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Do Whatever He Tells You! The Hail Mary Pass and The Wedding at Cana

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So, for me, the Hail Mary Pass of that football game yesterday and the Wedding Feast of Cana which I proclaimed today, are connected

The expression -Hail Mary pass- is a part of the Christian memory in a culture which has almost forgotten God. Yet, in the remaining elements of religious influence left, we find that little woman from Nazareth still invoked for assistance. Hail Mary Pass refers to an ancient prayer in the Catholic tradition which begins with the words the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary, as recorded in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It concludes with a request for her assistance in praying with us and for us.  Oh, I know some would say that such expressions are not sincere piety. Others might say that referring to a long-shot pass as a Hail Mary pass is more akin to magic than real prayer. But for me, it is a starting place. A seed which can be cultivated in, what I believe, is a pre-Christian age rather than a post-Christian age.

Highlights

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5)

On Saturday, my wife and I joined millions around the United States by watching the National Football Conference title game between the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals. In the interest of candor, we are Pittsburgh Steelers fans. We hope that, in spite of all the injuries, they prevail today against the Denver Broncos. You see, many years ago, I went to Law School in Pittsburgh, during the amazing years of Terry Bradshaw and Joe Greene, and we adopted the team.

The playoff games have been filled with surprises this year. That match-up between the Packers and the Cardinals was just one example. Those who watched heard everyone refer to the 75-yard pass which won the game as a 'Hail Mary" pass. The expression is now common in American football. It refers to a long-shot pass which is caught and affects the outcome of the game. The roots of the expression are what struck me this morning when, as an ordained Catholic Deacon, I read the Gospel at the Sunday Mass in my home parish.

The expression "Hail Mary pass" is a part of the Christian memory in a culture which has almost forgotten God. Yet, in the remaining elements of religious influence left, we find that little woman from Nazareth still invoked for assistance. "Hail Mary Pass" refers to an ancient prayer in the Catholic tradition which begins with the words the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary, as recorded in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It concludes with a request for her assistance in praying with us and for us. 

Oh, I know some would say that such expressions are not sincere piety. Others might say that referring to a long-shot pass as a Hail Mary pass is more akin to magic than real prayer. But for me, it is a starting place. A seed which can be cultivated in, what I believe, is a pre-Christian age rather than a post-Christian age. At least it shows that people still think there is something beyond ourselves we can call upon. The truth is, there is Some-One, the Lord Jesus Christ, who fully reveals God's loving plan to the whole world and opens up the path to a new life to all who call upon Him as Savior and Lord. We are missionaries, born and born again for this missionary moment.

This particular Sunday morning, the Gospel excerpt I read at Mass was taken from the second chapter of the Gospel of John which records the first physical miracle of Jesus, "On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.  When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."  And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

It is no accident that Mary was there at that Wedding Feast when the first of the signs of the kingdom of God was manifested. Further, it is significant that the miracle occurred in a response to the request of the Mother of the Lord. She interceded with her Son and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was also there she gave that sage advice to all those in attendance - and to all who now seek to follow her Son Jesus Christ - "Do whatever He tells you". In those five words is contained the key to the meaning of life.

Though there is not much written in the Gospel accounts about Mary, her presence is ever present, in both her relationship to Jesus as mother, and her witness as His first disciple. We know that she was with Him in Nazareth where he grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2). She was there at the Cross on Golgotha when he finished the work of redemption by offering Himself on our behalf. There when He paid the penalty for all of our sins, defeating the last enemy of death and bridging the separation from God which was caused by them. In fact, before the Lord cried out "It is finished" he entrusted his mother to his beloved disciple John and he took her into his house.

John records the event in these words, "standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home."

"After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), "I thirst." A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished"; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19: 26, 27)

Some of the early fathers of the Church, including Deacon Ephrem and Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, spoke of her presence at the Resurrection. However, even though there is no biblical text which specifically refers to it, that does not mean it did not occur.

In a 1997 teaching in St Peters square, the late Pope St John Paul II asked how the Blessed Virgin, who was "present in the first community of the disciples, could have been excluded from the number of those who encountered her divine Son risen from among the dead.". He continued, "on the contrary, it is legitimate to think that the Mother may really have been the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared. Could not the absence of Mary from the group of women who approached the tomb at dawn constitute an indication that she had already met Jesus?"

"The unique and special nature of the presence of the Virgin at Calvary," added the Pope, "and her perfect union with the Son in his suffering on the Cross, seem to postulate a very particular participation on her part in the mystery of the Resurrection."  He opined that the Blessed Virgin, who was present at Calvary and at the Cenacle, "was probably also a privileged witness to the Resurrection of Christ, in this way completing her participation in all the essential moments of the paschal mystery. Embracing the risen Jesus, Mary is, in addition, a sign and anticipation of humanity, which hopes to reach its fulfillment in the resurrection of the dead."

John records an interesting yet often overlooked fact when he writes in the Gospel which bears his name "But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." (John 21:25) You see, it is never really about Mary, but about her Son and Savior Jesus. She always points us to Him and reminds us, as she did the servants at that wedding in Cana, to do whatever He tells us. That is how she lived her own life and that is why she has so much to teach us all.

She was there on the great day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, and witnessed the clothing with the Holy Spirit that transformed and empowered the early disciples. That same Holy Spirit had inspired her unique vocation. Mary understood this work of the Holy Spirit unlike anyone in history. She had been clothed in that gift when she was first visited by the angel Gabriel who said "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Luke 2: 21-25). She was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and the Word was made flesh, conceived in her womb. The Holy Spirit empowered her to live her whole life in complete surrender to God's will and to thereby prefigure the mission of the Christian Church.

The Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the fourth century, tells us "What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the Godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for we "no longer know Christ according to the flesh', but he dwells in us spiritually and the Father takes up his abode with him, the Gospel tells us. In this way the child Jesus is born in each one of us." (Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity)

So, for me, the Hail Mary Pass of that football game yesterday and the Wedding Feast of Cana which I proclaimed today, are connected - in the witness of a humble woman named Mary, the Mother of the Lord, the bearer of God, who reminds all who have ears to hear, to "do whatever He tells You!"  

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Deacon Keith A. Fournier is the Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and seven grandchildren, He is a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate who has long been active at the intersection of faith and culture.He served as the first and founding Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice in the nineteen nineties and is now Special Counsel to Liberty Counsel and Chief Counsel to the Common Good Legal Defense Fund. He is the Editor in Chief of Catholic Online, a senior writer for THE STREAM and a featured columnist for the Catholic News Agency.

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