Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Theme: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Today’s gospel passage recounts the first public miracle that Jesus performed, changing ordinary water into a fine wine for the wedding guests at Cana. We know that this first miracle was followed by many others as recorded in the gospel accounts. But this is only the beginning of the story as attests John the Evangelist in the very last verse of his gospel: “There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) Indeed, that record of miraculous events is still being written in our own day, and a few years back I was witness to the hand of God authoring a new chapter.
The hospital pager beeping at 1 AM on a frigid Saturday morning, I called in to learn that a young woman, 27 year-old Hannah, was dying, and her gathered friends had requested that she be anointed. As I dressed, I wondered what it could be that would carry such a young woman home in the cold and dark.
Arriving at the hospital, I learned that AIDS compounded with lupus was a quick ticket to heaven for frail Hannah. Reaching her room, I could hear laughter and singing even before I knocked on the door. Opening it revealed a loud yet tender scene. Were the sound muted, it looked like the biblical holy women preparing the body of Jesus for burial. On the bed lay Hannah, young, small, African-American, and surrounding her were four equally young Caucasian women, two sitting on each side of the bed, each massaging one of Hannah’s limbs with a fragrant lotion.
Introducing myself, I sat down next to them, learning from the friends that Hannah had no family to speak of since her escape from an abusive relationship in New York City. She’d found her way to an Albany battered women’s shelter, and it was here that she had discovered in the four at her bedside more understanding and support than she’d ever known in her life.
As I watched Hannah’s labored, shallow breathing and heard more of her story, my eyes adjusted to the dim light in the room, and then did I realize how toughened the four friends appeared. Multiple tattoos and piercings marked their undernourished bodies, and their young faces seemed to have lost forever the softness of innocence, the struggle with adversity now a permanent imprint upon them. They looked hardened and they talked hardened, yet they were so tender as they cared for Hannah. These angels would assist her into God’s embrace this night. Praying together with them the ritual words of anointing, each then blessed Hannah, tracing the Sign of the Cross on her forehead. The dawn didn’t bring Hannah’s release, though. Her vital signs had improved, and she was even experiencing moments of consciousness. Her weary friends, determined to remain with her throughout the final journey, slept in shifts, two remaining in the room while two had escaped to the hospital cafeteria for breakfast. There I found them engaged in loud, indelicate conversation, their appearance and demeanor causing the more refined clientele, I imagined, some upset. I joined the two for an update on Hannah’s condition since leaving them earlier that morning.
There, in the bright morning light, I heard the raw details of Hannah’s fatal diagnosis. In words harsh and occasionally obscene, I heard about the biological family in New York City that had abandoned her, refusing even to call when told of her impending death. And with further prodding did I hear of the painful lives of the four friends from the battered women’s shelter who now were more family than ever Hannah had known. Amazingly, Hannah lingered for a week, that singular night when I was called just a rehearsal for the actual event. But her now more frequent moments of consciousness provided her four friends time to entertain her with tawdry stories from the shelter, to sing to her in loud off-key voices, to massage her afresh with the fragrant lotion that seemed heaven’s balm for a weary spirit. Who could want to leave such care even for Paradise?
In today’s gospel passage, recounting the miraculous changing of water into wine, we hear that “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11) In our own day, Jesus continues to change water into wine, continues to make wondrous the seeming ordinary, transforming even the raw and tough- looking into heaven’s guardian angels.