Homily for the patronal feast of Notre Dame Priory
I am often asked why our community is dedicated to Our Lady of Cana. Cana in fact is usually associated with marriage preparation, and that is indeed very fitting. Who could be a more fitting patroness of married persons than the Immaculate Virgin who asked Our Lord to intervene and help a newly-wed couple who found themselves in an embarrassing situation?
But why do monks look to Cana as an inspiration? The first reason is that it is to Our Lady of Cana that we prayed for many years to give us monks. We asked her to intervene with her Son and tell her “They have no monks”. She heard our prayer, she asked the Lord, He heard her prayer, and the monastery was finally founded.
But there is another, more profound reason for this choice. St Augustine summarises it in a homily on the event. He says, referring to those who dedicate their virginity or chastity to Christ, “non sunt sine nuptiis”, they are not without nuptials. Indeed, how could they be when consecrated life has no deeper meaning than to anticipate the eternal nuptials of the soul with God in eternal bliss. This is why we were created; this is the vocation of every human being: being taken up into the intimacy of the Triune God. God creates us out of nothing in order to introduce us into His very Life. That, by the way, is the very reason He created marriage in the first place. Human marriage came into existence only in order to mirror the eternal union of God with His creatures. Creation is all about nuptials. That is why first chapters of Genesis reach their climax with the marriage of Adam and Eve. “They will two in one flesh”. The soul is destined to become one with God in an intimacy of much deeper intensity than that of the most successful human couple. This is also why the book of Apocalypse concludes with the marriage feast of the Lamb, when God’s plan will at last be realised, and all the elect will enter into the eternal nuptial chamber in which the torrent of pure and divinely inebriating heavenly wine will be given them to drink forever. Lost in the ocean of love, the elect will swim forever with overflowing joy that they will never be able to express, and that they will never lose.
This is also why Our Lord’s first miracle takes place at a wedding. And that is why the miracle is that of transforming water into wine. For the best images of the eternal life of communion with God that we have in this world are similar to the difference between water and a delicious wine. Those who seek their joy in forbidden pleasures are drinking mud and slime; those who enjoy according to God’s plan the healthy pleasures of this life are drinking water; those who renounce both those kinds of pleasure to anticipate the eternal nuptials are drinking wine, not just any wine, but the most delicious wine there is, that wine which is given to us in the Most Holy Eucharist, and which is the very life of God. But, as St Bernard says, “solus expertus potest credere”, only the one who has experienced it can really know what it means.
As we honour Our Lady of Cana on this day, let us ask Her for the secret. She knew the depth of God’s love; that love was her very life, that is why from a tender age she vowed her virginity to God. Mary never wanted to belong to anyone but God, and her virginal espousals with Joseph were possible only because she, like Joseph no doubt, had achieved such a profound level of loving union with God that the union never ran the risk of being a screen cutting off from God, but was only an incentive to greater love for Him.
Let us ask her, let us ask St Joseph, let us ask St Mary of the Cross and St Regina, for the grace to penetrate deeper into the mystery of that nuptial union to which we are called in monastic life. For years we have been praying: Tell Jesus “they have no monks”. In more recent times, we have prayed, tell Jesus “they have no land or no monastery”, etc. but I think we need to continue to ask her to tell Jesus “they have no monks”. They have no monks! It takes time to make a monk. It takes years for the wannabe monk to really become a monk, to embrace his vocation with all due intensity.
The Eternal Bridegroom is here, calling us, goading us on, asking us to progress ever deeper into the ways of mystical love. Let us never disappoint Him, but move forward with great courage and generosity.
If ever in our religious life we get the impression we are drinking only water, let us turn to Mary Immaculate and beg her for the delicious wine of divine love. It’s all there my brothers, my sons, peace and perseverance in monastic life are there for the asking. All you need is to love. Love, and then do as you please, for all you will want to do is to prove your love for the Divine Lover of our souls. To Him be glory forever and to Our Lady of Cana, Queen of our monastery, be honour and praise now and for all eternity. Amen.