2004—Second Sunday in Ordinary Time—C
My cousin Margaret died the other day. Margaret was more than 90 years old when she died. Margaret was an extraordinary woman. Her career as a nurse and head of nurses spanned many decades. She was a gifted musician and a "barrel of laughs". She had an independent spirit and was "gutsy" enough to hold her own in a man's world of medicine. In a way she embodied the "single vocation" that the Church speaks about as an authentic vocation but that always seemed to play second fiddle to priesthood, religious life and marriage. She was a single-minded professional woman with a strong faith and love of life. In fact, Margaret was not single. Her life's partner was her sister, Genevieve. It was rare in the family to mention one without the other in the same or next breath. In fact, Margaret and Genevieve, were more like "aunt's" (that's aunts for those of you who do not speak with a New York dialect). As children, my brothers and I loved their visits, especially at holiday time. They always brought with them a cake with real whipped cream in the center, chocolate frosting and generously dotted with M and M's. IT was even better the second day after a night in the "icebox". (Yes, that's what we still called it in the 1950's!) But then something happened to bring to an end those wonderful visits of M and G. There was a "falling out". Something was said or not done by my grandparents and Margaret and Genevieve cut off all communication with my family. I think it took ten years at least to heal the hurts of what had or had not happened. All I know is that as a child, it was such a loss not to have these two special women in our family lives. Thanks be to God, time does heal most memories and eventually there was some communication again. But all that lost time! And for what?
I speak of my cousin Margaret today in the light of the scriptures we have just heard. I can imagine Margaret like Mary in today's gospel, speaking up and out, because of what she saw. In this passage about the wedding feast of Cana, we are witness to a fascinating interaction between Jesus and his mother. Mary informs Jesus of the problem and despite his reticence to get involved she takes charge and says to the servers. "Do whatever he tells you". Knowing Jesus, not only as her son but as the person he is, she trusts that he will ultimately share her concern as she shares in his mission. The picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is extremely complex as it is filtered through the different gospels. A passive, submissive woman who "knows her place" is most often the image that is projected and preached. Here we have a woman who is active and assertive, who knows what needs to be done.
In her recent book, Truly Our Sister, Elizabeth Johnson gives a revolutionary portrait of Mary. She makes the reader rethink the person of Mary of Nazareth in a way that enables us to see her as a real woman of her time and place and not just an icon of holiness. In her commentary on this passage from the Cana gospel, she says
"Acting in a decisive and confident manner, Mary named the need and took initiative to seek a solution. Because she persisted, a bountiful abundance soon flowed among the guests. Feminist reflection espies here the kind of woman whose movements typically run counter to the expectations of idealized femininity. Far from silent, she speaks. Far from passive, she acts; far from receptive to the orders of the male, she goes counter to his wishes; finally bringing him along with her; far from yielding to a grievous situation, she takes charge of it. Organizing matters to bring about benefit to those in need, including herself" (Truly our sister, p. 291)
There is another reason that I tell you the story of Margaret and Genevieve. It has to do with the ten-year hiatus of communication and separation in the family. If there is a dominant theme in today's scriptures, it is that of unity. In the image of the bridegroom and bride in the first and last readings, we have a beautiful symbol of unity. Paul speaks of the One God and One spirit that unites us all in our diversity. Each person has different gifts but each of us receive those gifts from the One God. AS we hear, God delights in us as a people, as individuals but also as a human family and as a church. Yet, in our relationships within the family and within the church, we emphasize differences. We do not focus on what joins us together as a family or as a church. We let our judgments about others dominate our decisions, excluding some from our lives. We let conflicts and divisions keep us from recognizing each person's gifts and unique perspective. There is so much in our personal relationships, in our church and in our world that separates us one from the other. How do we find ways to celebrate the diverse gifts within our families and church communities.
Mary says in the gospel, "Do whatever he tells you." He tells us to love one another as he has loved us. He tells us to forgive and let go of the prejudices that separate us. Can we find ways of doing this in our personal lives and in our church? That's the challenge.
Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner was never the same without Margaret and Genevieve at the table!