Mary, On the Eve of Cana

The Christian mystery is incarnational. We profess belief in Jesus, God and man. But profession can teeter, at times, on the edge of a gap between faith and emotional grasp. If we are honest, True God comes more readily to us than True Man. It would be so much easier to have it one way or the other. Monophysitism remains a lingering temptation, an unacknowledged default position. We are robust in attending to the glory of the Incarnation; less so, our attention to its limitations.

Master of Serrone. St. Joseph’s Workshop (16th C.). S. Maria Assunta, Serrone, Italy.


Correspondingly, our veneration of Mary tilts our sensitivities away from her humanity and toward her theological role in salvation history. We invoke her as Queen of Heaven, Queen of Angels, Star of the Sea, Mother of Perpetual Help, Immaculate Conception—a litany of lyrical, poeticizing titles. The splendor of them veils her humanity, leaving us reluctant to envision Mary as a living woman. (That is why I can greet her as Our Lady of Sorrows ahead of any other name. Sorrow lies at the core of maternal empathy.) It is easier for us to picture her in an angelic choir than on Galilean ground with the same quotidian concerns for her son that every mother has.


Anonymous. The Holy Kinship (c. 1500). German. A depiction of the Virgin’s family on the side of her mother, Anne. It is based on the account of Saint Colette of Corbie, who had a vision in 1406 about Anne’s three supposed marriages and descendants. A delightful depiction of Mary and Joseph within a familial network.


Mark 3: 20-21 calls us to take notice of Mary and her son in the context of their time and place. Galilee was a hot-bed of resentment against Roman occupation. Jewish self-awareness was high; Zealot agitation rampant. Historian Simon Dubnov did not exaggerate by much when he wrote:

From Galilee stemmed all the revolutionary movement which so disturbed the Romans.

In Jesus the Jew, Geza Vermes added that struggle against the Empire was “a full-scale Galilean activity in the first century AD.” Any Jew who had a following, who drew crowds, also drew unwanted attention from the Romans. That historic context illumines this passage in Mark’s gospel:

And He went into a house. And the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses.”

Naturally family and friends would be exasperated. How could they not be? Fearing for Jesus’ safety, they were anxious to keep him from being noticed by the occupying forces. Crowds were a red flag to the Romans. Please, Yeshua, for your own sake—ours, too—could you watch yourself? Be a bit more cautious?


Master of Uttenheim. The Holy Families (late 15th C). Seated from left to right are John and James the Greater with Elizabeth, Virgin Mary and Jesus with Anne, possibly Mary of Cleophas with James the Lesser, Joseph, Simon and Judas. A large family gathering, assembled to have their picture taken!


Mothers worry about the friends their children keep. They fret over their manners, their handling of finances. What impression will this child—no matter his age—make at a significant communal event? Let us hope none of those friends of his drink too much. Maternal concern runs wall-to-wall. It is a pervasive cloud of tender anxieties.

That brings me to Ángel Zorita’s whimsical, and thoroughly human, vision of Mary on the eve of that wedding in Cana. Like any mother, she has some instruction for her son.


Wedding Feast of Cana (detail). 16th C. Venetian School.

Zorita’s “La Despedida” (The Farewell) turns a warm eye on the humanity within the mystery of the Incarnation. The poem—a brief Marian monologue—and its introduction were written originally in Spanish. It appears below in English.


Anonymous. Christ at Cana (c. 1150). Church of St. Martin Zillis, Switzerland.

The Farewell

The Catholic Lectionary assigns the chapter of the wedding in Galilee, the first event in the public life of Jesus, to Sunday, the 17th of January of 2016. Every baby stork has to throw itself one day from the tower in order to fly for the first time; every animal has to leave the maternal den. A Farewell was in order for that boy who was so “obedient to his parents” (Luke 2:51) after the mischief of remaining in the Temple to dispute with the old guys. There is a Farewell for all people in life.

Jesus was about thirty (Luke 3: 23) when he started to preach. Jesus and his disciples had been invited to a wedding in Galilee (John 2: 2).


Tell those buddies of yours
to be attentive tomorrow at the wedding.
And, please, do not show up late. . . and thirsty. This is motherly advice, please don’t laugh.

And please my son consider carefully who you trust. See to it that at least one of your associates
manages better with accounts than with the winds:
Why another. . . Doctor of fishing?

Now, please come back, my dear child, to my lap.
That I may see your face again in my arms
since there will not be another opportunity after tomorrow. . . .

–What else does the Lady command? Why is she looking so pensive? She cries: Oh, big guy, you already have one gray hair!

Ángel Zorita

Feast of Cana (late 16th C.). S. Giorgio Alla Costa, Florence.