The sign at Cana and healing after abortion

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2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C: Jan. 17, 2010
Isa 62:1-5; Ps 96:1-3, 7-10; 1 Cor 12:4-11; John 2:1-11

Planning a wedding reception has never been an easy task—not in the 21st century, and apparently not in the first century, in the Holy Land. Last spring, I was planning the reception after my priestly ordination, and in that way I got a taste of just what a bride and a groom face in that task. And I was keeping it as simple as I could! But it is such a challenge, as you figure out: how can you plan the most joyful celebration possible for friends and family, while you are working with limited time and limited resources? So you strategize; and it’s hard, and it’s time-consuming to keep track of all those people and all those details. And there always might be some unexpected surprise that might mess up your plans.

Now the weddings held in the first century in the Holy Land were a little different. Their festivities lasted not just one evening, but several days. And their culture placed a very high value on hospitality and family. Surely it was quite a task that that bride and groom and their families there in Cana had had, in putting together their wedding celebration.

But, as the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” In today’s gospel reading, we hear: the wine ran short. Uh oh. In a culture in which the rabbis said, “Without wine, there is no joy,” this would be a very big and embarrassing problem. Maybe some surprise guests had shown up. Or maybe the guests who came just drank more than the families had been expecting. Either way, the bride and groom surely had planned for this not to happen; but it had happened. And what were they going to do about it?

Today, in our society, like that first-century bride and groom, a woman and a man will often seek to find joy and love in each other. Now, because of the values of our society, quite often this woman and man will not be planning a wedding reception. For, when our culture promotes sexual activity outside of marriage, a wedding might not even be on the horizon. If their culture in the first century valued hospitality and family, our culture values what? Physical pleasure; an abundance of material things; a well-planned-out, secure life; and, above all, what we call “freedom,” by which we mean individual autonomy. And so the 21st-century woman and man that we know will strategize how they can meet these goals, with their limited resources. They plan it out.

But, so often, the best laid plans of mice and men go awry. What happens when the unexpected surprise enters in? What happens when a surprise guest shows up—when a child is conceived? Uh oh. That surprise guest isn’t just going home after a few days; that boy or girl will be around for years, and will completely change the life of that woman and that man. The couple had planned for this not to happen; but it has. A boy happened; or a girl happened. What is the couple going to do?

37 years ago this Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court told such couples that what they should do is abort their child. Throughout all 50 states; throughout all 9 months of pregnancy: the proposed way out is for someone to die; and that someone is their child.

Now, we often hear this spoken of, cloaked in the language of “freedom to choose”; but let’s pull back the curtain of propaganda, and see what really goes on there. First of all, the experience of the discovery of an unexpected pregnancy is often fear, panic, and aloneness. And all too often when the pregnant woman turns to her boyfriend or husband and her parents, and looks for support, what she finds instead is pressure to abort her child. She looks for love and support to help her to care for and nurture her child—and instead finds only the money to pay for the abortion, and the car ride to take her there. And when she gets to that abortion clinic, that those who love her have sent her to, she doesn’t find compassion, or options, or appreciation for her as a woman. Those in the abortion clinic are there to take—to take her money, to take her child’s life—and then to throw her back out on the sidewalk.

Some freedom. Some choice. Every woman who has suffered an abortion has stepped behind that curtain of propaganda and discovered that there is no freedom and no choice there.

Six years ago, on a Sunday afternoon in April 2004, I stood on a sidewalk in downtown DC, as the very large pro-choice “March for Women’s Lives” passed by. I was a seminarian dressed in a clerical shirt, standing with 11 other seminarians dressed the same way; and for 3 hours we got screamed at, non-stop, by the marchers. It was an experience like no other. But what did we see as we stood there, and watched those marchers pass us by? There were some men among them; and those men were just strange. There were young women. The young women were angry; but their anger was clean and fresh, almost innocent. But not so, the older women. They were angry, but there was nothing clean and fresh about their anger. What we saw in them and in their faces was bitter, and twisted, and hateful. And we knew why.

Women who have had abortions tell of the sadness and depression that they feel afterwards; they tell of loneliness and emptiness; they tell of thinking often of their child who has died; they talk about feeling guilty and dead inside; they talk about having nightmares and feeling like they can never be forgiven. And that is what we saw on the faces of those older women that day: for they had had abortions sometime in the past, and that anguish had festered for decades, and made them what they were that day.

The teaching of the Church is clear and consistent: Direct abortion … is gravely contrary to the moral law [CCC 2271]. But like all moral commands that God has given us, this is no arbitrary rule. It corresponds to our human nature. Anytime we violate the moral law through serious sin, we do serious harm to those we sin against, and to ourselves.

My brothers and sisters, more than one-third of the women in our country will have had an abortion by the time they are 45. More than one-third. This week, we have seen the images of the devastation that the earthquake has caused in Haiti; and what that earthquake did to Haiti materially, abortion has done to the hearts and souls in our country, spiritually and emotionally. Spiritually and emotionally, here, there are dead bodies everywhere; homes crushed; no nourishment; no water; no security; constant fear of aftershocks and violence; and a fear that there is only a bleak future.

But, my brothers and sisters, there is hope. There is hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ, there is forgiveness; there is grace; there is healing.

When our society says that the way out of an unexpected pregnancy is that someone must die, our Lord Jesus Christ says: “If someone must die, then let it be me! I will lay down my life for you. I will pour out my grace for you.”

In today’s gospel, St. John tells us that this miracle at the wedding at Cana was the beginning of Jesus’ signs. It was a sign that pointed to who he was and what he would do for us. In that sign, he turned water into wine. Not just a little wine, but do the multiplication: something like 150 gallons of wine! And not just okay wine, but really good wine, so that, when the headwaiter tasted it, he said it should have been served first. 150 gallons of really good wine! That is the picture, that is the sign of the forgiveness and joy and peace that our Lord pours forth to us—that he pours forth to every man or woman who made the wrong choice, and has suffered from it ever since.

Our Lord Jesus Christ loves you; and he longs to give you his forgiveness and mercy and healing. No sin it too big for his forgiveness. Just think of all that really good wine. Women and men who have received Christ’s healing speak of the peace they have found; the healing; the joy restored; the love they found, and themselves discovered as lovable again, and as loved by him; their wounds, not gone, but transformed. If you are in need of this forgiveness and healing, or someone you know, then I invite you to come talk to me or give me a call. I would love to be able to help you to begin on this path.

My brothers and sisters, this is good news! To a land of hearts ravaged by abortion, we can proclaim with Isaiah:

No more shall people call you “Forsaken,” or your land “Desolate,” but you shall be called “My Delight,” … For the Lord delights in you … and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you. … You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord … You shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord.

The grace that Christ offers to all those considering abortion, and all those haunted by abortion, is truly awesome. And his grace so often comes through the hands and faces of his baptized. What kind of grace does he give?

  • In our country there are thousands—thousands!—of helping centers for women who are facing a difficult pregnancy that provide them with financial help, medical services, legal advice, counseling, a place to live, education, jobs, and assistance that they may need to keep their child or to offer their child for adoption. You will hear about our own local center in just a few minutes.
  • Our own Archdiocese of Washington runs a Birthing and Care Program, and participates in the Gabriel Project, to give just such support to women with difficult pregnancies.
  • And for those who are suffering from an abortion in the past, we have the Project Rachel Ministry, in which specially trained priests, deacons, counselors, and support groups help those suffering to find forgiveness and healing.

As St. Paul tells us in our second reading, we are given different kinds of spiritual gifts in the same Spirit; we serve with different forms of service in the same Lord. And you will hear later on in this Mass different ways that you may be able to bring Christ’s grace and healing to others.

Remember: our Lord Jesus, who turned water into wine—into 150 gallons of really good wine—gave his life to pour forth his grace to forgive and heal you and those you love. Come to Jesus. Bring others to him. And as his mother said to the servers, in today’s gospel reading, “Do whatever he tells you.”

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Published in: on January 17, 2010 at 11:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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