“Do Whatever He Tells You, and You Will Spread the Face of His Love to the Whole World”
Homily at the Mass for the Walk for Life West Coast
Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary the New Eve
Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, January 20, 2024
Readings: Rev 21:1-5a; Is 61:10a-d, f, 11; 62:2-3; Jn 2:1-11
The entrance chant for our Mass today – “All the earth will worship you, O God, and will sing to you, sing to your name” – happens to be the same entrance chant prescribed for last Sunday’s Mass, the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, popularly referred to as “Omnis terra” Sunday, taken from the first words of the chant in Latin, as we just heard it at the beginning of Mass, “Omnis terra adoret te, Deus.” Every Mass has a prescribed entrance chant, usually a Scripture verse, very often from one of the Psalms, and the Mass gets its name from the first word or two of that chant (such as “Gaudete” Sunday and “Laetare” Sunday).
The Holy Face of Jesus
Why do I bring this up? It recalls a bit of Church history that underscores why Jesus came into the world. The story is told that in pre-Christian Rome the Emperor decided to have all Roman residents originally from other places take soil from their homeland and deposit it in a designated place close to the Vatican Hill, less than a quarter of a mile away. There he built a temple to honor the pagan Roman gods, as it contained soil from all the earth, “omnis terra.”
After Rome became Christian, the Pope built a church over that spot, which we know as the church of the Holy Spirit, and every year on that Sunday, “Omnis terra” Sunday, he would process from St. Peter’s Basilica to the church of the Holy Spirit with a veil bearing the face of Jesus. The veil in question was preserved from antiquity as one of the burial cloths that covered Jesus’ face, and was believed to be such an accurate representation of his face that it was called “the true icon of Rome,” in Latin, vera icona Romana: “vera icona,” whence the name, “Veronica.” This is how the story circulated later in the Middle Ages of a woman by that name who wiped our Lord’s face as he carried his Cross to Calvary.
There are many truly remarkable, even miraculous, features about this cloth that point to its authenticity, but that is a subject for another discourse. The point for us here today is that that procession instituted in the Middle Ages was to claim Jesus Christ as the one Savior of all the world, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the one, true God to whom all the earth owes worship and allegiance. This is the spiritual lesson of the ritual that developed around that veil.
The story of Veronica, though, also bears for us a spiritual message. As Pope St. John Paul II reflected in his meditation on the sixth Station of the Cross, every act of charity done in the name of Jesus Christ, with the spirit of his love, leaves the imprint of his image. This is how we translate the universality of the salvation Jesus won for us into language people can understand in our own time and place. The love of Christ is truly a universal language, understood everywhere and in every culture, leaving his image and thus changing both persons involved in that encounter of authentic Christian charity.
Where It Starts
We know all too well how great the need is for such charity in our own time, especially for women in crisis or who are grieving over a child lost to abortion, or, for that matter, miscarriage or still birth. It seems that our state of California is on a killing spree on life in the womb, with poorer women trapped in the process, trapped with insufficient resources for making a choice for life and accessing the medical care and emotional and material support they need to care for that new life. All of us in this church today know that being truly pro-life means caring for both mother and child, and I am so grateful to, and proud of, all of you who make sacrifices of time, talent and treasure to insure that these resources are available to our sisters in need.
“Behold, I make all things new”: this is what St. John heard the One sitting on the heavenly throne proclaim. That is why I am equally grateful to, and proud of, those of you who provide healing opportunities for women – and men – grieving over the loss of a child to abortion, and other types of reproductive grief. When the face of Jesus Christ is shown to these sisters and brothers of ours, in an encounter of authentic Christian charity, then, yes, he will make all things new for them, and they can begin to rebuild their lives.
There is, though, more to the story. Where, really, does it all start? How do we get to the root of the matter, where we find the ounce of prevention that is worth the pound (ton!) of cure?
“There was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding ….” This is where Jesus begins his public ministry: he deliberately chose a wedding to be, as St. John tells us, “the beginning of his signs … and so [reveal] his glory.” He began to show the glory of his face at a celebration of a marriage, because marriage is where it all starts.
The whole point of marriage is to be a communion of life and love, whereby a man and a woman pledge life-long mutual fidelity to each other with openness to bringing new life into the world, so that their children might know and be loved by their father and mother, that is, the two who brought them into the world. And even for couples who experience the heartbreak of childlessness, they can provide paternal and maternal care to their relatives, friends and neighbors, not to mention providing a father and mother to abandoned children through the option of adoption, a truly happy ending to what is potentially a tragic situation.
To Be Truly Pro-Life
Which means that we cannot say we are pro-life unless we embrace the entire plan of God, which means embracing His plan for marriage. If common sense were not enough, we have more than fifty years of consistent social science research that shows us that so many of the social ills we are experiencing – rampant poverty, homelessness, gun violence, incarceration, you name it – is because of family fragmentation, and, in particular, fatherlessness. That is the root of the problem. Which means that marriage, as God designed it, is the root of the solution.
So, I address myself particularly to you young people, you who are the pro-life generation: be truly pro-life by being a part of the solution, not the problem. Be the solution: get married, stay married, and don’t have children until you get married; which means, don’t do that which brings children into the world until you get married. Those old-fashioned manners are not simple outdated prudishness; they are actually the recipe, designed by God, for a healthy, flourishing society, and for the flourishing of each individual in that society. Just think about all of the depression, anxiety and loneliness we hear about these days, especially among younger people. Living isolated from others is directly contrary to how God created us to be. God created us for communion, and living His plan for marriage throughout our life is what trains us to be capable of that communion, capable of lifelong intimacy, of mutual giving and receiving and fidelity.
Think about this: what happened at that wedding feast in Cana was quite a surprise – the best wine came at the end. I’m sure those guests thought they were drinking the best wine at the start of the feast, which makes perfect sense. Sure, after the guests have, as it is put euphemistically in the Gospel “drunk freely,” then serve the cheap wine because they won’t know the difference! Similarly, I think young couples at the beginning of a marriage think they are having the best wine at the start. How can it get any better than this? But if you follow God’s plan, you will have surprises in store. Yes, some not so pleasant, but the plan works: the best wine comes at the end, after a lifetime together of making sacrifices to be faithful and patient and giving and forgiving and caring for each other through thick and thin, it pays off toward the end of life. Just like wine gets better with age, so does a faithful marriage, with both spouses becoming the best versions of themselves in a communion that is truly comprehensive, that is to say, conjugal. Yes, it’s true, with marriage it’s a little different than with the way literal wine ages, because sometimes between the beginning and end of the aging process the wine that is marriage can sometimes turn sour, there will be bumps in the road; but with perseverance it will get better and, indeed, it will be best at the end.
But to get there you have to really believe in Jesus – believe in him, and believe him. It means to believe that he is the true King of all the earth and of the entire universe, and to love him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. How does that translate into the real time of real life? By obeying his mother, obeying the command she gave to the waiters at Cana with the last words the Gospel records her speaking: “Do whatever he tells you.” These are his, and our, mother’s parting words to us, to do whatever her Son tells us. And what he teaches us here at Cana is what, my dear young people, he tells you; this is what he tells all of us. Do we believe him? Do we obey her?
The Ultimate Meaning
But there is even more to it than this. In addition to telling us about the occasion in which Jesus began to manifest his glory through signs, St. John also had a vision about which he tells us in the last book of the Bible. What is that vision? “I … saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” The vision of a marriage! The new Jerusalem is the Church, and her husband is Christ: he is the bridegroom, and we, the members of his body, the Church, are his bride. What we call marriage here on earth is an image and foretaste of the real marriage in heaven: not a life-long, but an eternal, communion of life and love, where the two become one in a life-giving union for all eternity.
I spoke to you young people a moment ago about taking the vocation of marriage seriously, as God established it and as Jesus teaches us. But not all of you are called to the vocation of marriage. Most people are, but not all; all, though, are called to live the mystery of nuptial union in Christ in some way or another – that is what every vocation is for. Some of you are called to live that vocation in other ways, especially as priests – to image Christ the bridegroom who gives his life completely for his bride the Church – and in consecrated life, to be an image of the Church, the bride of Christ. It is through all vocations, all of these various ways of living the nuptial mystery of life in Christ, that Christ shows us his face, and we in turn reflect his face of love and light to others.
There is simply no way to have a healthy society without a vibrant marriage culture; evangelization of the culture is not even possible without a healthy marriage culture, for God’s Covenant with His people is a marriage Covenant. In a society where marriage is devalued, and even mocked, are we surprise that the fruit of marriage – children – is likewise devalued, cast aside, and a victim of what Pope Francis calls the “throwaway culture”? Let us, then, be truly pro-life, embracing God’s plan for our happiness – which is to say, holiness – in its totality. It’s a package deal – we cannot have only one part or the other, without the whole thing!
“All the earth will worship you, O God, and will sing to you, sing to your name.” Let us be in that number, let us be among those who acknowledge Jesus Christ, God’s Only Begotten Son, as the one Savior of the world, the way, the truth and the life, the one who teaches us the path to the fullness of life. Let us worship him by obeying his mother and do whatever he tells us: taking what he teaches us seriously, living it in our own vocations, and sharing his love through self-giving acts of charity to the hurting, the broken, and those living in darkness and the shadow of death, shining the healing light of his face upon them. May God grant us this grace. Amen.
RESUMEN EN ESPAÑOL
Todos nosotros hoy en esta iglesia sabemos que ser verdaderamente pro-vida significa cuidar tanto de la madre como del bebé, y estoy muy agradecido y orgulloso de todos ustedes que ofrecen su tiempo, talento y tesoro para asegurar que estos recursos estén disponibles para nuestras hermanas necesitadas.
“Ahora yo voy a hacer nuevas todas las cosas” es lo que san Juan escuchó proclamar al que está sentado en el trono celestial, como lo escuchamos en la primera lectura de la Misa de hoy. Es por eso que estoy igualmente agradecido y orgulloso de aquellos de ustedes que brindan oportunidades de curación para mujeres – y hombres – que sufren la pérdida de un hijo a causa del aborto y otros tipos de duelo que tengan que ver con la reproducción. Cuando el rostro de Jesucristo se muestra a estas hermanas y hermanos nuestros, en un encuentro de auténtica caridad cristiana, entonces sí, Él hará nuevas todas las cosas para ellos y podrán comenzar a reconstruir su vida.
Sin embargo, hay más en la historia. ¿Dónde empieza realmente todo? ¿Cómo llegamos a la raíz del problema, donde encontramos la onza de prevención que vale la libra (¡tonelada!) del remedio?
“En aquel tiempo, hubo una boda en Caná de Galilea, a la cual asistió la madre de Jesús. Éste y sus discípulos también fueron invitados…” Aquí es donde Jesús comienza su ministerio público: eligió deliberadamente una boda para que fuera, como nos dice san Juan, “el primero de sus signos. Así manifestó su gloria…”. Comenzó a mostrar la gloria de su rostro en la celebración de un matrimonio, porque en el matrimonio es donde todo comienza.
El objetivo del matrimonio es ser una comunión de vida y amor, mediante la cual un hombre y una mujer se prometen fidelidad mutua de por vida y están dispuestos a traer nueva vida al mundo, para que sus hijos puedan conocer a su padre y a su madre y ser amados por los dos que los trajeron al mundo. E incluso las parejas que se les parte el corazón por no tener hijos, pueden brindar cuidado paterno y materno a sus familiares, amigos y vecinos, sin mencionar la opción de ser un padre y una madre adoptando niños abandonados. Lo que significa que no podemos decir que somos pro-vida al menos que abracemos todo el plan de Dios, lo que significa abrazar Su plan para el matrimonio.
Pero hay aún más que esto. Además de contarnos la ocasión en la que Jesús comenzó a manifestar su gloria a través de signos, san Juan también tuvo una visión de la cual nos habla en el último libro de la Biblia. ¿Cuál es esa visión? “Yo… vi que descendía del cielo, desde donde está Dios, la ciudad santa, la nueva Jerusalén, engalanada como una novia, que va a desposarse con su prometido.” ¡La visión es de un matrimonio! La nueva Jerusalén es la Iglesia, y su marido es Cristo: él es el esposo, y nosotros los miembros de su cuerpo, la Iglesia, somos su esposa. Lo que llamamos matrimonio aquí en la tierra es una imagen y un anticipo del verdadero matrimonio en el cielo: no una comunión de vida y amor que dura solo una vida, sino eterna, donde los dos se vuelven uno en una unión vivificante y por toda la eternidad.
Simplemente no hay manera de tener una sociedad sana sin una cultura matrimonial vibrante; la evangelización de la cultura ni siquiera es posible sin una cultura matrimonial saludable, ya que la Alianza de Dios con Su pueblo es una alianza matrimonial. En una sociedad donde el matrimonio es devaluado, e incluso un objeto de burla, ¿nos sorprende que el fruto del matrimonio –los hijos– también sean devaluados, desechados y víctimas de lo que el Papa Francisco llama la “cultura del descarte”? Seamos, entonces, verdaderamente pro-vida, abrazando el plan de Dios para nuestra felicidad –es decir, santidad– en su totalidad. Es todo un paquete: ¡no podemos tener sólo una parte o la otra sin tener el todo!
“Que toda la tierra te adore y te alabe, oh Dios; que cante alabanzas a tu nombre”. Este es el canto que se cantó hoy al inicio de nuestra Misa. Seamos de los que adoran y alaban a Dios, seamos de los que reconocen a Jesucristo, el Hijo Unigénito de Dios, el único Salvador del mundo, el camino, la verdad y la vida, el que nos enseña el camino hacia la plenitud de la vida. Adorémoslo obedeciendo a su madre y hagamos lo que él nos diga, como ella ordenó a los sirvientes en las bodas de Caná: tomando en serio lo que él nos enseña, viviéndolo en nuestra propia vocación y compartiendo su amor a través actos de caridad con entrega hacia los heridos, los quebrantados y los que viven en tinieblas y sombras de muerte, haciendo brillar sobre ellos la luz sanadora de su rostro. Que Dios nos conceda esta gracia. Amén.