Today we hear the familiar story of Jesus and Mary at the wedding feast at Cana. This is a powerful story because it is generally considered to be the start of Jesus ministry; and the first recorded miracle performed by Jesus. And, in a way, it continues our theme from the Christmas season as it is another manifestation of the Divinity of God. Jesus shows his Divine nature by performing the miracle.
It is interesting to note that Mary, the mother of Jesus, only makes two appearances in St. John’s Gospel: in the passage we heard today at Cana, the beginning of Jesus public ministry; and then again at the crucifixion, the end of it. John shows us that Mary had two tremendously important roles in the ministry of Jesus. At Cana, as the wedding feast went on, the wine ran out. Mary went out of her way to intercede with Jesus, she encouraged Jesus, and Jesus performed what John tells us was his very first miracle.
If this was Jesus' very first miracle, how then did Mary know that Jesus could do it? Well, very simply, good mothers know their children. They know the hidden talents and gifts of their children. There are many young men and women who have gone on to accomplish great things in life because their mothers and fathers believed in them and encouraged them.
You know, we often talk about the need in the Church for more men and women to follow the call of God and accept a vocation to ministry in the Church. We know that there are fewer and fewer priests and religious, and more and more Catholics in our parishes. But, I want to challenge the notion of a so-called Vocation Crisis. As you know, I am the Vocation Director for our Franciscan community and personally, I don’t believe there is a Vocation Crisis. I believe that what we have is a Vocation Awareness Crisis. I know that God continues to call men and women into service, but I think we have created a point in our Catholic culture where people no longer have the ears to hear that call; and the courage and willingness to follow.
This week, we commemorate National Vocation Awareness Week, a special time where the Church asks us to pray for more young men and women to consider living a consecrated or vowed life or becoming ordained as a priest. But, vocations are simply something we no longer encourage among our young people. When someone mentions that they may be considering a vocation today, the regular response is not one of support, but the typical response is, a question, “Why would you want to do that?” Our culture unfortunately values materialism, wealth, status, position, celebrity and power, above a call to poverty, chastity, obedience and service and so the natural outcome is fewer deacons, priests and religious. God always calls more than enough workers for harvest, but too often we question that call and to fail to support it.
We need to encourage our youth to consider this way of life just as they consider the myriad other ways of life presented to them every day. Ultimately it is about doing what God wants you to do. It isn’t that religious and priests never wanted a relationship or marriage or children or a nice big house and a fancy car; rather, it is that we are called to something different. Each way of life is full of challenges – as any married person can attest to. But, when it is what you are called to, you cannot imagine doing anything else. We have to encourage people to be open to the possibility. To open their hearts to listen to Jesus.
The simple thing that we are all called to do is encourage young people to be open to whatever God has planned for them – whether religious, married, single, or priest. When we make Jesus, manifested in our world, manifested in the Eucharist, Reconciliation and all the sacraments, the center of our life, we look at life differently. You see, it is a domino effect. When we are open to the presence of Jesus, we become the presence of Jesus in the world. We leave this church each and every week as walking Tabernacles containing the presence of Jesus for our world.
So, what can we do for vocations in our own limited way? First and foremost, we can talk about them, we can talk about a life given fully to God, we can stop being afraid of raising the subject with someone. In all of my work with young people, I encounter many young men and women who I believe are being touched by God for a special role of service. I always, always tell them that. I always encourage discussion about that. Ask them to at least consider the possibility. In fact, someone here today could be sensing God’s call. Does this mean that they will pursue a vocation? Perhaps, but at the very least, it means that if we encourage them, they will not go through life wondering, “was I called.” And, we can only talk about the issue when we value this way of life. It is the responsibility of every Catholic.
I’d like to ask you all today – have you ever ad the thought about someone that they might make a good priest, a good religious sister or brother? If you’ve had that thought, did you tell them?
In Mary today we are given a great example of how we can all support vocation awareness. Mary saw something in her Son, she encouraged it, prayed for it, supported it all through His ministry, from the very beginning to the very end. Mary is the model for us all. We all have to do the same. Mary encouraged Jesus and he reached out to the people at the wedding, and a miracle literally took place.
Today, then, is a good day to ask ourselves: Who among us might God be calling? What can I do to support that call? How can I be a Vocation Director in my own family, church, community? How will there continue to be this manifestation of Jesus in our world if no one is encouraged to take up the call. Let me end with a vocation prayer that was written by Pope John Paul II: