2nd Sunday Year C
True joy stems from fulfilling relationships.
Marriage is a central institution of our human culture. It brings together two humans to form a new family unit; brings their respective families into kinship; and God willing, brings forth children into the family. Marriage establishes human relationship like no other human institutions. From the relationship between husband and wife spawns the relationships between parents and their children; relationships among the siblings; and with the wider family. Marriage is important to us because relationships are important to us. And relationships are important to us because relationships are the essence of God. We are created in God’s image (Gen 1:26). For what is the essence of God but a relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bound together by love? Hence, it is no surprise that human relationships are the source of much of our joy; or if mishandled, the source of much of our misery.
Human relationships are God’s gift to us, given to us to mirror the relationship of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Healthy relationships help us achieve the fullness of life. I feel fulfilled if I enjoy fruitful relationships with my loved one. I feel miserable if my relationships are estranged. A fulfilling relationship is when two persons love each other, and express their love for each other through mutual service and sacrifice for each other. A fulfilling relationship is when two persons sacrifice their worldly ambitions and pursuits for the each other. True love is when I sacrifice for another person without counting the cost. However, in these modern times, more and more so, our culture has become utilitarian in nature – everything, even relationships, are measured in terms of how useful it is to the me. Relationships are measured against the importance of other world goals like fame and money. So, instead of sacrificing for my worldly ambitions and pursuits for my relationships with loved ones, the opposite of true. With a utilitarian mindset, I measure how useful a relationship to me, and often sacrifice the relationship for my worldly endeavours. This is why many relationships break down. It is especially painful if relationships break down within the family, between husband and wife, parents and children; and among siblings. A wise man once said, there is no limit to the good we can do if we do not care about getting the credit. The reverse is also true. That is, there is no limit to the harm I can do, if all I care about is how something can be of use to me.
The Gospel this week tells the story of the Wedding at Cana. At the centre of this story is a marriage. To show us the key to fulfilling relationships, especially so the marital relationship, we have Jesus and Mary showing us great examples of love, self-sacrifice and sensitivity. In the story, the wedding couple ran out of wine in the middle of the wedding reception. Mary, ever observant and sensitive to the needs of the wedding couple, said to Jesus, “They have no wine.” (verse 3) So eager and insistent in helping the couple that when Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come.” (verse 4), Mary simply told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (verse 5). It was not yet the time for Jesus to manifest Himself to the public. It was also not Mary’s time. For they both knew, once Jesus manifested Himself, there is no going back for both mother and son. Yet for the love of the couple, they were prepared to make this great sacrifice. This is an example of Jesus and Mary as a model of service to others. Earlier, we saw another example of Mary’s helpfulness in the story of the Visitation. On hearing that her cousin Elizabeth was six-month pregnant in her advanced years, even though she herself was carrying a child, Mary “set out and went with haste” (Lk 1:39) to visit Elizabeth. Mary’s home town was Nazareth in Galilee; whereas Elizabeth was living in “a Judean town in the hill country” (Lk 1:39). Scholars have speculated this town to be either Ein Karem or Hebron in Galilee. A check on the Internet reveals that even with today infrastructure, Ein Karem is some 140km south of Nazareth on foot, with an elevation of 300m above Nazareth. Hebron is even more challenging – 180km south of Nazareth, with an elevation of 580m above Nazareth. Hence, in spite of her own pregnancy, Mary travelled well over 100km, trekking uphill to visit Elizabeth. This would not have been a comfortable trip for Mary. And that is not all. Mary did not go to Elizabeth just for a casual visit. On the contrary, “Mary remained with her about three months” (Lk 1:55), possibly till the birth of John the Baptist, helping Elizabeth throughout the late stage of her pregnancy.
My brothers and sisters, love and self-sacrificing services are keys to fulfilling relationships. And the truth is, fulfilling relationships are not an end in itself. When husband and wife have a loving relationship, they lay the foundation for the children building fulfilling relationships themselves – with their siblings, their friends and in time to come, their spouses. In other words, a loving relationship between the husband and the wife lays the foundation for the children’s lifelong happiness. Alas, the reverse is also true. Disharmonious relationship and selfishness in the husband and wife can do great harm to the children’s future happiness. We must show examples to our children. Our children learn from what we do, not what we say. Whether we are parents, catechists or priests, we have a grave responsibility to our children. The truth is, bringing our children to church services every Sunday and bringing them to religious classes every week does not automatically make our children fall in love with God or become better people. If I want my children to love God, I need to show them I love God. If I want to my children to serve the community selflessly, I need to show them how I serve selflessly. And if I need my children to show selfless love, forgiveness and meekness in their future marriages, I need to do the same in my own marriage. Conversely, if I show my children selfishness, vengefulness, pettiness, then my children will bring these same qualities into their own relationships. And if I am materialistic and utilitarian in my outlook in life, if I sacrifice my relationships for my worldly pursuits, then I ingrain these same values into the conscious and subconscious mind of my children. If I am called to serve the community but I refuse to answer the call, my children will do the same. The truth is, whatever fruits I reap in my relationships, good and bad, it is likely my children will reap the same fruits from their relationships.
But, my brothers and sisters, we are fallen beings. Even the best of us is not exemplary in how we conduct our relationships, at least not all the time. We are sinful people with a broken nature. This is where we need divine help. We need the humility to admit to our failings, that we need the grace of God. This is the reason, God sends us His Spirit to empower, guide and unite us. In the Second Reading, St Paul wrote, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” (verse 7-10) These are the gifts of the Holy Spirit to help us build fulfilling relationships. The prophet Isaiah listed seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: knowledge, wisdom, understanding, counsel, piety, fortitude and fear of the Lord. Hence, where my fallen human nature leads me astray, I must open my heart to correction by the Holy Spirit. But this requires me to train my heart so that I am open to God’s prompting. This is where the most important of all relationships come to bear – that between God and me. For without a relationship with God, I cannot tame my human pride. For without a relationship with God, God’s prompting – often coming to me via the wise words of a friend, a priest or a reflection piece like this – will go unheard.
My dear friends, let us close our reflection this week the same way we started, by reflecting on the institution of marriage. God is the author of the institution of marriage. Because human relationships flowing from the marriage is so central to our happiness and fulfilling, God emphasise the importance of marriage from the beginning of time till the end of age. In the beginning, God instituted marriage when He created our first parents. He commanded them, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). At the end of time, the people of God would become the bride of Christ (Rev 19:7, 21:2). The First Reading this week describes how God took delight in the people, His bride: “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (verse 4-5).
My brothers and sisters, we are all at different stages of our spiritual journey. Some of us are closer and more attentive to God’s voice. Others less so. But wherever we are in our spiritual journey, be assured of God’s love. The author of the universe takes delight in us. How do I respond to this love? Let us reflect on this for the rest of this week. May God’s peace be with you.