Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Reflection
How many times a day do we each say, “I love you”? We use this four little word, love, a lot. There are many ways to understand love. For our Catholic faith, love is not sentimental but truth, for at the center of every creature lies the mystery of infinite mercy and love. This four letter word, “love,” however, tends to be overused. Still, love stands at the very heart of our faith: God loves us in sending Jesus Christ to save us. Jesus calls us to love God with our whole selves, and each other as Jesus loves us. Our culture does not quite seem to get what the Gospel means by love. Further, there are so many ways we use the word that it gets hard for us to parse the meaning of and practical pay-off to love. There is a need to describe love, Gospel love, alternatively. We need to plumb the depths of this eternal mystery. We will do so in this reflection and the next three reflections, which lead us into the season of Lent.
In this Sunday’s scene from the Gospel of John, Mary asks Jesus to help out some newlyweds whose wine supply has run low. Jesus does so and produces such an abundance of excellent wine that one of the guests remarks how this defies expectations. Usually, couples reserve the low quality wine for later in the party, when no one would notice. Instead, the better wine, and a whole lot of it, shows up near the banquet’s end. This is a great sign of Jesus’s mission of revealing divine love.
It’s quite banal to say Jesus came to reveal God’s love. It is such a common Christian phrase that it hardly has any effect on us. The story of Jesus transforming water into wine suggests, however, that the love Jesus came to reveal and let loose in the world has a huge effect on us. It has to do with our transformation. So here is an initial way to understand the love of God revealed in Jesus: love transforms. Love means transformation: interior change leading to change in the world.
God transforms our interior and moves to our exterior. Divine transformation changes our minds first. But, this does not mean changing our opinions. Rather, spiritual transformation is a shift in consciousness, becoming more aware of what already is. It is becoming more aware of God within us and among us, working to bring us more and more into the divine life. So transformation is a new heart and a new mind that lead to new behaviors. A new way of life pops up from a new inner life.
During Sunday Eucharist, the priest pours a drop of water into the wine that will become the Blood of Christ. Water symbolizes our humanity while wine symbolizes divinity, God. Our humanity gets absorbed in God’s mystery, not lost but transformed. When we love God we come to realize our humanity is suffused with divinity, as surrounded and penetrated and within divinity as a drop of water in a glass of wine. In loving God, we come to see that, as Isaiah says of the people Israel, we are not “forsaken” but God’s delight, for God dwells within us and us in God. God never forsakes us but delight in us as we are – each of us, no matter what we’re done. Pope Francis, like Jesus, calls this “mercy.”
A true realization of divine love within us changes us in a significant way. We become aware that God does not seem to mind our imperfections and our weakness. Instead of what we might expect, God works through our weakness. We might expect that getting closer to God means we become more sinless. But, divine love changes us in surprising ways. God seems to accept our weakness and transform us through it while not magically erasing our weakness. Right in the middle of our weakness, God gives us a new heart, a new mind, a new spirit, a new way of living. We change forms (trans-formation). God brings us from one form – egocentricity – to another form – selflessness. This happens as we love God, as we open to God and allow divine love into our lives. As St. John of the Cross says, “love effects a likeness between the lover and the loved.”
Divine love effects a transformation in us. God’s Holy Spirit then puts us to work. Via transformation of love, God makes us aware of gifts the Spirit has given us. Through the Spirit, God calls us to love one another using our gifts. “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” These gifts – healing, discernment, faith, prophecy, as Paul calls them – represent at least some avenues by which God desires us to love others, to serve and give ourselves. They are more than natural talents though God certainly works through our natural talents. The Spirit gives us our spiritual gifts according to how God wants us to love and effect a transformation in our world. Our spiritual gifts represent opportunities for us to live God’s will. As Pope Francis says, “sanctity does not consist especially in doing extraordinary things, but in allowing God to act.”
So, our transformation starts when we surrender ourselves to God and let God change us. Service through our spiritual gifts happens along with an inner transformation in love, that is, when we become aware of God’s powerful love within us moving us to love in very specific ways through our spiritual gifts. Divine love evokes our gifts and helps us put them to work so love becomes practical and personal. It all starts with a journey into prayer. Eventually, though, divine transformation comes to invade all of life. The stuff of our everyday existence provides God with multiple occasions to change us if we but surrender.