One Spirit, many gifts

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

St. Isaac Jogues at sunrise.

This week I stopped at the store to purchase a box of wine.  Just in case there was another quarantine, I wanted to make sure I had enough on hand to celebrate Mass.  Also, like the miracle at Cana, I wanted enough left over for dinner.  Coming out of a box, however, I’m not sure that anyone would say, “You saved the best for last.”

         There’s something a little bit lighter in today’s Gospel story.  Usually, Jesus’ miracles involve healing grave ailments—leprosy, paralysis, even death—but the miracle at Cana begins and ends at a party.  At most Jesus’ intervention saves the new bride and groom from a social embarrassment.  The miracle also seems a bit off script, not what Jesus had in mind.  It’s his mother, after all, who intercedes for the couple and then doesn’t take no for an answer.  When Protestants object to Catholics praying for Mary’s intercession, I point out that all we’re doing is repeating what happened at Cana.  Nobody knows what Jesus is capable of better than Mary.

         A lot could be said about the miracle at Cana—it’s especially tough for me to pass over all the sacramental symbolism—but there’s one aspect I want to dwell on today because of how it applies to the second reading.  It’s excessive.  What Jesus does is more than what anyone expected, more than what was necessary, more than what seems reasonable.  Not only is the wine extremely good, but there is a lot of it.  Six stone jugs of twenty to thirty gallons each means somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of wine.  No matter how many guests were invited, none of them was walking away thirsty.

         Obviously, the point of the story is not really about wine, since it’s clear that the Bible considers drunkenness a sin.  The point is to teach us about God’s overflowing generosity, his grace which is more abundant than what we need or deserve and sweeter than what we could imagine.  And there’s more, too, since I guess I can’t resist saying something about sacramental symbolism.  It’s not an accident that water and wine are two of the elements that, through baptism and the Eucharist, make us into the Body of Christ, the Church.

         And I make this point because the second reading tells us something about the Church, something I think we especially need to hear today.  There are an abundance of spiritual gifts in the Church, an overflow, so many gifts that no one of us could possibly get them all.  So God distributes his gifts among all the members of his body in a way that, frankly, more resembles an unruly party overflowing with wine—and quite the guest-list—than the organizational chart of a well-functioning company.  Welcome to the Catholic Church.

         The reason I want to underline today’s second reading is because this diversity and overflow of gifts is not always easy to deal with.  The larger context of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is the conflict within the Corinthian church about who has the better gifts.  Some people are thinking of themselves as super-enlightened because they have gotten the gift of speaking in tongues, and Paul’s argument is essentially, the flashiest gifts aren’t always the best.  This is something to keep in mind because the temptation to “compare and despair” is a strong one.  We can start to doubt our own gifts and even our own worth if it seems that someone else has gotten more than us—more material goods, more talents, more recognition, more goodness, whatever.  Our self-doubt can lead to envy, and let me remind you that envy is one of the seven deadly sins.

         It’s deadly because it comes so easily.  We have to train ourselves to be grateful for the gifts that God gives to other people.  A prayer of thanksgiving when we start to feel a pang of envy can go a long way to draining that poison.  When it comes to the Church, it also helps to remember that Catholicism is a team sport, and we should be grateful when other players on the team have gifts.  I don’t have the gifts of healing or of tongues—and you should all be glad somebody else is leading the singing—but I’m glad other people do.

Nativity scene at St. Isaac Jogues.

         We are blessed in the Catholic Church to have a great diversity of spiritual gifts.  The traditions of Lakota Catholics are a particular gift in this diocese.  I’ll admit to being saddened over the past few months because of the controversy over the Latin Mass; I wish I could assign a few bishops to write “different gifts, same Spirit” on the chalkboard five hundred times during detention.

         But I suppose conflict arises because of the wild generosity of God’s call.  Even in this little parish, it has not escaped me over the six years that I’ve been coming here that there are a few characters in the pews.  (Perhaps you’d add, and in the pulpit.)  And not all of the characters have the same personalities or the same opinions.  And praise God for giving us such a great exercise in learning to love each other.  Since we hope to spend eternity together, working on this exercise here and now is actually fairly important.  Now, just to be clear, diversity is not an absolute value—what Paul says is not some college admissions slogan—and there are beliefs and actions that because they run contrary to the Catholic faith damage the Body of Christ.  Those are errors and sins that we should fight within ourselves.  And if we find them in others, to the degree that we are able we can challenge them, with patience, in such a way that those we are challenging know that, despite whatever conflicts we might have, we want them to be with us.         

We might thank God for putting a few other jagged rocks into a bag with us, so that as we get shaken around together we work off each other’s rough edges.  Thank God for the gifts he’s given to others.  And thank God for the overflow of characters at St. Isaac Jogues.  He wouldn’t have it any other way, and neither would I.

St. Isaac Jogues, Rapid City

January 16, 2022

Author: Anthony Lusvardi, SJ

Anthony R. Lusvardi, S.J., teaches sacramental theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He writes on a variety of theological, cultural, and literary topics.

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