Bishop Fulton Sheen once summed up the entire Bible in two words: divine nuptials. A rhetorical exaggeration perhaps, but I used it as a key in a two year study that involved reading every word of the Scriptures and the best commenataries available. The marriage theme kept recurring. The Bible opens with the creation of the first human pair and the institution of marriage ("for this reason..." Gen 2:24). It ends with the nuptial banquet where Christ takes his bride forever. (Rev 19:7) Between we see the struggle to form a faithful people.
Today's readings contain explicit nuptial references. Isaiah compares Yahweh to a young man who marries a virgin. (62:5) His loves transforms her. She used to be called "Forsaken." Now she has a new name, "My Delight."
Caution is required here. We can hear these words in terms of pop psychology. "She recovered her self-esteem." A feminist addendum might even creep in, "But why did she need a man to do it?"
Such analysis misses the point. The primary focus is not how the bride (Israel) changes, but utter amazement at the groom (God). The intensity of His love can only be compared to the moment the young man sees the bride and realizes she is his.*
Today it is harder to appreciate that intensity. Pornography has become a tidal wave and casual sex the staple of prime time TV.** It debases the currency. When I was in Peru the exchange went from 17 per dollar to one million. The money became a source of cynical, often bitter humor. Something similar has happened to sex. Not that folks don't want it, but it just doesn't have much value. Fiscal discipline restored the worth of Peruvian currency. To appreciate the biblical teaching we first need a certain asceticism. Someone who can help us is G.K. Chesterton. He has a wonderful reflection:
I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself. To be allowed, like Endymion, to make love to the moon and then to complain that Jupiter kept his own moons in a harem seemed to me (bred on fairy tales like Endymion's) a vulgar anti-climax. Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once. It was incommensurate with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. Orthodoxy
Jesus went a step further than Chesterton. He restricted himself not to one, but none. But he was celibate not because he disparaged sex. Just the opposite. He was not destined to be a bridegroom, but rather the bridegroom. We see that in today's epiphany, the occasion Jesus chose to first reveal some of his inner reality. How much Jesus loves young married couples! He rejoices with them. He did not get married because he is the inner joy of every Christian marriage.
He performs this miracle at the urging of his Mother, whom significantly he calls "Woman." Before the primeval sin our common mother was referred to as "the woman." (Gen 3) By the time of St. Irenaeus (2nd century) Christians saw Mary as the New Eve.
So often women "set the agenda." Here Mary does that for the New Adam - so gently ("they have no wine...do whatever he tells you") that she apparently hastened his "hour." To give his mother such influence does not imply Jesus was in any way "out of control." Rather he allowed her a role at crucial points in his work of salvation. Tim Staples, whom I referred to in an earlier homily, does a nice job reflecting on Mary's role as co-redemptrix.***
The abundance - even the extravagance - of God's nuptial love comes home in today's miracle. One hundred fifty gallons of wine, after all, is an enormous quantity. But it is a tiny sip compared to what Jesus has reserved for his bride.
*God is hardly like a modern American suitor who wants the girl, but also wants to keep his options open. He's more like a few guys I've known - single-minded, almost obsessed, tortured with jealousy, determined to do practically anything to have the girl.
**Of course, pornography has been around since we learned to write and draw, but modern techology has increased its reach. Guess which websites get the most hits. (Clue: it's not Simple Catholicism nor the Vatican Homepage.) And bawdy jokes have always been a part of comedy, even great comedy such as Chaucer or Shakespeare. However, unlike much of prime time TV, they also offer us three dimensional characters and plot development.
***To appreciate this designation think of co-pilot or co-chairman. The pilot flies the plane; the co-pilot has a supporting role.
Bulletin (Jan 14, 2001)
An Application to the Question of Women Priests
Nuptial Significance of Celibacy
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
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