One of the most significant passages in Cardinal Roger Mahoney's recent pastoral letter on the liturgy describes the Christian community which assembles weekly to celebrate the Lord's Supper.

"We are one," the Cardinal writes in "Gather Faithfully Together: A Guide for Sunday Mass." "Our Catholic faith will not allow the distinction `us' vs. `them.' On Sunday we gather in one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Yet we are many. When we gather, it is also to witness to the universality of our faith, evident in the many parts that make up the one body. We celebrate the diverse experiences, cultures and charisms that assemble around the one table....This is no melting pot. This is communion."

Sunday's second reading (I Cor 12: 4-11) shows that this is also how the early Christian community looked at itself.

My way

Paul was compelled to write this part of his letter because some in the Corinthian church are starting to believe there's only one way to express the community's faith: their way. The only meaningful ministry is theirs; the most valuable charism is theirs. Other ministries and charisms are subservient to the ones they exercise or possess.

The Apostle strongly and passionately reacts to this heresy. "There are different gifts," he reminds the community, "but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone."

Then, in one of the most important lines in early Christian literature, Paul states the principle which he believes should guide all churches: "To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." In other words, the diversity which is anticipated and found in every Christian community is for the good of that community. Any quest for uniformity is a quest to eradicate the Spirit and destroy the community.

Yet, as Paul stresses in other parts of I Corinthians, unless each of us recognizes his or her worth, we'll never see how badly the community needs us. That makes the first reading very important (Is 62: 1-5).

One of this prophet's tasks is to encourage those Jews who opted to remain in Babylon after the exile to return and help rebuild Jerusalem. Notice the words and concepts which he employs to show these reluctant Jews how important Yahweh considers their work of rebuilding.

This city, the prophet proclaims, "shall be called by a new name,...shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God....You shall be called `My Delight,' and your land `Espoused,'...the Lord delights in you...your Builder shall marry you...your God shall rejoice in you." Only important people are called upon by God to accomplish important work.

Cana able

That's why we must understand why John narrates the well-known story of the wedding celebration at Cana (Jn 2: 1-12). The evangelist doesn't seem to be as interested in pointing out Jesus' concern for the embarrassed couple as we are. But John is concerned that we know which containers Jesus uses to change the water into wine. We'd assume they're the empty wine jugs.

But, "as prescribed for Jewish ceremonial washing, (they're)...six stone water jars, each one holding 15 to 25 gallons." Jesus takes six objects set aside for Jewish rituals and uses them for something totally different than they were intended. I always quote the great Johannine scholar, C.H. Dodd, in this context. "Jesus takes the water of Judaism," he wrote, "and changes it into the new wine of Christianity."

A significant part of John's theology revolves around his conviction that Jesus completely transforms His followers into new people. He gives us a new purpose, points us in a different direction, and pledges to send His Spirit to enliven and support us. He changes us into "the choice wine" which has been kept until now.

Yet, as Cardinal Mahoney reminds us, when we diverse, important individuals are joined together in communion with one another and Jesus, the whole body is always greater than the sum of its parts. That's the way Jesus intends it to be.

(01-15-98)

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