Service fosters love, grace

By: Father Dominic Garramone, OSB

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jan. 17

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 96:1-2,2-3,7-8,9-10; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-11

NOTICE THAT Jesus’ first public miracle in the Gospel of John involves (of all things!) kitchen service. Of course for the evangelist the changing of water into wine has a significance far beyond concern over a catering crisis — Jesus’ power over nature, the water used for Jewish ritual cleansing replaced with the wine of the new covenant, the image of heaven as a wedding feast, etc. The fact remains that the occasion of this miracle is attending to the needs of the common table.

St. Benedict decreed that “no one will be excused from kitchen service . . . for such service increases reward and fosters love” (Rule of Benedict 35:2). Our first reaction to his reasoning may be outright skepticism. After all, there seems to be little reward or even recognition for the daily demands of meal preparation, service and cleanup — ask any mother! — and as a result we may find that it fosters grumbling and resentment rather than love.

As usual, Benedict looks beyond the surface to the sacramental qualities of this most ordinary of activities.

IN ANY service given to the community, whether it is the family, the monastery or our local parish, it is always possible that our efforts will be largely unnoticed. Certainly most of the guests at Cana were unaware of Jesus’ efforts on their behalf.

But God sees our every sacrifice, and God alone can make them fruitful for us as well as for those whom we serve. The reward to which Benedict refers is not primarily in the afterlife, but in the abundance of grace that proceeds from uniting our service to the ongoing ministry of Christ.

The love that is fostered by such service is not mere affection or warmth of feeling, nor the romantic passion of the newly wedded. It is the agape of the New Testament, the love that desires good for the beloved, even at the cost of personal suffering. It is the pure and humble caritas that is the fruit of good zeal, the fervent love that impels us to pursue not what is better for oneself but what is better for someone else (cf. RB 72).

ULTIMATELY, the key to understanding this mystery comes from the words of Mary as she points to her son and says to us, the servers: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). And what has Jesus told us?

— “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles” (Matthew 5:41).
— “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
— “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (John 15:12).

The Lord continues to work miracles in us and through us. Like water into wine, ordinary service can be transformed into redemption and love.

Father Dominic Garramone, OSB, is a monk of St. Bede Abbey in Peru, where he serves as subprior and choirmaster. He also heads the religion department and serves as drama director at St. Bede Academy.

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