Sunday, January 17, 2016

Three Important Lessons on Prayer that We Learn From the Wedding at Cana

(Second Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on Sunday, January 17, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 2; 1-11.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday 2016]

Today I will share with you three simple but very important lessons on prayer—lessons that we learn from this gospel story of the wedding at Cana.

Now the first thing that needs to be mentioned is that this story is not about prayer per se.  In fact, the word “prayer” is not found anywhere in the text.

But Mary in this scene intercedes with Jesus on behalf of a newly married couple—and making intercession is one of the things we do when we pray (specifically when we pray prayers of petition).

Which brings us to lesson number 1 from the story: Mary is a powerful intercessor, so we should ask her every day to pray for us and with us as we bring to God our needs.

The power of Mary’s prayers is evident in the very fact that Jesus takes action here and honors her request—a request she obviously made out of love and concern for these newlyweds.  As some of you probably know, wedding celebrations in the Middle East in the first century lasted for several days, and wine was considered an indispensable part of the festivities.  Consequently running out of wine would have been a humiliating situation for this bride and groom to have to deal with—what the Italians of today would call a “brutta figura”!

And Mary knew that.

Now the interesting thing here is that Jesus does not initially respond to the request with a yes, indicating that he had not originally planned to perform this miracle.  But even this witnesses to Mary’s intercessory power!  As it said in one commentary I read recently, “Jesus’ reply seems to indicate that although in principle it was not part of God’s plan for him to solve the problem the wedding feast had run into, our Lady’s request moves him to do precisely that.”  (The Navarre Bible: The Gospel of Saint John, page 61)

So if you haven’t been asking the Blessed Mother to pray for you and for your intentions, make sure you start—today.  The easiest way to tap into Mary’s intercessory power, of course, is to say a Rosary—or at least a decade of the Rosary—every day.

We all have time for at least one decade a day.  No excuses.

This brings us to the second lesson we learn from this story: Prayers do not need to be complicated to be effective.  Mary’s request here is very simple, is it not?  In fact, the request is not even explicit, it’s only implied.  Mary simply makes the need known to Jesus: “Son, they have no wine.”  Period!  The implication, of course, being “So please do something to rectify the situation.”

A simple statement with an implied request—but highly effective!

The fact that our prayers don’t need to be complicated really came home to me several years ago when I was listening to a talk by Charlie Osburn.  Charlie is a Catholic layman who’s a kind of travelling evangelist.  He goes around the country proclaiming the Gospel in parishes, and at conferences and the like.  He was a mediocre Catholic in his early years, but as an adult he experienced a deep conversion and really came alive in his faith.  Not surprisingly he was very excited about his relationship Jesus when he first had his conversion, and one of the things he felt called to do at the time was to visit the local nursing home to pray with the residents there—especially for healing.  (This was before the HIPAA laws restricted people’s visiting rights.)

So he would go from room, praying with people and praying over people—often with long, spontaneous, pious prayers which were sometimes in English and sometimes in tongues (the gift St. Paul speaks about in today’s second reading).

He did this a number of times over the course of several weeks, but he didn’t notice any dramatic changes in anybody.  Now I’m sure his prayers had many positive effects, but Charlie didn’t see those effects with his own two eyes, so he began to get discouraged.

Yet he still made his visits.  Well, one day when he was feeling very discouraged, he went into a room and found a relatively young woman there all curled up in the fetal position.  Her limbs were contorted, and she was non-communicative (she was either unable or unwilling to speak).

Charlie then uttered one of the shortest and least-enthusiastic prayers he ever said in his life.  He said, “Well Lord, if you can do anything to help this dear sister, please do it—in the name of Jesus.  Amen.”

And he walked out.

A couple of months later he was giving a talk at a local parish, and when the talk was over a rather attractive woman suddenly ran up to him very excitedly, threw her arms around his neck, gave him a big kiss on the cheek and said, “Charlie, do you remember me?!!!”

As I recall the story, Charlie’s wife was standing close by, and Charlie shouted, “No ma’am I do not remember you!”  Then he turned to his wife and said, “Honestly, dear, I’ve never seen this woman before in my life!”

But he had seen her before—he just didn’t recognize her!  She was the woman he had prayed over that day in the nursing home.

Obviously she believed that his prayer had been instrumental in bringing her the healing she needed.

It was a very simple prayer that Charlie had uttered; it was an uncomplicated prayer—similar in those respects to the one Mary spoke to Jesus during the wedding at Cana.

And it was effective—just like Mary’s was.

This brings us to the final lesson on intercessory prayer that we learn from this story, which is that Almighty God has made some things in this life conditional.  This means that if we don’t ask the Lord for those things—those conditional favors—we will not receive them.  Mary asked her divine Son to do something to help these newlyweds avoid a potentially humiliating situation at their wedding feast—and Jesus took action.  Had she not made that request, we have no reason to believe that Jesus would have performed this particular miracle.  Mary’s intercession was key—as was the obedience of the stewards.  Had they not followed Jesus’ instruction to fill the six stone jars with water, there would have been no wine even with Mary’s intercession!

I think there’s an insight here as to why the prayers of holy people are so powerful: they ask—but they also obey God in their own personal lives.  And so, because they add their obedience to their intercession, they end up receiving many of those favors that God has designated as “conditional”—for themselves and for others.

Mary is a powerful intercessor; prayers do not need to be complicated to be effective; and God has made some things in this life conditional—three lessons on intercessory prayer that we learn from the wedding at Cana.  Let me end now by inviting you to join me in putting these lessons into practice.  Let’s now lift up all of our needs, and concerns, and burdens to the Lord, seeking our Blessed Mother’s powerful intercession as we say together …

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.