How do you measure the worth of a marriage?
According to a report on a 2018 public opinion poll by the Angus Reid Institute, more than half of Canadian respondents were of the opinion that “marriage is simply not necessary”. In general, the report says,
Canadians favour treating marriages and common-law relationships identically when it comes to taxation and assets, with majorities saying those who legally marry should not get extra tax benefits (59% say this).
Is this surprising? Unfortunately, it is not. This devaluation of marriage as an entity of great social and legal significance has been a long time coming in a world that seems to shun anything that is remotely traditional or religious. Out with the old, and in with the brand spanking, eye-popping, gorgeously glittery and Instagram-worthy new!
Speaking of new – my marriage isn’t. It is almost twenty-five years since my husband and I vowed to love and honour each other all the days of our lives, till death do us part. In many ways, a quarter of a century is like a blip in the history of the world. For me, the moment in time when we made those solemn vows to each other seems a lifetime ago. It has certainly been many smaller dress sizes and a gazillion diapers changed (give or take a million) since my husband and I said, “I do”. We went from table for two to party of 14 in the time it took for our marriage to turn silver. It sounds a bit quick and easy when I say it but the reality is that it has been neither.
Pope Francis said in a general audience in 2018, “The call to married life, therefore, requires a heartfelt discernment of the quality of the relationship and a period of engagement to confirm it.” Marriage is not something you decide on a whim. It is far more than just a piece of paper, a legal arrangement. However, for many that choose to walk down the aisle, the main event of their marriage is the stressful hullaballoo and emotional roller coaster that is the wedding day.
Planning a Wedding
A young friend is getting married in the fall; the organizational minutiae of her wedding day had already caused a fair bit of stress for her and her fiancé – and she’s an event planner by profession! So many things to plan for and take care of also means that so many things could go wrong. I imagine the wedding at Cana could possibly have ended up in a kerfuffle of disappointment and dismay had Mary and Jesus not been there. “When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” (John 2:3)
In preparing for a party or event, it is important to note the number of guests attending to ensure that the host does not run out of food or drink. Otherwise, it can make for a very embarrassing situation, eclipsing the joyful reason for the occasion itself. And while scripture may be sparing in unnecessary details of what led to the wine running out, it is interesting to consider the scene that must have played out during what was one of the most important days of the couple that had just gotten married in Cana.
What was going to happen when the guests found out there was not more wine to be served? There may have been some nervous questions or worried looks when the servants saw what was going on. One person in the celebratory crowd did notice there was some trouble. Mary, being the kind of woman who deeply considered things in her heart, would have intuitively known this was no minor inconvenience. This was epic: “Winegate” epic.
Mary sensed the worry and anxiety which threatened to overshadow the happy day and did what she does best. She turned to her Son to tell Him of the situation at hand. “And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4)
When we read Scripture, it is not always clear how something was said. Did He actually reproach His mother? Did He utter those words sternly? In contemplating this particular exchange, my motherly intuition tells me that far from a reprimand, the loving Son Jesus looked at His mother and spoke with a knowing and affectionate (perhaps even teasing) smile. Maybe He had a twinkle in His eyes. Jesus, after all, knew His mother very well. If anyone had a right to be presumptuous about anything, miracles included, it was definitely Mary.
Jesus drew very many people to Himself, not just because of the miracles he performed or what He taught with such authority. He was the kind of person that invited conversation. By all Gospel accounts, Jesus related to each person with unmeasured kindness, respect and love. It was not some persona that Jesus affected when He liked the company He was with. He was genuinely compassionate and loving because he was brought up that way. It was in this manner that He knew what His mother was implicitly asking Him to do at Cana.
Mary, who is a powerful and faithful intercessor for those of us who turn to her for help and aid in our most trying times, is always directing people to listen to her Son, to do as He says:
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. (John 2:5-8)
I recently saw a photo of a stone water jar in the Holy Land, similar to the one mentioned in the passage. I was flabbergasted in spite of the fact that the Gospel account specifies that each jar could hold 20 to 30 gallons of water. That is about 75 to 113 litres, much more than the capacity of a compact car’s fuel tank. Those servants must have hurried back and forth to fulfill Jesus’ directive, especially if they had the sense that this could help head off the disastrous lack of wine at the wedding. Even if they had no clear understanding of how filling up the jars with just water would do the trick, they did what they were told to do. Each jar was filled to the brim, this detail suggesting it was near overflowing.
When they were told to take some of the liquid from the jars to the chief steward, what must these servants have been thinking? Could their eyes maybe have widened ever so slightly, or did they bug out in disbelief? In the rush of getting things done, it may have been only at this moment that they thought to wonder about the fruitfulness of what they had been told to do. It did not make sense – yet.
When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:9-10)
Water into wine – what an astonishing feat! And what of wine into the blood of Christ? At every Holy Mass, we relive the sacrifice of Jesus Himself on Mount Calvary, the eternal Priest, Whose outstretched arms lovingly reach out to us. If Cana was the site of Jesus’ first miracle, Calvary is where the eternal miracle of the Eucharist first took place. Each tells of the miraculous and transformative power of Jesus’ love and mercy.
The servants knew what the chief steward did not – what he had tasted was water when it was poured into the stone jar, and yet had become wine when it was drawn moments later to be tasted. The servants are not named, of course, and they do not need to be. They bear the names of each one of us who believes in Jesus and the Divine Providence that is never lacking when we need it most.
Many times, in good times and in bad, I find myself drawn to recall that we who were married before God are called to trust in the grace He gives us within the Sacrament of Matrimony. The truth is we can start rattling off statistics about marriage, but each one is unique to the couple that make it up. Each one has a story, a struggle or many struggles, many jubilant highs and sometimes what seems to be even more nearly overwhelming lows. Each one’s story is marked by Divine Providence, whether the couple knows it or not. The couple whose wedding it was in Cana may or may not have known of the miracle Jesus performed, but the fact that it took place indicates the divine blessing their union received and would have received for the rest of their lives.
What is Marriage Really Worth?
For all the statistics and numbers in the world, the truth is that we cannot put a price on the fundamental value of marriage. For my husband and I, it has been worth all the times we worked hard and it didn’t seem to make a difference. We did more than just survive – we thrived, although there were times we felt as if we were hanging by the proverbial thread. We have lived a life that feels as if it has been many lifetimes since we got married, maybe because we experienced the death of many well-laid plans, only to begin anew – many times -with what God had in store for us.
Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)
What happened in Cana transcends time. Marriage is worth God’s grace and blessing, His Mother’s solicitous intercession, and Jesus’ forthcoming help for those who have enough faith to fill those stone jars to the brim with water that is lovingly transformed into wine at His Word.