Thursday, January 15, 2009

Column: The Best Wine

[Michelle is on retreat, but the blog appears courtesy of Blogger's scheduled posts feature!]

[This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times15 January 2009]

Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jn. 2:7-10


“Jo-Ann will play the violin for you now,” I can hear the gentle voice say through my cell phone. I hold the phone out to catch the music as it swirls up to the roof, following the ghosts of the incense that curled about the altar earlier. Piano and violin intertwine to make Handel’s music come to life. A thousand miles away, Jo-Ann’s father holds the phone to his wife’s ear, so she can hear her daughter play.

The nurses in the ICU told Jo-Ann that they couldn’t keep their eyes off of her parents. Everyone who passed by, they said, was struck by the tender love expressed between them, by her father’s gentle and unwavering care for his wife.

Listening to Jo-Ann talk about her parents, I heard the echoes of the headwaiter’s words in this passage from John: “You have saved the best wine for last.”

I’d sometimes wondered why this Gospel is proclaimed at weddings, other than the obvious aspect of its setting. For the most part, the wedding couple and their guests are off-stage in John’s recounting of Christ’s first public miracle, and the marriage ceremony isn’t even mentioned — just the party. It is a Gospel about beginnings, the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and, too, the beginning of a marriage.

Married twice, for six years and now 16 years, I feel like I’ve been a beginner at marriage for almost a quarter of a century, and so tend to hear in this passage of the graces God grants to such beginnings, filled to the brim, like the water jars. The overflowing joys of finding a companion of soul and heart, creating a home and family and welcoming children are like the wine at Cana, gifts not only to the couple but to us all.

These graced beginnings reflect for us God’s joy in our community of faith, deeply grounded in His covenantal love for us.

In focusing on the brimming water, I’d overlooked the wine. Good wine is often old wine; wine aged in knotty wooden barrels, under conditions that aren’t always perfect, over many years. When the time comes to pour out this wine, it is fragrant and complex. Here, at the end of a long marriage, in very difficult times, extraordinary wine was poured out, shared not only by husband and wife, but by everyone who saw them — all the guests at the feast.

In reflecting on this passage, St. John Chrysostom suggested, “Our Lord wanted the power of his miracles to be seen gradually, little by little.” The grace of a sacramental marriage is not static but continues to reveal God’s glory to us, little by little. The wine of a long marriage is a sign not only of God’s enduring love for us but also of God’s ceaseless revelation of Himself to us, in endings as well as in beginnings.

God saves the best wine for last.


God of wonders, at Cana in Galilee you revealed your glory in Jesus Christ and summoned all humanity to life in him. Show to your people your transforming power and give us a foretaste of the wine you keep for the age to come. We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen. — From the opening prayer for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.

2 comments:

  1. I love how you remark that good wine is often old wine...and the wine overflowing as His grace overflowing. A vey touching story and a beautiful message...thank you so much for sharing it with me.

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