January 1997

Wednesday, 8 January 1997 - Christ calls women to share his mission


1. The words of the aged Simeon, announcing to Mary her sharing in the Messiah’s saving mission, shed light on woman's role in the mystery of Redemption.

Indeed, Mary is not only an individual person, but she is also the “daughter of Zion”, the new woman standing at the Redeemer's side in order to share his Passion and to give birth in the Spirit to the children of God. This reality is expressed by the popular depiction of the “seven swords” that pierce Mary’s heart: this image highlights the deep link between the mother, who is identified with the daughter of Zion and with the Church, and the sorrowful destiny of the Incarnate Word.

Giving back her Son, whom she had just received from God, to consecrate him for his saving mission, Mary also gives herself to this mission. It is an act of interior sharing that is not only the fruit of natural maternal affection, but above all expresses the consent of the new woman to Christ’s redemptive work.

2. In his words Simeon indicates the purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice and Mary’s suffering: these will come about so “that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (
Lc 2,35).

Jesus, “a sign that will be opposed” (Lc 2,34), who involves his mother in his suffering, will lead men and women to take a stand in his regard, inviting them to make a fundamental decision. In fact, he “is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel” (Lc 2,34).

Thus Mary is united to her divine Son in this “contradiction”, in view of the work of salvation. Certainly there is a risk of ruin for those who reject Christ, but the resurrection of many is a marvellous effect of the Redemption. This proclamation alone kindles great hope in the hearts of those to whom the fruit of the sacrifice already bears witness.

Directing the Blessed Virgin’s attention to these prospects of salvation before the ritual offering, Simeon seems to suggest to Mary that she perform this act as a contribution to humanity’s ransom. In fact, he does not speak to Joseph or about Joseph: his words are addressed to Mary, whom he associates with the destiny of her Son.

3. The chronological priority of Mary’s action does not obscure Jesus' primacy. In describing Mary’s role in the economy of salvation, the Second Vatican Council recalled that she “devoted herself totally ... to the person and work of her Son, under and with him, serving the mystery of Redemption” (Lumen gentium LG 56).

2 At the presentation of Jesus in the temple, Mary serves the mystery of Redemption under Christ and with Christ: indeed he has the principal role in salvation and must be ransomed by a ritual offering. Mary is joined to the sacrifice of her Son by the sword that will pierce her soul.

4. The primacy of Christ does not rule out but supports and demands the proper, irreplaceable role of woman. By involving his mother in his own sacrifice, Christ wants to reveal its deep human roots and to show us an anticipation of the priestly offering of the cross.

The divine intention to call for the specific involvement of woman in the work of Redemption can be seen by the fact that Simeon’s prophecy is addressed to Mary alone, although Joseph also took part in the offering rite.

The conclusion of the episode of Jesus’ presentation in the temple seems to confirm the meaning and value of the feminine presence in the economy of salvation. The meeting with a woman, Anna, brings to a close these special moments when the Old Testament as it were is handed over to the New.

Like Simeon, this woman has no special status among the chosen people, but her life seems to have a lofty value in God’s eyes. St Luke calls her a “prophetess”, probably because many consulted her for her gift of discernment and the holy life she led under the inspiration of the Spirit of the Lord.

Anna is advanced in age, being 84 years old, and has long been a widow. Totally consecrated to God, “she never left the temple, serving God day and night with fasting and prayer” (cf.
Lc 2,37). She represents those who, having intensely lived in expectation of the Messiah, are able to accept the fulfilment of the promise with joyous exultation. The Evangelist mentions that “coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God” (Lc 2,38).

Staying constanly in the temple, she could, perhaps more easily than Simeon, meet Jesus at the end of a life dedicated to the Lord and enriched by listening to the Word and by prayer.

At the dawn of Redemption, we can glimpse in the prophetess Anna all women who, with holiness of life and in prayerful expectation, are ready to accept Christ’s presence and to praise God every day for the marvels wrought by his everlasting mercy.

5. Chosen to meet the Child, Simeon and Anna have a deep experience of sharing the joy of Jesus’ presence with Mary and Joseph and spreading it where they live. Anna in particular shows wonderful zeal in speaking about Jesus, thus witnessing to her simple and generous faith. This faith prepares others to accept the Messiah in their lives.

Luke’s expression, “she ... spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lc 2,38), seems to credit her as a symbol of the women who, dedicated to spreading the Gospel, will arouse and nourish the hope of salvation.

To the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, the Holy Father said:

I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors, especially the pilgrims from Korea and the United States. I also thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Wednesday, 15 January 1997 - Mary co-operates by personal obedience

1. The Evangelist Luke describes the young Jesus’ pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem as the last episode of the infancy narrative, before the start of John the Baptist's preaching. It is an usual occasion which sheds light on the long years of his hidden life in Nazareth.

On this occasion, with his strong personality Jesus reveals that he is aware of his mission, giving to this second “entry” into his “Father’s house” the meaning of his total gift of self to God which had already marked his presentation in the temple.

This passage seems to contrast with Luke’s note that Jesus was obedient to Joseph and Mary (cf.
Lc 2,51). But, if one looks closely, here he seems to put himself in a conscious and almost deliberate antithesis to his normal state as son, unexpectedly causing a definite separation from Mary and Joseph. As his rule of conduct, Jesus states that he belongs only to the Father and does not mention the ties to his earthly family. Jesus’ behaviour seemed very unusual

2. Through this episode, Jesus prepares his Mother for the mystery of the Redemption. During those three dramatic days when the Son withdraws from them to stay in the temple, Mary and Joseph experience an anticipation of the triduum of his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Letting his Mother and Joseph depart for Galilee without telling them of his intention to stay behind in Jerusalem, Jesus brings them into the mystery of that suffering which leads to joy, anticipating what he would later accomplish with his disciples through the announcement of his Passover.

According to Luke’s account, on the return journey to Nazareth Mary and Joseph, after a day's traveling, are worried and anguished over the fate of the Child Jesus. They look for him in vain among their relatives and acquaintances. Returning to Jerusalem and finding him in the temple, they are astonished to see him “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Lc 2,46). His behaviour seems most unusual. Certainly for his parents, finding him on the third day means discovering another aspect of his person and his mission.

He takes the role of teacher, as he will later do in his public life, speaking words that arouse admiration: “And all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers” (Lc 2,47). Revealing a wisdom that amazes his listeners, he begins to practise the art of dialogue that will be a characteristic of his saving mission.

His Mother asked Jesus: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously” (Lc 2,48). Here we can discern an echo of the “whys” asked by so many mothers about the suffering their children cause them, as well as the questions welling up in the heart of every man and woman in times of trial.

4 3. Jesus’ reply, in the form of a question, is highly significant: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lc 2,49).

With this response, he discloses the mystery of his person to Mary and Joseph in an unexpected, unforeseen way, inviting them to go beyond appearances and unfolding before them new horizons for his future.

In his reply to his anguished Mother, the Son immediately reveals the reason for his behaviour. Mary had said: “Your father”, indicating Joseph; Jesus replies: “My Father”, meaning the heavenly Father.

Referring to his divine origin, he does not so much want to state that the temple, his Father's house, is the natural “place” for his presence, as that he must be concerned about all that regards his Father and his plan. He means to stress that his Father's will is the only norm requiring his obedience.

This reference to his total dedication to God’s plan is highlighted in the Gospel text by the words: “I must be”, which will later appear in his prediction of the Passion (cf. Mc 8,31).

His parents then are asked to let him go and carry out his mission wherever the heavenly Father will lead him.

4. The Evangelist comments: “And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them” (Lc 2,50). Mary and Joseph do not perceive the sense of his answer, nor the way (apparently a rejection) he reacts to their parental concern. With this attitude, Jesus intends to reveal the mysterious aspects of his intimacy with the Father, aspects which Mary intuits without knowing how to associate them with the trial she is undergoing.

Luke’s words teach us how Mary lives this truly unusual episode in the depths of her being. She “kept all these things in her heart” (Lc 2,51). The Mother of Jesus associates these events with the mystery of her Son, revealed to her at the Annunciation, and ponders them in the silence of contemplation, offering her co-operation in the spirit of a renewed “fiat”.

In this way the first link is forged in a chain of events that will gradually lead Mary beyond the natural role deriving from her motherhood, to put herself at the service of her divine Son’s mission.

At the temple in Jerusalem, in this prelude to his saving mission, Jesus associates his Mother with himself; no longer is she merely the One who gave him birth, but the Woman who, through her own obedience to the Father’s plan, can co-operate in the mystery of Redemption.

Thus keeping in her heart an event so charged with meaning, Mary attains a new dimension of her co-operation in salvation.

To the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, the Holy Father said:

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially the pilgrims from Australia and the United States. I also thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of the world.

Wednesday, 22 January 1997 - During Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

1. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (
2Co 5,18).

In this Week of Prayer for Unity (18-25 January), Christians — Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant —meet with greater fervour to pray together. The division between Christ’s disciples is so obvious a contradiction that they cannot be resigned to it without feeling in some way responsible for it. The purpose of this particular week is to encourage the Christian community to devote itself more intensely to prayer, in order to experience at the same time how beautiful it is to live together as brothers and sisters. Despite the tensions sometimes caused by existing differences, these days give us in some way a foretaste of the joy that full communion will bring when it is finally achieved.

The Joint International Committee, consisting of representatives of the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, which annually prepares the texts for this Week of Prayer, this year has proposed the theme of reconciliation, taking its inspiration from St Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. The Apostle first of all makes this great announcement: “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ”. The Son of God has taken man’s sin upon himself and has obtained forgiveness, restoring our communion with God. Indeed, God wants all humanity to be reconciled.

It is clear from the Letter to the Corinthians that reconciliation is God’s grace. On the other hand, the Letter also states that God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2Co 5,18b); he has entrusted to us “the message of reconciliation” (ibid., 2Co 5,19b). This message engages all the Lord’s disciples. But how can they hope that their invitation to reconciliation will be heard, if they do not first live in full reconciliation with those who share their faith?

It is this problem which must trouble the conscience of every believer in Jesus Christ, who died in order “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (Jn 11,52b). However, we should take comfort in the certainty that, despite our weaknesses, God is at work in us and will eventually realize his plans.

2. In this regard, ecumenical developments often give us reasons for hope and encouragement. If we look at the world from the Second Vatican Council until today, the state of Christian relations has greatly changed. The Christian community is closer and the spirit of brotherhood more evident.

Certainly, there are reasons for sadness and concern. Nevertheless, each year events occur that have a positive impact on the efforts towards full unity. In this past year as well, significant contacts have been made on different occasions with the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the East and West. Some of these events are covered by the media of social communications; others are left in the shadows but are no less useful.

I would like to note in particular the growing co-operation taking place in institutions of education or scholarly research. The contribution that these efforts can make to solving the open problems between Christians — in the historical, theological, disciplinary and spiritual fields — is certainly important with regard to overcoming the misunderstandings of the past and to the common search for the truth. This collaboration is not only a necessary method today; in it we already experience a type of communion of intent.

6 Regarding the year just ended, I would like to recall the Common Declaration signed with His Holiness Karekin I, Catholicos of All Armenians (13 December 1996). With this ancient Church, which in this century has been especially enriched by the witness of a host of martyrs, there has been a Christological dispute since the Council of Chalcedon (451), that is, over 1500 years ago. Throughout these centuries theological misunderstandings, linguistic difficulties and cultural differences had hindered true dialogue. To our great joy, the Lord enabled us at last to profess the same faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man. In the Common Declaration, we acknowledged him as “perfect God as to his divinity, perfect man as to his humanity; his divinity is united to his humanity in the Person of the Only-Begotten Son of God, in a union which is real, perfect, without confusion, without alteration, without division, without any form of separation”.

Last year I also met many brothers from other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, such as His Grace Dr George Leonard Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, and other dignitaries who came to visit me in Rome. On my journeys outside this city, I also had the great joy of meeting representatives of other Churches who are giving committed witness to their faith in Christ and seeking communion together with local Catholics.

There have been other small but significant steps towards the reconciliation of hearts and minds. The Spirit of God will guide us to complete, mutual understanding and to the desired goal of full communion.

3. Unfortunately, in addition to doctrinal difficulties, among Christians there are still hard feelings, reticence and distrust, which sometimes break out in expressions of gratuituous aggression.

This means that there must be more intense efforts of spiritual ecumenism — consisting in conversion of heart, renewal of mind, personal and shared prayer — and theological dialogue. These efforts must increase precisely as we approach the Great Jubilee, an exceptional occasion for all Christians to join together in bringing the good news of reconciliation to the generations of the new millennium.

This first year of preparation for the Jubilee has for its theme: “Jesus Christ, the one Saviour of the world, yesterday, today and for ever” (cf.
He 13,8). In Tertio millennio adveniente, I stressed that “from an ecumenical point of view, this will certainly be a very important year for Christians to look together to Christ the one Lord, deepening our commitment to become one in him, in accordance with his prayer to the Father” (TMA 41).

With all those who are praying this week for Christian unity, we too offer our prayers as we ask the Lord for the gift of reconciliation.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I wish to welcome all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially the pilgrims from Denmark, Finland and the United States. I thank the choir for its praise of God in song. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Christ our Saviour.

Wednesday, 29 January 1997 - Mary’s ‘hidden life’ is example to mothers

1. The Gospels offer very sparse information about the years the Holy Family spent in Nazareth. St Matthew tells of the decision taken by Joseph, after the return from Egypt, to make Nazareth the Holy Family’s permanent home (cf.
Mt 2,22-23), but then gives no further information except that Joseph was a carpenter (Mt 13,55). For his part, St Luke twice mentions the Holy Family’s return to Nazareth (cf. Lc 2,39 Lc 2,51) and gives two brief references to the years of Jesus’ childhood, before and after the episode of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him” (Lc 2,40), and “Jesus increased in wisdom, age and grace before God and men” (Lc 2,52).

In relating these brief remarks about Jesus’ life, Luke is probably referring to Mary’s memories of a period of profound intimacy with her Son. The union between Jesus and the one who was “full of grace” goes far beyond what normally exists between mother and child, because it is rooted in a particular supernatural condition and reinforced by the special conformity of both to the divine will.

Thus we can conclude that the atmosphere of tranquillity and peace in the house of Nazareth and their constant seeking to fulfil God’s plan gave an extraordinary and unique depth to the union of mother and son.

2. Mary’s awareness that she was carrying out a task entrusted to her by God gave a higher meaning to her daily life. The simple, humble chores of everyday life took on special value in her eyes, since she performed them as a service to Christ’s mission.

Mary’s example enlightens and encourages the experience of so many women who carry out their daily tasks exclusively in the home. It is a question of a humble, hidden, repetitive effort, and is often not sufficiently appreciated. Nonetheless, the long years Mary spent in the house of Nazareth reveal the enormous potential of genuine love and thus of salvation. In fact, the simplicity of the lives of so many housewives, seen as a mission of service and love, is of extraordinary value in the Lord’s eyes.

One can certainly say that for Mary life in Nazareth was not dominated by monotony. In her contact with the growing Jesus, she strove to penetrate the mystery of her Son through contemplation and adoration. St Luke says: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lc 2,19 cf. Lc 2,51).

“All these things”: they are the events in which she was both participant and spectator, starting with the Annunciation; but above all, it is the life of her Child. Every day of intimacy with him is an invitation to know him better, to discover more deeply the meaning of his presence and the mystery of his person.

3. Someone might think that it was easy for Mary to believe, living as she did in daily contact with Jesus. In this regard, however, we must remember that the unique aspects of her Son’s personality were usually hidden; even if his way of acting was exemplary, he lived a life similar to that of his peers.

During his 30 years of life in Nazareth, Jesus did not reveal his supernatural qualities and worked no miracles. At the first extraordinary manifestations of his personality, associated with the beginning of his preaching, his relatives (called “brothers” in the Gospel), assume — according to one interpretation — responsibility for taking him home, because they feel his be-haviour is not normal (cf. Mc 3,21).

In the dignified and hard-working atmosphere of Nazareth, Mary strove to understand the workings of Providence in her Son’s mission. A subject of particular reflection for his Mother, in this regard, was certainly the statement Jesus made in the temple of Jerusalem when he was 12 years old: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lc 2,49). Meditating on this, Mary could better understand the meaning of Jesus' divine sonship and her own motherhood, as she endeavoured to discern in her Son’s conduct the traits revealing his likeness to the One he called “my Father”.

4. Communion of life with Jesus in the house of Nazareth led Mary not only to advance “in her pilgrimage of faith” (Lumen gentium LG 58), but also in hope. This virtue, cultivated and sustained by her memory of the Annunciation and of Simeon’s words, embraced the whole span of her earthly life, but was practised especially during the 30 years of silence and hiddenness spent in Nazareth.

8 At home, the Blessed Virgin experiences hope in its highest form; she knows she will not be disappointed even if she does not know the times or the ways in which God will fulfil his promise. In the darkness of faith and in the absence of extraordinary signs announcing the beginning of her Son's messianic task, she hopes, beyond all evidence, awaiting the fulfilment of God's promise.

A setting for growth in faith and hope, the house of Nazareth becomes a place of lofty witness to charity. The love that Christ wanted to pour forth in the world is kindled and burns first of all in his Mother’s heart: it is precisely in the home that the proclamation of the Gospel of divine love is prepared.

Looking at Nazareth, contemplating the mystery of the hidden life of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin, we are invited to reflect on the mystery of our life which — St Paul recalls — “is hidden with Christ in God” (
Col 3,3).

It is often a life that seems humble and obscure in the world’s eyes, but which, following Mary’s example, can reveal unexpected possibilities of salvation, radiating the love and peace of Christ

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Pope said:

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially from Denmark, Norway and the United States. I extend a cordial welcome also to the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Toronto. Upon all of you I cordially invoke an abundance of heavenly favours.

                                                                                  February 1997

Wednesday, 5 February 1997 - Be faithful witnesses to the Father’s love

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Influenza has come to the Pope’s home and has affected me also. The doctor has advised me not to go out and, in particular, has asked me to forgo the usual Wednesday General Audience.

So I have to limit myself to greeting you from my study window. I do so with great affection and I thank you for your presence despite the rain, and for your prayers.

Today we are celebrating the memorial of St Agatha, martyred in Catania, probably during the persecution of Decius in the third century. Agatha means “good”. Her name corresponds to reality: St Agatha “is truly a good woman”, we read in the Liturgy of the Hours this morning, “coming forth from God in whose goodness she shares. She is good to her Spouse, Christ, and good also to us through sharing with us her goodness. ‘Good’ is the force and meaning of her name”.

God, our supreme good, is the source of all good things. I hope that you will all be “good”, that is, faithful witnesses to the love of our heavenly Father who fills us with so many gifts and calls us to share in his own joy.

Whoever has this faith, even in the midst of difficulties, preserves that deep peace born of a trusting abandonment to the ever provident and wise hands of God, who never disturbs the joy of his children except to prepare for them a deeper and greater joy.

I greet each one of you present here; I extend my warm wishes to the sick and I assure them all of a special remembrance in my prayer.

I affectionately bless you, as I invoke the Blessed Virgin’s protection.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Pope said:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially the groups from Indonesia and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ.

At the end of his greeting, the Pope added extemporaneously:

I wish you a pleasant stay in Rome, between the sun and rain. Goodbye.

Wednesday, 12 February 1997 - ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’


1. Today, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, we begin our journey of preparation for Easter. It is a spiritual journey of prayer and penance, by which Christians let themselves be purified and sanctified by the Lord, who wants them to share in his sufferings and his glory (cf.
Rm 8,17).

The Holy Spirit, who led and sustained Christ in the “desert”, leads us into this season of Lent, giving us the necessary grace to resist the seductions of the ancient tempter and to live with renewed commitment in the freedom of God’s children.

In fact, Jesus does not ask for formal observances and mere external change, but for conversion of heart and decisive adherence to the will of his Father and our Father.

In this Lenten season, Jesus calls us to follow him on the way that leads him to Jerusalem to be sacrificed on the Cross. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lc 9,23). Of course, this is a demanding and difficult invitation, but it can unleash the creative power of love in those who accept it.

From the first moment of this season of Lent, therefore, our gaze is turned to Christ’s glorious Cross. The author of the Imitation of Christ writes: “In the Cross is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection from the enemy; in the Cross is the supernatural gift of the sweetness of heaven; in the Cross is strength of mind and joy of spirit; in the Cross virtue is added to virtue and holi- ness is perfected” (XII, 1).

2. “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mc 1,14). As we receive ashes on our heads, we listen again today to this passage from the Evangelist Mark. It re- minds us that the salvation offered by Jesus in his paschal mystery requires our response.

Thus the liturgy urges us to give con- crete and visible expression to the gift of conversion of heart, showing to us the way to take and the means to use. At- tentive listening to God’s Word, con- stant prayer, interior and exterior fast- ing, works of charity that concretely ex- press our solidarity with our brothers and sisters: these matters cannot be avoided by those who, reborn to new life in Baptism, no longer intend to live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (cf. Rm 8,4).

I also referred in this year’s Lenten Message to solidarity with our brothers and sisters: Lent “becomes a season of solidarity with individuals and peoples in so many parts of the world who find themselves in very difficult situations” (L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 5 February 1997, p. 1). Among these difficult situations, I gave particular emphasis to the tragic plight of the homeless.

3. This year the Lenten season is part of the three-year journey of immediate preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The first stage of this journey, 1997, is “devoted to reflection on Christ, the Word of God, made man by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 40). During this year we are all invited to a deeper discovery of the person of Christ, the Saviour and Evangelizer, in order to renew our loyalty to him.

Just as the crowds in the Gospel were amazed at the actions and teachings of Jesus, so today humanity will be more easily attracted by Christ and will choose him if they are touched by the witness of Christian faith and charity. Through the work of the Church, the Lord continues to call men and women to follow him.

4. May the Blessed Virgin accompany us on the way of conversion and repentance we have just begun. May her motherly help spur us to overcome all laziness and fear, and to advance with intrepid faith towards Calvary, knowing how to pause lovingly beneath the Cross, in the joyful hope of sharing in the glory of the Lord’s Resurrection.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, the Holy Father said:

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors, especially the pilgrims from Ireland and the United States. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings of grace and peace.

Wednesday, 26 February 1997 - Jesus works miracle at Mary’s request

1. In the episode of the wedding at Cana, St John presents Mary’s first intervention in the public life of Jesus and highlights her co-operation in her Son’s mission.

At the beginning of the account the Evangelist tells us that “the Mother of Jesus was there” (
Jn 2,1), and, as if to suggest that her presence was the reason for the couple's invitation to Jesus and his disciples (cf. Redemptoris Mater RMA 21), he adds “Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples” (Jn 2,2). With these remarks, John seems to indicate that at Cana, as in the fundamental event of the Incarnation, it is Mary who introduces the Saviour.

The meaning and role of the Blessed Virgin’s presence become evident when the wine runs out. As a skilled and wise housewife, she immediately notices and intervenes so that no one’s joy is marred and, above all, to help the newly married couple in difficulty.

Turning to Jesus with the words: “they have no wine” (Jn 2,3), Mary expresses her concern to him about this situation, expecting him to solve it. More precisely, according to some exegetes, his Mother is expecting an extraordinary sign, since Jesus had no wine at his disposal.

2. The choice made by Mary, who could perhaps have obtained the necessary wine elsewhere, shows the courage of her faith, since until that moment Jesus had worked no miracles, either in Nazareth or in his public life.

At Cana, the Blessed Virgin once again showed her total availability to God. At the Annunciation she had contributed to the miracle of the virginal conception by believing in Jesus before seeing him; here, her trust in Jesus' as yet unrevealed power causes him to perform his “first sign”, the miraculous transformation of water into wine.

12 In that way she precedes in faith the disciples who, as John says, would believe after the miracle: Jesus “manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2,11). Thus, Mary strengthened their faith by obtaining this miraculous sign.

3. Jesus’ answer to Mary’s words, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2,4), appears to express a refusal, as if putting his Mother’s faith to the test.

According to one interpretation, from the moment his mission begins Jesus seems to call into question the natural relationship of son to which his mother refers. The sentence, in the local parlance, is meant to stress a distance between the persons, by excluding a communion of life. This distance does not preclude respect and esteem; the term “woman” by which he addresses his Mother is used with a nuance that will recur in the conversations with the Canaanite woman (cf. Mt 15,28), the Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4,21), the adulteress (cf. Jn 8,10) and Mary Magdalene (cf. Jn 20,13), in contexts that show Jesus' positive relationship with his female interlocutors.

With the expression: “O woman, what have you to do with me?”, Jesus intends to put Mary’s co-operation on the level of salvation which, by involving her faith and hope, requires her to go beyond her natural role of mother.

4. Of much greater import is the reason Jesus gives: “My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2,4).

Some scholars who have studied this sacred text, following St Augustine’s interpretation, identify this “hour” with the Passion event. For others, instead, it refers to the first miracle in which the prophet of Nazareth’s messianic power would be revealed. Yet others hold that the sentence is interrogative and an extension of the question that precedes it: “What have you to do with me? Has my hour not yet come?”. Jesus gives Mary to understand that henceforth he no longer depends on her, but must take the initiative for doing his Father’s work. Then Mary docilely refrains from insisting with him and instead turns to the servants, telling them to obey him.

In any case her trust in her Son is rewarded. Jesus, whom she has left totally free to act, works the miracle, recognizing his Mother’s courage and docility: “Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water’. And they filled them up to the brim” (Jn 2,7). Thus their obedience also helps to procure wine in abundance.

Mary’s request: “Do whatever he tells you”, keeps its ever timely value for Christians of every age and is destined to renew its marvellous effect in everyone's life. It is an exhortation to trust without hesitation, especially when one does not understand the meaning or benefit of what Christ asks.

As in the account of the Canaanite woman (Mt 15,24-26), Jesus’ apparent refusal exalts the woman’s faith, so that her Son’s words, “My hour has not yet come”, together with the working of the first miracle, demonstrate the Mother's great faith and the power of her prayer.

The episode of the wedding at Cana urges us to be courageous in faith and to experience in our lives the truth of the Gospel words: “Ask, and it will be given you” (Mt 7,7 Lc 11,9).

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I extend special greetings to the representatives of the BBC and to the viewers of the “Songs of Praise” telecast from the Basilica of St Mary Major: may God fill your hearts with sentiments of joy and gratitude towards our Creator. To all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from Great Britain, Thailand, Hong Kong and the United States, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

                                                                                  March 1997