Year C – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Wedding at Cana

[Is.62:1-5; 1Cor.12:4-11; Jn.2:1-11]

The Church is full of signs. Some are obvious, like signboards on the street, but many are subtle and easily missed.

There’s the bread and wine and the oils.  Fire and holy water.  Altar and ambo, and the tabernacle.  And our vestments tell a story.  The colour green we use today represents life and abundance and God’s kingdom growing quietly but surely.

Our Gospel readings since Christmas have also been full of signs and symbols.  Through these readings, God has been revealing himself to us in several different ways.

On Christmas Day, when Jesus was born, lying in a manger as a homeless refugee, God revealed his solidarity with the poor, the vulnerable and the needy of our world.  His first visitors were poor shepherds who were social outcasts.  They recognised Jesus as God and worshipped him with hearts full of joy.

Then, at the Epiphany, when the Wise Men from the East journeyed to Bethlehem, God revealed himself to foreigners and strangers from remote parts of the world.  They also came to worship Jesus, bringing him gifts and again there was happiness and joy.

Last week, at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, God once again revealed something of himself.  As the dove descends on Jesus, he’s filled with the Holy Spirit and God says, ‘this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’.  Jesus is empowered and endorsed by his Father, and he then begins his public ministry of healing, teaching and saving souls.

And now in today’s Gospel, God reveals himself once again when Jesus performs his first miracle, turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana.  Many people think this miracle’s simply a wonderful event.  However, it’s more than that, and that’s why John doesn’t use the word ‘miracle’ in his Gospel.  Instead, he calls them ‘signs’, and he uses this word 16 times in the first part of his Gospel.  Not surprisingly, some people call the first half of John’s Gospel the ‘Book of Signs’.

At the end of chapter 20, John says: ‘These words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you

The miracles of Jesus are signposts pointing to him and guiding our belief in him.

may have life in his name” (20:30).  And so, the miracles of Jesus are really signposts pointing to him and guiding our belief in him.

John includes 7 miracles in his Gospel, each carefully chosen to point us to Jesus and to reveal something about God’s power and presence. 

According to John, changing the water into wine was Jesus’ first sign.  Here God reveals his power to transform something ordinary into something very special.  He also reveals his deep interest in the affairs of ordinary people, by ensuring the success of this wedding celebration.  And of course, God reveals how generously he blesses his people. 

Think about it – there were 6 stone jars, each holding ‘20 to 30 gallons’.  That means a total of between 450 and 680 litres of excellent wine – the equivalent of 600 to 900 bottles.  For a village party!  God was indeed hugely generous.

Some have wondered why Jesus would ‘waste’ a miracle on providing wine at a wedding.  But all Jesus’ miracles had a purpose beyond relieving immediate suffering:  they were a display of God’s power and glory, and they demonstrated his great love for ordinary people.

At a deeper level, too, these signs teach us about Jesus and help us to build our relationship with him.

At the start of the wedding celebration, Jesus’ disciples were following him for their own reasons.  However, once they witnessed this miracle, they really believed he was someone very special.

So, not only does Jesus transform water into wine, he also transforms his disciples from being mere companions into those who believe in him.  He changed them, and they will never be the same again. 

And so he changes us, too.  If we follow the signs and really get to know Jesus, we will never be the same again, either. 

Year C – The Baptism of Our Lord

On the Sacrament of Baptism

[Is.40:1-5,9-11; Tit.2:11-14;3:4-7; Lk.3:15-16,21-22]

Today we celebrate Jesus’ Baptism. This brings our Christmas season to an end, and it marks the second epiphany, when John the Baptist reveals Jesus to be not just an ordinary man, but also the true Messiah. 

Now, some people wonder why Jesus was baptised at all, since he’s the Son of God and free of sin.  The answer is that he didn’t have to be baptised.  He chose to.

On that day, the Jordan River at Bethany was full of people.  They were all unclean sinners who came to John seeking healing and a new beginning.  But their presence symbolically defiled the water. 

That’s why no community leaders were present. They wouldn’t associate with unclean sinners, and they personally saw no need to repent.  But Jesus was different.  He cared for the people and he wanted to encourage them.  So he showed his solidarity by joining them in the river. 

At that moment, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Baptism, for he brought with him the Holy Trinity to John’s cleansing ritual.  When Jesus waded into that river, his flesh purified and blessed the water.  Then the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove while his heavenly Father looked on and said, ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased (Lk.3:22).’

Jesus’ Baptism marks the beginning of his public ministry, and it marks the beginning of our own life in Christ.

There are distinct parallels between Jesus’ Baptism and our own.  At Jesus’ Baptism, God the Father proclaimed him as his ‘Beloved Son’.  At our Baptism, we become the beloved sons and daughters of God the Father, Jesus becomes our brother and Mary becomes our mother (and sister, too).  

At Jesus’ Baptism the heavens opened, and at our Baptism heaven is opened to us.  As well, the Holy Trinity was present at Jesus’ Baptism, while at our Baptism the Trinity makes their home in our soul. 

And finally, Jesus prayed at his Baptism.  At ours, the Church prays for us but we must remember to continue praying if our baptismal gifts are to be effective. [i]

Just before his ascension to heaven, Jesus said, ‘…go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt.28:19).  Many people have forgotten this. They’ve forgotten why their Baptism is important.  But it’s worth remembering what Jesus said to Nicodemus: ‘Truly I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he’s born again’ (Jn.3:1-21).  It’s through baptism that we’re born again.

Jesus said to Nicodemus: ‘… no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he’s born again.’

So, what does Baptism do for us?  Firstly, it gives us a fresh start by wiping clean all our sins, including both original sin and any other personal sins we may have committed (Acts 2:38).  This means we no longer have to suffer any punishment for those sins.  We can begin again.

Secondly, Baptism fills us with sanctifying grace.  Sanctifying grace makes us holy and it imprints on us an indelible sign that marks us forever as sons and daughters of God.  As well, Baptism fills us with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, right judgment, knowledge, reverence, courage and wonder and awe. These gifts give us the graces we need to play our part as members of the Body of Christ, in the Church and in the world.

In 2018, Pope Francis said that Baptism isn’t a magical formula, but a gift of the Holy Spirit which enables us ‘to fight against the spirit of evil’, to make this a better world.  However, as happens with any seed full of life, this gift takes root and bears fruit only in a terrain fed by faith. [ii]

In the Church of Sant’Egidio, in Rome, there’s a crucifix of Jesus without any arms.  It reminds me of St Teresa of Avila’s poem:

Christ has no body now but yours.

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks with

Compassion on this world.

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.

Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours.

When next you use holy water to make the Sign of the Cross, remember your Baptism and how you’ve been ‘Christified’. 

Through your Baptism, you represent Jesus in the world today.



Year C – The Epiphany of the Lord

On Our Guiding Star

[Is.60:1-6; Eph.3:2-3, 5-6; Mt.2:1-12]

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord, and the end of the 12 days of Christmas.

In Greek, ‘epiphaneia’ means ‘appearance’ or ‘revelation’, so on the Epiphany we remember the moment when the Wise Men of the East discovered the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. 

Christmas and the Epiphany are like bookends at either end of the 12 days of Christmas.  Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, when he’s revealed to Israel as a little boy.  And at the Epiphany, he’s revealed to all the world as a divine king.  So, together, Christmas and the Epiphany reveal to us the fullness of Jesus’ humanity and his divinity.

Now, some people wonder why the Three Wise Men followed a star.  Today it seems like a strange thing to do, but in ancient times people were fascinated by the sky.  Indeed, the Magi are believed to have been priestly scholars and astronomers who interpreted the dreams of nobles and kings and who studied the movement of the stars.

In those days, changes in the celestial sky were thought to be a sign of major events, such as the birth or death of a king, and the appearance of a bright new star would have been exciting.  And the Magi would have learnt about the Hebrew Bible from the Jews exiled in Babylon.  They’d have known about Balaam’s messianic prophecy that ‘a star shall come forth from Jacob’ (Num.24:17).   

Today, travellers use all sorts of sophisticated technology like GPS to work out where they are and where they’re going.  But in ancient times, people navigated differently.  The Vikings used to interpret the behaviour of birds.  Eskimos studied the snow.  Polynesians watched the waves and the Greeks read the clouds and smelt the air. 

And many cultures, including the Phoenicians, Babylonians and Australian Aborigines used to carefully study the movement of the sun and the stars to work out where they were going. [i]  The Polynesians did, too.  You can see this in Disney’s movie Moana.  Polynesian sailors found their direction by memorising where the stars rose and set, and by using their hands to make calculations. [ii]

Today, we should ask ourselves:  do we know where we are and do we know where we’re going?

Epiphany is a moment when a light shines in the darkness and everything becomes clear.

When the Wise Men of the East followed the Star of Bethlehem, they travelled about 1,000 kilometres and they eventually found Jesus, the ‘bright morning star’ (Rev.22:16).  They took a risk.  They stepped outside their everyday lives, and were rewarded by discovering the source of all wisdom and joy. 

Now, which star will you be following this year?

Many people today spend lots of time following movie stars, pop stars and sports stars, while others chase the stars of fame and fortune.  The problem, however, is that these things are hollow. They might look nice, like rainbows, but they have little or no substance and ultimately they only lead to disappointment.

This year, why not do something far more meaningful?

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI described the Epiphany as a ‘feast of light’, because it reveals Christ as the Light of the World.  Indeed, all our readings today reveal how Jesus shines a bright light into the darkness.

In our first reading, Isaiah has a vision of Jerusalem as a holy city where God’s light will shine, bringing peace and love and hope to all.

In our second reading, St Paul tells the Ephesians that God’s peace and love and hope are available to everyone, regardless of who they are and where they come from.  And in today’s Gospel, Matthew reinforces this message.

The Magi weren’t Jewish; they were complete strangers, yet they still followed the signs to Jesus.  Like the shepherds, they show us that Jesus belongs to everyone, and not just a select few.

In 2014, Pope Francis said that the journey of the Magi symbolises the destiny of every person.  He said that our life is a journey, illuminated by the lights which brighten our way, to find the fullness of truth and love which we recognize in Jesus, the Light of the World.

The novelist Joseph Conrad once described epiphany as ‘one of those rare moments of awakening’ in which ‘everything [occurs] in a flash’.  It’s a moment when a light shines in the darkness, when everything becomes clear and we discover something new.

This year, let’s resolve to follow Jesus …  to really get to know him …  and to let his light shine in our hearts.