Friday, January 25, 2019 - Updated: 11:35 am
Recently I ministered to a couple I knew as a child from my home parish, SS. Simon and Jude in Scott Township. They had been married for 63 years. The husband recently turned 89 years old, and his 86-year-old wife had been fighting a fierce battle with bladder cancer for the past three years.
Along with the husband were their four children at the bedside of their dying mother at UPMC Mercy Hospital. The family was praying the Divine Mercy chaplet went I entered the room and joined in the prayers with them.
The husband, who was formerly a Lutheran, converted to the Catholic faith, and for 63 years they put God first in their sacred union in the holy covenant of marriage. Their love was alive! He commented that he would love to have another 63 years. There was joy in the room as together we sang traditional songs such as “Amazing Grace” in giving thanks to God for the journey they traveled together.
The image of a wedding is a frequent method in the Old Testament to describe God’s relationship with his chosen Israel. Though often unfaithful, God always took her back, forgave her and turned her sadness into joy. As she awaited the coming of the Messiah, Israel’s hopes were expressed in terms of a wedding — a time of great rejoicing and celebration.
Jesus is the embodiment of the God of Israel. The Lord, the great builder of the entire universe, is married to his people in a special covenant relationship so we can participate in his divine life. Jesus, in one body, true God and true man, is the marriage between heaven and earth; he is the nuptials of God and flesh.
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus began his public ministry at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, where they had no more wine. The first miracle story of changing water into wine is a favorite of many.
Running out of wine was socially embarrassing for the couple, but perhaps a sign of how much people were enjoying themselves. The water that was changed into wine was not ordinary water — it was water that was blessed for ceremonial washing. This special water was not changed into vin ordinaire, as the French say, but top-notch wine. Scholars inform us that, as a result of this miracle, there were now six jars each holding 25-30 gallons of quality wine.
What a miracle. Indeed, it dumbfounded the guests. Some scholars say that the shortage of wine at Cana was symbolic of the spiritual dryness of Judaism at the time of Jesus. So the 150-180 gallons of wine is indicative of the inexhaustible riches of God poured out on the faithful believer.
Wine was a common symbol of God’s bounty and spiritual joy. Jesus not only produced a large quantity of wine, but the quality astonished the banquet master. In the same way, Jesus pours the Holy Spirit into each one of us in abundance, giving God’s very best.
In Israel, an abundance of wine was a prophetic turn of speech for ushering in the new Messianic age. The wedding feast was a sign of the heavenly banquet to which we are invited by virtue of our baptism. The bridegroom at this wedding is Jesus. The joy of the heavenly banquet would come after the suffering of Jesus: the cross, his death, his glory. And for Christians the cross is the ultimate blessing, as it is the source of eternal life.
To enter marriage is to enter a school of love. It is through faith that Jesus can transform the landscape of our everyday routine into choice wine. The children of the couple married for 63 years said, “Our parents lived a very spartan and simple life, and thus revealed God’s abundant love.” Let us sip the good red wine of contentment and the good white wine of gratitude.
Father Jones is a chaplain at UPMC Mercy.