A few years ago, my parents gave me one of the best wall calendars in the world. Now, I really don’t use wall calendars much, especially since most of my calendar information is on my phone, but in this case, it was the best calendar that I have received, and really that anyone else has received, in modern history. It was called “Nuns Having Fun,” and was filled cover to cover with a variety of images of fully-habited nuns doing fun things. There were nuns in bumper cars, nuns on roller coasters, nuns having snowball fights, nuns playing basketball, and on and on. One of my favorites was a whole line of nuns hefting their shotguns, having just gone skeet shooting! It was a crazy calendar, but brought up a great point: the Christian life, a life of prayer, isn’t one to be suffered through – it’s a life of joy!
That’s a truth that we can see in our Gospel today. A lot of things can be pointed out about this Gospel. It is Jesus’ first public miracle and really kicks off his public ministry. It shows us the deep relationship between Jesus and his Mother. The transformation of water to wine calls to mind Eucharistic imagery that might be interpreted in a number of ways. But one detail that is overlooked is that Jesus was doing all this at a wedding feast! This is no small detail. He lived a life of joy. He went to parties, albeit with his mom, but still! It shows us that Jesus wasn’t a stranger to the good and fun things in life.
It’s important for us to remember that the good things of our lives here on earth are gifts from God. These are gifts like juicy steak or a finely cooked pasta or a delicious cup of chili on a cold day. These are things music and art like the Barocci exhibit at the Art Museum. These are things like good books or fun movies. And of course, these are things like Cardinal baseball! These are all blessings from God! In fact, did you know that there is actually a blessing for beer? Yep! It’s from the old Roman Ritual released prior to the Second Vatican Council, so it’s all in Latin, but I pulled it out to prove it to you:
Bless, + O Lord, this creature beer, which thou hast deigned to produce from the fat of grain: that it may be a salutary remedy to the human race, and grant through the invocation of thy holy name; that, whoever shall drink it, may gain health in body and peace in soul. Through Christ our Lord.
Oh yeah, and then you bless your beer with Holy Water. That’s funny stuff, right? But it calls us back to my original point, which is that the good things of life ultimately point us back to God. They give us little hints about what true and close communion with him will be like. Jesus didn’t just make wine from water to keep the party going, but to draw us into the mystery of the power of God and to draw out gratitude. If these little gifts like steak and baseball can bring us so much joy, imagine the delight that comes from actually possessing God totally! That’s what he desires of us here and now in a limited way, and what he calls us to in a perfect way forever in heaven. Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit and the so-called chaplain of Catholic comedian Steven Colbert, wrote a book called Between Heaven and Mirth about the relationship between fun, humor, joy, and the spiritual life, and in his book, Fr. Martin wrote, “In our deepest longings we hear echoes of God’s longing for us. And the more we can follow these deep-down desires, those that God places within us for our happiness, the more joyful we will find ourselves.” God gives us little joys and fun for a reason – to draw us back to him.
Too often we can think of God as aloof and separated from the healthy joys and fun of the human experience. We think, “Oh, it’s time for me to be a Christian again, so I guess fun has been cancelled.” But Jesus didn’t just come to teach us theology, but to bring us back to our fullness. It’s part of our human nature to want to celebrate, to enjoy the things of creation – like weddings and wine, as in the Gospel – but Christ is also teaching us to do so in a healthy, balanced way, that ultimately draws us to fulfillment.
So before people think that I’m just telling you all to go crazy as soon as you get out of Mass, remember what our faith teaches us about the virtue of temperance. The Catechism teaches us that temperance is the “moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable.” Essentially, we enjoy the gifts that God has given to us, but we remember that they’re there to draw us closer to him, and the joy that he gives, not to draw us in on ourselves in selfishness and self-indulgence. Sometimes that’s a difficult distinction to make, but there are three big ways that show us if our balance between joy and indulgence has been interrupted. One way we know is if our pleasures are interfering with our responsibilities – when watching the Sunday night football game is the source of strain between spouses. Another way to know is if our pleasures or responsibilities interfere with our prayer. Obviously, Mass is a big part of this, but this includes personal and private prayer as well. We’re so often willing to put long hours into work or home improvement, and we decide that we need that time for relaxation (both of which are very good things), but then we can find it easy to shelve our time with God. The last way we know if our balance is off is if we can’t laugh at our minor mistakes. When little accidents cause huge disastrous temper tantrums, we know we’ve lost the point and that we’re too concerned about ourselves.
God continues to give us so many good things in our lives, so many causes for joy. As we approach him in prayer before this altar today, let us pray that we would have the grace not only to thank God for these earthly joys, but to remember that they ultimately foreshadow the joy of life with him in the world to come.