The “ordinary time” of the Church year has just begun, and already we are taking up the important theme of unity, something that stands at the center of our faith and that is especially apropos in the present jubilee “Year of Mercy”. Today Saint Paul speaks to the early Christian community in Corinth about the distribution of various gifts to the faithful by the Holy Spirit. Next Sunday we will hear the continuation of this same passage, in which Paul underlines that each such gift is meant to build up the Body of Christ, and that no one should be envious of the gifts of others.
Paul’s interest in unity is not surprising: as he planted and nurtured many new Christian assemblies throughout the Mediterranean region he frequently encountered troubles among newly converted Christians. We hear about some of these potentially crippling disputes in First Corinthians when Paul refers to lawsuits between believers, immoral conduct, excessive dietary regulations, vestiges of pagan worship, contentions at the celebration of the Eucharist, and other problems (see 1 Cor 5-11). Faced with all of this disheartening internal strife Paul knew he had to lay down the law if these nascent Christian churches were to survive.
To that end he delivered the exhortation on gifts of the Spirit that we hear today, emphasizing that every person has been given a special role to play in the work of salvation, and that while these roles may differ in prominence they all come from God’s Holy Spirit and are thus not to be disdained or played against each other. Rather, Paul says that all gifts are meant for the strengthening of the Church and her members; whether a person has a prominent or a seemingly humble gift is not important, the fact that they use it for the glory of God and the unity of his holy people is what matters.
With this in mind we turn to the gospel account of the wedding at Cana, where Jesus transforms water into wine; this story is not only an anticipation of the later gospel feast at which he will establish the Eucharist, it also provides us with the opening of Jesus’ public ministry as it unfolds in John’s gospel. The start of his ministry is marked by the appearance on the scene of Jesus and of his mother: Mary’s gifts appear to be humble ones—she is never actually mentioned by name in John’s gospel—but they are important nonetheless.
First Mary recognizes the embarrassment of the wedding party, showing her maternal sensitivity and compassion, and then she demonstrates her awareness of her son’s extraordinary nature by directing the servants at the wedding to “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Mary is thus attentive to the needs of others, and leads them to her son. Sometimes actions such as these seem insignificant, yet if we think about it honestly being attentive to another person and tending to their needs by referring them to help are often critically important gestures, even representing pivotal moments in a person’s life.
Mary of course does not just refer the wedding servants to any “other” however; she directs them to her son Jesus, who is the source of all healing and salvation, and of all gifts which contribute to the unity and redemption of God’s holy people. Though she is not the one who brings about all these things Mary’s humility in accepting her gifts and using them for the good of all enables others to glimpse the possibilities of life with her son, and to make their own proper contribution to the unity of the Church. In this Year of Mercy, may we all employ our gifts humbly and joyfully like Mary, seeking to bring about unity and vitality in the living Body of Christ.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.