The Power of Intercession
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

“They have no wine”

There are many points we could focus on in this gospel, but for the sake of time, we can select only a few. One point that struck me is that Mary is aware there is a problem. She notices that they have run out of wine. In the Middle East, hospitality is a sacred duty. For an essential provision like wine to fail at a wedding is really a terrible humiliation for the bride and groom. “Without wine, there is no joy,” as ancient Rabbis would say.

Mary approaches Jesus and makes him aware of the problem. What we have here is a peek at Mary’s thoughtfulness. We saw her thoughtfulness at the Annunciation when immediately after hearing about Elizabeth’s pregnancy she sets out to visit her and stays for three months to care for her. Here, in this gospel, she intercedes for the bride and groom after noticing that they have run out of wine.

Thoughtfulness is a difficult virtue to acquire, because it involves an exit of self, a forgetting of self. I asked my students recently to imagine if I were to take a class picture, from a camera that develops the picture right away, and I was to pass it around. “What is the first thing you’d do when you have it in your hands?” I asked them. They all agreed that they’d look for themselves. They’d scan over everyone in search of their own face.

We all suffer from a twisted gravity towards the self, and it’s very subtle, and so it is difficult to become aware of just how pervasive it is. In traditional Catholic theology, this is called concupiscence, which is an effect of Original Sin. Concupiscence is a tendency towards selfishness, a tendency to sin. I remember a great priest friend of mine whom we asked to do our wedding, and of course he agreed, he drove up from Washington D.C and said he’s going to take us out for supper and give us his famous “four points” talk that he gives to couples about to be married. I am ashamed to say that I only remember two of the points.

One point he made concerned “concupiscence”. He just said the word “concupiscence”. If anything is going to destroy your marriage, he insisted, it is that. We suffer from a tendency or inclination to sin and self-seeking, and he said if you don’t realize that you are your own worst enemy, your marriage will soon be in trouble. In his experience, it is selfishness that has always been the root cause of marriage break up.

And that is why thoughtfulness is difficult, because we have a tendency to think of ourselves first and foremost, and this is true even with those who have spent years and years in the spiritual life. The more we grow spiritually, that is, the closer we get to God, the more we realize how utterly selfish we are, and we begin to distrust ourselves. And that’s a great thing, to distrust ourselves, because when that happens, at the same time we begin to see how utterly patient and merciful God is, and we begin to trust Him more and more.

Mary had no sin, but she knew her “nothingness”. We see this in her Magnificat, where she declares: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, for He has looked upon the nothingness of His handmaiden.”

Other translations say: “He has looked upon the humiliation of His servant”. Either way, she saw into her nothingness, and when you know your nothingness, you lose interest in yourself, and your interest in others increases. You think of others more. They become more interesting. Mary has perfect thoughtfulness, as we see in this gospel account.

The next point is that after becoming aware of their need, Mary intercedes for the couple. She simply presents their need to her son. She is not anxious, she does not say “Do something about it”, she just trusts him, for she knows that her heart beats to the same rhythm of his own heart, and that if she merely indicates their need, he will detect her sorrow and act to alleviate it.

This underscores the importance of intercession, Mary’s intercession, as well as our own.

It is so important to become aware of the needs of others, to learn to think of others, and to work on that for the rest of our lives, precisely in order to intercede for others, to pray for them. Prayer is a far more powerful weapon that we tend to realize. To illustrate this, I’d like to use the metaphor of light. When I was a student at the university of Montreal, just after I was married, my wife and I lived in an apartment for $200 a month. That’s cheap rent, and we all know we get what we pay for. It was a cockroach infested apartment, so we went through a lot of chemical insecticide. If you’ve ever lived with cockroaches, you know they come out at night, in the dark. They hate the light. If you get up in the middle of the night and turn on the light, they scatter very quickly.

Prayer is like that. We live in the midst of a preternatural world. We are surrounded by angels, holy angels as well as fallen angels. There is such a thing as evil spirit, and they wreak havoc upon our lives, and they very subtly try to divide, to sow seeds of division, suspicion, anxiety, etc. Now, in his treatise on angels, St. Thomas Aquinas points out that an angel is present to us not by being subject to place, because angels are immaterial, thus not subject to quantity and the dimensions of place. Rather, an angel is present to us by his attention. The angels and the saints are present to us by the attention of their gaze.

Now, evil loves the darkness, and the one thing that evil spirit cannot tolerate is attention, at least a certain kind of attention, namely, the kind that penetrates to the truth behind the facade. The realm of darkness is an expression that refers to the realm of the diabolical. They cannot stand the light, for they cannot stand exposure; for those who belong to darkness are devious and they strive to work undercover, under the cover of darkness, and since we cannot see in the dark, they seek to cause havoc and disorder under the cover of darkness. Like cockroaches, those who belong to darkness flee from all that which exposes the truth about themselves.

But prayer in the Spirit calls the attention of the angels and saints upon a situation. When we pray for a person or a situation dominated by evil, we call the attention of the saints who belong to the light, who are permeated by light, we call the attention of their luminous gaze to this person or situation. We make them present to this person or situation. We, as it were, flash a light onto it, and if this is a situation in which darkness has a hold, we cause great discomfort to the spirit of evil by our prayers. If we persevere in prayer, we will succeed in flooding this situation with light, and the devil cannot stand to endure the light for any great length of time; there is too much shame and self-loathing among those who belong to darkness.

That is why we have to persist in prayer, to pray and pray and pray without giving up, all the while trusting that God will act. The great 16th century spiritual writer Father Lorenzo Scupoli says that when we pray, we place a sword in the hand of God, so that He can fight for us—another metaphor illustrating that prayer is powerful.

We are called to pray for one another, to pray for those in darkness, to pray for our children, our spouses, our parents, our colleagues, our leaders, and to pray for the world. But this gospel also calls attention to the power of Mary’s intercession. Pray to Mary. Ask her to intercede for you. She was invited to the Wedding at Cana, and because she was present there, she became aware of a dire need before the bride, groom, and head steward became aware of it. Invite Mary into your own marriage, into your own home. Consecrate your home to Mary, consecrate your life to Mary. St. Louis de Montfort shows us how to do that in his little book True Devotion to Mary. If you invite her into your life, she will intercede on your behalf, not only for what you ask of her, but also for what you are not aware of. And what son can ignore his mother? Certainly not the Son of God.