Monday, January 14, 2019

Time to Speak, Time to be Silent

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Sometimes when we are presented with an opportunity to speak up, we would rather choose to remain silent. There are a myriad of reasons why we do so. Sometimes we tell ourselves, ‘We don’t have all the information to make an informed decision,’ or perhaps, we feel powerless to effect any change, or perhaps we fear rejection or risk being pulled beyond our comfort zone of anonymity. In any event, we think, ‘I’m not even on the committee – should I make this my business?’ The self-preserving spirit is constantly whispering in my ear – ‘Of what concern is this to me?’ We don’t speak up or get involved because we’ve been taught from a young age – ‘Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.’

In a world that chooses to silence any attempt at reminding us of our sins, what seems to have suffered more than the lack of cognizance of sins of commission, is that of, sins of omission. Catholics are very familiar with sins against charity by saying things we should not say: gossip, calumny, detraction and the like. But holding your tongue when you should say something is just as evil. Many people fail to understand that you can sin by omission as well as by commission. To not say what needs to be said when it should be said is a sin against justice and is a cooperation with evil.  Unfortunately, our indifference, our lack of positive action, and especially our silence doesn’t let us off the hook. The Civil Rights activist and preacher Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: “Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.”

In today’s familiar gospel story of the Wedding at Cana, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, saves the day by breaking her silence and then refuses to be silenced by what seems to be a rude rebuke from her son. Our Blessed Mother’s role in this First Miracle should not be trivialised. Instead of saying “Jesus and His Blessed Mother show up to the wedding”, it might be more accurate to say, “His Blessed Mother was invited to the wedding, and therefore He also was there”. The Blessed Mother is mentioned first. Jesus seems to be there because of Mary’s relationship to the couple being married. Furthermore, our Lord’s miracle was instigated by Our Lady’s charity, and she showed her charity not by keeping silent, but through her keenness of perception to know that there was a problem and her turning to Christ who could solve it.

The story highlights two essential points. The wedding needed Jesus. Without Jesus, the wedding would truly have been a disaster when the wine ran out. With Him in the picture, there is no need to press the panic button. But it is important to note that Jesus also needed Mary. In her compassion and empathy for others, she sees the coming disaster for the party and shame looming for the bridal family. Now, she doesn’t have a solution for the scarcity, but she notices when no one else does, not even the steward of the feast. Mary has the courage and tenacity to speak up. Mary alone sees the need and she sees the solution, it is her own Son.

You probably noticed that the name of the couple being married is not even mentioned. Pretty odd, isn't it? It seems to be the Holy Spirit’s way of showing that the events that took place at this marriage symbolise something much more for the whole of mankind.... beyond this particular couple. This is setting the stage for what happens between the Divine Bridegroom and His Bride. The Divine Bridegroom, of course, is Jesus. And the Church is represented by the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the first of all mankind to be born again in Jesus. Then the members of the Church, Mary’s children are represented by the others who receive Mary's instructions at the wedding: “Do whatever he tells you.”

It was St. Augustine who suggested that the Cana wedding somehow represents a much larger marriage between the Son of God and the Church, a marriage which is completed at Calvary. Calvary is the height of the marital commitment. Then we can understand why Jesus would address His own mother as “Woman.” This happens twice in the Fourth Gospel. The first time, at the Wedding at Cana and the second occasion, when He speaks to her from the cross. When He calls Mary “Woman”, it is because, what she is doing, she is doing on behalf of all of humanity. She is the new Eve. The Blessed Virgin Mary, the New Eve, begs the New Adam, Jesus, to hasten the “hour” that will restore humanity to its fullness, bring humanity eventually back to glory. Therefore, in both the story of the Wedding at Cana and the crucifixion scene, we see the pivotal role of Our Blessed Mother in the story of salvation.

Let’s come back to those last words of Mary to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” She doesn't tell Jesus, “They have a problem, fix it.” She does not insist or demand. She doesn’t chart out a course of action for Jesus, much less specify the manner in which Jesus must resolve the problem.  She leaves everything to the Lord’s judgment. Our Lady responds in obedience to the Son’s total obedience. Obedience to God’s will is a necessary condition for speech. She tells the servants to do what she herself would willingly do, “Do whatever he tells you.” These words carry much weight and significance because they are the last recorded words of Mary in the gospels. Thereafter, she observes a “vow of silence” throughout the gospel narrative and doesn’t even break it at the foot of the cross. Her last words would be her defining moment. It would mark her entire life’s mission – obedience to the will of God.

So, the readings today set us on two complementary, rather than contradictory, paths. One where we must raise our voices and another, where we must keep silent. In respect of the injustices and evil and the need for reform that we see around us, we must not be quelled into silence. Just like the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading, we must “not be silent.” When it comes to the gospel, we must shout from the rooftops. All of us are called to give witness, to preach the good news of Our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls. Even St. Paul tells us "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16). Like Mary, we must choose to speak out even when we risk inconvenience or embarrassment. We need to understand the great peril we are all in by keeping quiet about the Truth and about the Faith.

But then, Mary also shows us the value of silence. Mary's silence is not only moderation in speech, but it is especially, a wise capacity for remembering and embracing in a single gaze of faith the mystery of the Word made flesh. It is this silence as acceptance of the Word, this ability to meditate on the mystery of Christ, that Mary passes on to believers. In a noisy world filled with messages of all kinds, her witness enables us to appreciate a spiritually rich silence and fosters a contemplative spirit. Mary witnesses to the value of a humble and hidden life. Everyone usually demands, and sometimes almost claims, to have his or her entitlement fulfilled. Everyone expects esteem and honour. Mary, on the contrary, never sought honour or the advantages of a privileged position; she always tried to fulfil God's will, leading a life according to the Father's plan of salvation. Instead of saying “Do whatever I tell you, “ she teaches us that the most important words we must share with others is “Do whatever he tells you.”

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