as a model, as the one who hears God’s Word, embraces it, and carries it out in her life. Conceived without sin and filled with God’s grace, her every act is in total accordance with God’s Will.

We see this first in her response to the good news of the archangel Gabriel, a response that God seeks from each of us. The Father didn’t command Mary to bear His Son. Rather, Mary is given a choice. And God awaits her answer. Not only God, but the whole world, the entire span of human history, the entire universe awaits Mary’s answer.

For in that decisive moment, God places the salvation of the human race, past, present and future, in the tiny hands of this simple, teenage Jewish girl. She need utter only one word to embrace the living Word of God in her womb.

Her response, a response straight from the heart, brings a sigh of joy from all creation: “Let it be done to me according to your word” [Lk 1:38]. It is a choice of total abandonment to God’s Will. As Elizabeth proclaims, “Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.” Yes, Mary is the woman who has trusted, who has believed, who said “Yes” to God’s Word and acted on it.

On this visit to Elizabeth she carries Christ not for herself, but for a world in need. And fittingly, given the plague of abortion that has spread across our planet, the first person to greet her as Mother of God is an unborn baby, John the Baptist, who leaped for joy in his mother’s womb when Mary first arrived.

Here in the hill country of Judea, in the boondocks of this insignificant corner of the Roman Empire, two surprising babies met and danced to the beat of their mothers’ joy. In an extraordinary moment, two pregnant women — Mary, at the beginning of her life, Elizabeth, moving toward its end – greeted each other in wonder and delight. 

And so, what do Mary and Elizabeth offer us today in our ministry? In our world, where the bodies of women and children are too often abused and discarded, these two holy women remind us that our bodies, all bodies, are temples. Through their witness we are reminded that we, too, are blessed — that God is with us, no matter how barren or forsaken we might feel.

Elizabeth shows us how to stand unafraid in the barrenness of the world and wait joyfully for the coming of the Lord. Yes, and we learn how to wait for Christ. Not only for His second coming, but for His constant coming every day – His coming as He first came to us, in poverty and powerlessness.

This is not pious rhetoric, but the Word of God. Jesus comes to us in the hungry, the thirsty; in the homeless stranger; in the old and the tired, in the sick and the shackled. Mary saw that even before Her Son proclaimed it.

In her Magnificat, her song of joy, Mary rejoices that God has “looked with favor on His lowly servant.” He “has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things.”

The problem is, today God fills the hungry not with miraculous manna from heaven, but through us. And the hungers of the human family cry out to us: hunger for bread; hunger for freedom from persecution; hunger for peace; hunger for God. Their cry is more than a human cry; it is a cry from the Gospel itself, from the Word of God.

As Jesus’ disciples, to model ourselves on Mary we must listen to that Word and act on it in the circumstances in which God places us. One thing is certain: God is not telling us to do nothing.

Discipleship isn’t easy. It doesn’t come cheap. It demands that we, like Mary, become bearers of Jesus, carrying Him to those in need. And like Mary, God gives us a choice. The same choice made by the Apostles when they heard Jesus say, “Come, follow me.” For us, it’s a choice founded on the certainty of God’s promise of eternal life. It’s a choice founded on faith and on hope, a hope of expectation, the hope of Jesus’ second coming when He returns in power and glory. This is the other Advent that we will celebrate in a few weeks.

The question for us, then, is will we, like Mary, make that choice? Can we set aside our willful natures and abandon ourselves to living according to God’s loving will? The good news is in the promise of Jesus, given to the Apostles at the Last Supper:  “Whoever loves me will keep my Word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” [Jn 14:23]

So, you see, Christ wants to dwell within each of us, to make us God-bearers, so, just like Mary, we can carry Him to others. With Christ deep within us, and seeing Christ all around us in others, our lives can become a ceaseless Advent, a visible sign to the world of His love and His final coming.

We need only join with Mary’s voice and say, “Whatever you want, Lord,” and then do what he tells us. It’s never too late, for He continues to call us to Him all the days of our lives. As Gabriel told Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
____________

And so, let’s look at Mary more closely, at her ministry and ours. And let’s begin with a seemingly simple question: What exactly are we?

Too often we measure ourselves and others by what we do, not by what we are. When we’re getting to know someone for the first time, we often ask them, “What do you do?” It’s as if we define the person by his or her occupation rather than by who they really are.

I once worked for a Catholic college in New England. One afternoon, at a reception attended by faculty, staff, alumni and large donors, I was asked by an alumnus, “And what do you do?”

I don’t know what came over me, but I couldn’t resist. I simply said, “I’m a Christian struggling to do God’s will in the hope of achieving eternal salvation.” You should have seen the look I received.

But how about you? How would you answer that question? “Oh, so you’re a minister to the sick…what does that mean?”

Would you simply respond: “Oh, I just visit sick people and usually take them Communion.”

Or would you say to them: “It’s a wonderful ministry, a gift from God. And I thank Him by trying very hard to be what Christ wants me to be. I am a servant, a bearer of the love of Jesus Christ to the ill, the lonely, often the forgotten, the hurt, the angry, the grieving, the despairing, the dying, the loved, the faithful, the joyful, the prayerful. I am a conduit, through which Jesus’ takes His healing power to those in need. I am a gift-giver who offers others Our Lord’s precious Body and Blood and all the miraculous graces that flow from it. Yes, through the grace of God, I am a bringer of grace. I am an evangelist.”

Is that what you tell people when they ask, “What do you do?”

Mary, of course, was the very first evangelist; for it was Mary who left Nazareth and first carried God’s Living Word, God Incarnate to His people. And what greater act of healing can there be, than to take Jesus to others.

Does your soul, like Mary’s, proclaim the greatness of the Lord, magnifying God in the sight of His people? Do you show others how the Mighty One has done great things for you, and holy is his name?

Is your ministry the mirror of Mary’s? Do you ask her to accompany you as you minister to the sick? Think about that. For just as Mary carried Jesus Christ, her Son, to others, so too do you carry Him in the Eucharist to those in need of his healing graces.

Don’t view your ministry, this remarkable gift from God, in such narrow terms that you fail to grasp the fullness of your mission. For you, too, are evangelists, bringers of the Word of God. But is this reflected in your ministry? Do you approach God’s people with joy, just as Mary did? Do you make those you visit – the sick and the lonely – do you make them an offering in your prayer?  Is your prayer one of praise and thanksgiving, a prayer conformed to God’s Will? When you bring Jesus Christ to His people, do they realize Who you’re bringing to them? Are they filled with joy? Are they like the unborn John who leapt in his mother’s womb?

Maybe all we really have to ask is, “Do you love?”

You see, brothers and sisters, we don’t exercise our ministry to make us feel good because we’re doing good. What profit is there in that? How did Paul put it?
If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. [1 Cor 13:1]
In other words, unless they are done out of love, our actions mean little. Our love reflects God’s love. I know you’ve all heard and read Jesus’ description of the last judgment found in Matthew 25. But have you thought deeply about it? Listen to God’s Word:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’

And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’

Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’

He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
[Mt 25:31-46]
Did you notice the condition, the demand that that we see Jesus in others, especially in those who are suffering? Of course you did. We’ve all heard this passage many times. We know what Jesus is telling us; we just don’t always want to hear it.

At our soup kitchen in Wildwood, we have a guiding principle that as volunteers we try to follow. It says quite simply, “We don’t serve food; we serve Jesus Christ.” This is what Jesus wants from us, to see Jesus Christ in others and to be Jesus Christ for others.

The exercise of our ministry should be a time of celebration, a time in which you share the joy the comes from knowing we are loved by God. A visit to those who are ill in body, mind or spirit is a coming together in worship. And God wants us to celebrate when we worship. He wants us to share not only in the remarkable gift of the Eucharist, but also in each other's joys and sorrows.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He didn't begin with, My Father. He began with Our Father. And He didn't end by saying, "…deliver me from evil," but with, "…deliver us from evil." He didn't choose one apostle, He chose twelve. And He didn’t send them out alone; He sent them out in pairs.

For God, in His infinite wisdom, knows that we need each other to accomplish His Will, that we need His Love, manifested through the love we have for each other, to achieve salvation. St. Paul recognized this. In his First Letter to the Corinthians he celebrates the many spiritual gifts that we, as Christians, receive from the Holy Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, works of mercy, prophecy, discernment, prayer in the Spirit…all wonderful gifts. But each person, each gift, by and of itself, needs the others to make a whole. [1 Cor 12:1-11]

Later in that same letter to the Corinthians, Paul states emphatically that the Body of Christ does not consist of one member but of many. He goes to say: "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together." [1 Cor 12:26]

We see this as well in chapter two of John’s Gospel in which we find Jesus, accompanied by His Mother and His disciples, at a wedding feast at Cana. Yes, Jesus joins His people in a joyful celebration of marriage between a man and a woman. But more than that, He sanctifies this marriage by performing His first public miracle – not at a time of human sorrow, but of human happiness. John draws the picture of a Jesus who could enjoy Himself. Jesus chose to be there, to take part in this very human celebration, this party. It wasn’t beneath Him, but was something He sought. The Christian, who goes through life with a long face, spreading gloom behind him, should meditate long and hard on this Gospel reading.

Earlier we remarked that Mary, in the midst of the wedding celebration, noticed that the wine had run out, and so she turned to her Son and said, "They have no wine." Mary doesn't tell Jesus what to do, she merely states the problem: They have no wine.

Once again Mary is our model in prayer. God expects us to come to Him with our problems and worries, but how often do we insist on our solution, not realizing God might have something far better in store for us? But not Mary. She lays the problem at her Son's feet and lets Him provide the solution.

How does Jesus respond? "Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come." What is this "hour" about which Jesus speaks? None other than that hour of the Last Supper, that hour of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, that hour as He awaits death hanging on the cross. It is this "hour" when he says: "This is my body, take it; this is my blood, drink it." It is this hour when He takes us, His people, His Church, as His spouse in an unbreakable marriage that nothing, not even sin or death, can overcome. "I will love you," Jesus assures us, "no matter what. Even if you scourge me, crucify me, and put me to death, I will come back from the grave to love you, because nothing can make me not love you." This is the hour that at Cana is yet to come.

But even when it seems Jesus has turnd her down, Mary doesn't give up. No, she simply turns to the waiters and instructs them to stand ready. Her faith and trust in God remain firm and solid. You see, the dialogue between Mother and Son wasn’t about wine. It was about setting events into motion, events which would lead to Jesus' crucifixion, death and resurrection. Mary, moved by the Spirit, wordlessly tells her Son, "No, that hour has not yet come, but it is time to begin what you are here to do."

And as the Gospel tells us, it was at Cana that Jesus "revealed His glory and His disciples began to believe in Him" [Jn 2:11] For once the people saw Jesus' glory, they would proclaim him as Messiah, making his hour, his death, inevitable.

In reality, then, Mary was more concerned about us than she was about herself or the bride and groom. For in asking Jesus to perform this miracle, she is asking him to begin His work of redemption, His work of healing the world, a mission that can end only on the Cross. And, Jesus? Again, from Fr. Longenecker: “He did something new and unexpected…at the wedding feast, and as you come to know His forgiveness, look for Him to do something new and wonderful in your life of love.”

And so Jesus changes water into wine, and the huge jars are full and overflowing with forgiveness, and act that anticipates His gift to us, changing wine into his precious blood. Jesus, then, is a gift in time from the very heart of Mary, and a gift from all eternity from the very heart of the Father. A gift, yes; but also a demand, an urgency…for the last words we hear Mary speak in Scripture are simply, "Do whatever He tells you" [Jn 2:5].

Mary instructs us. For with this gift we are challenged to believe in Him, to do what He does, to be what He is. This, brothers and sisters, is our vocation, the vocation of every Christian: to spend our lives changing the dark waters of despair into the wine of hope; to celebrate, with Mary, our joy over God's enduring love for each of us.
________________

[Note: thanks to Fr. Dwight Longenecker, author of Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing; thanks to Dr. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, whose meditations on Matthew's Gospel -- Fire of Mercy, Heart of Word: Volume 1 and Volume 2 -- were the catalyst for many of my own meditations; and to Pope Benedict XVI whose writings always inspire me.]

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