We’ve just watched a play about Catherine McAuley and heard a gospel story about Mary of Nazareth. If you had to write the next scene for the play with elements of the gospel story in it, how would you do it? What part of the wedding feast of Cana would you choose to highlight?
One of the lines in the letter from Catherine McAuley that Olivia read out said: ‘The teachers should also try instilling in the girls a concern for those who are less fortunate.’ These words connect Mary at Cana and Catherine McAuley. They gather up for us the lives of these two wonderful women in a very challenging way.
The gospel story gives us an insight into Mary’s concern for others. Obviously Jesus and his mother and the disciples liked to party. I’m not like them. I was at a party last Saturday night at Worser Bay Surf Club. Sister Anna and Miss Thistoll know that I don’t do parties very willingly. It wasn’t a wedding celebration but my sister-in-law’s 40 th birthday party. I’m quite sure that if the food and drink had run out early in the evening my brother and sister-in-law would have been highly embarrassed. I understand, however, that the wine and the beer flowed freely until about 3am.
Not so at the wedding at Cana! The wine ran out early. The young couple, presumably relatives or friends of Mary would have been embarrassed. Mary quickly summed up the situation and took the initiative to get something done about it. She knew her son well –she was his mother! She was confident in his ability to get more wine. She wasn’t put off by his rebuke. He didn’t even call her ‘mum’ –he called her ‘woman’! Somehow this seeming rudeness didn’t matter to Mary. She just ignored it and carried on believing in Jesus’ ability (unproven until this time) to save the day. What didmatter to her was that the young couple be spared any embarrassment. That was what motivated her to step in and make things happen.
Mary wasn’t obliged to do anything. She wasn’t responsible for the wedding. She could have pretended not to notice what was happening. Or she could have seen what was happening and decided it was all too hard, it was someone else’s problem. Instead, out of her concern for the young couple, she took the initiative and made things happen.
Mary believed great things about her son –after all, he was her boy! She believed that he could fix the situation. Your parents and caregivers and teachers believe great things about you. You are potential and power writ large. You have the potential and power to make a positive difference in so many people’s lives every day. Some of this incredible potential and power streams past my office window twice a day, in all kinds of weather. Sometimes this potential and power looks incredibly wet and I have felt cold for you so often during the relentless southerlies of these past winter months. (I’m really very glad that it’s the last day of term and I can give up shivering on your behalf and worrying about your wet clothes!) But over the next couple of weeks I’ll miss seeing and hearing the young Kiwi embodiment of Mary of Nazareth and Catherine McAuley outside my window – in Kiwi colours of black and silver. For in your school uniform, you are the combined public face of Mary and Catherine for this city of Wellington. What a privilege and what a challenge!
The gospel you have chosen for this Eucharist and the feast you celebrate today challenge you to make the stories of these two women come alive, so that it’s not Mary at Cana in Galilee and Catherine McAuley in Baggot St, Dublin, but Mary and Catherine in all the streets, in all the suburbs of Wellington. You are reminders to the rest of us that we cannot leave these women at Cana and Baggot St. No, they walk our streets in your faces today.
Are you known publicly in this city as young women of initiative? As young women who are quick to help? As young women who see a need and take action? As young women who can make things happen? As young women who make a positive difference to any situation? As young women who can get the water changed into wine?
You are followers of Jesus in the footsteps of Mary and Catherine. You have to tell the story of these two great women by your actions. You’ve just told part of the story of Catherine in a play and we enjoyed it –but those students were playing a role. Now, they’re no longer Dominique, Catherine and Olivia talking about living the dream of mercy. They’re back in the pews. But being a Christian today is not about role-playing. Being about the works of mercy is about taking the initiative in the ordinary and the everyday, the always and the everywhere. Mary and Catherine were women of this kind of initiative. They acted on behalf of others. They made a positive difference in peoples’ lives. They got water turned into wine in so many ways. Litres and litres of it! I’ve yet to read an account of either of them sitting around waiting for someone else to step in and respond.
As you know Catherine was a great letter writer. I’m sure she’d be right into emailing and texting today. So use the technology as she would use it. Send a word of hope, support, comfort, encouragement, consolation, thanks, love, joy, apology, invitation, friendship, prayer. Get the water changed into wine for someone you see needs it.
Your lives must tell the story of Mary and Catherine by what you do. If you don’t tell it, then how will our city of Wellington hear it? According to this morning’s paper Wellington is one of the best cities in the world. This is your story, and yours alone for this great city to hear. St Mary’s is your College, the oldest college in the capital. It’s a Mercy College. It’s not Sacred Heart College or St Pat’s, or Viard, or Chanel, or St Catherine’s. There isn’t another St Mary’s College in this city. There isn’t another College that exists under the mantle of these two inspiring, passionate women. The relationship, the connection, the conversation between Mary of Nazareth and Catherine of Dublin is given a particular colour and shape and sound and rhythm here in Wellington by you. The lives of these two women are embodied in your lives and this city cannot help but be enriched, and blessed and graced because of you, because of the way your lives sing their song of mercy.
So learn from these two women, Mary and Catherine, friends of God, prophets. Invite them into your own lives. Get to know them better. Spend time with them. Include them in your circle of friends. Sit with them, talk with them, listen to music with them. Laugh, cry, walk, run, jog, surf, bike, ski, tramp with them.
Who, on this glorious spring day, 17 September 2004, after you leave this cathedral will have reason to be glad because you made it happen, you saw a need and responded, you stepped in and made a difference? Go out there and make it happen as Mary and Catherine did. Take the initiative. Get the water changed into wine! Litres and litres of it!
This article was published in Wel-com in October 2004.