Patriarch Sfier is one of six Eastern Maronite patriarchs in the Roman Catholic Church and an advisor to Pope John Paul II. The following is from a visit to the United States.
Cana Sunday - Homily (John 2:1-12)
Patriarch Nasrallah Peter Cardinal Sfeir Visits
the Maronite Church in the United States
Los Angeles - February 25, 2001
"Do whatever he tells you" (John 2:5)
First of all, I owe thanks to His Eminence, Cardinal Roger Mahony, for his presence today with us in this Divine Liturgy. He has a special love and esteem for our Maronite Church, and from what I heard, does not spare praising and gratifying her, which encourages her faithful to adhere to their faith, traditions and the rich spiritual heritage. I hope that our new Eparchial Bishop, His Excellency, Bishop Roger Shaheen, will have from His Eminence the same understanding, support and sincere cooperation that His Excellence, our brother Bishop John Chedid had. Please accept, Your Eminence, our sincere thanks for the care and affection you show towards our Maronite Catholic people.
Likewise, we thank all those who have come today, both civic dignitaries and faithful, to join us in this Divine Liturgy, and to pray with us for peace in Lebanon, in the Middle East, and in the whole world. The liturgical time we are entering today is called by St. Paul a "Time of Favor," that is, the time in which God accepts prayers: "In an acceptable time, I heard you, and on the day of salvation, I helped you." (2 Corinthians 6:2).
This Sunday is called "Entrance into Lent", in our Maronite rite, which prescribes the reading of the Gospel of "The wedding at Cana", which talks about the first miracle of the Lord by which Jesus changed the water into wine at the request of His mother, the Blessed Virgin, who wanted to have the hosts avoid the embarrassment of having no more wine. She requested Him to help them. He accepted, but as if He were compelled to do it, for He said to His mother, "Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come." This shows the position of the Virgin Mary in Jesus' life, and the tactful manner she expressed in her request, saying, "they have no wine." She did not add anything to her words, knowing that her Son would understand what she meant. This is an indication that she was confident that He cannot but answer her request. This is also a clear sign of Mary's intercessory influence on her Son, and explains the attachment of our Church and her children to the Virgin Mary, and how they are used to honor her and run to her for protection in times of hardship and trials.
Mary's trust in her Son moved her to tell the waiters: "Do whatever He tells you." She did not drop her request when He told her "Woman, how does your concern affect me?" This was Jesus' first miracle and "he showed his glory to his disciples who began to believe in Him."
"Do whatever He tells you," this is the Virgin Mary's advice to believers in her Son. Faith is not comprised of words, but rather deeds. That is why the Apostle James said in his epistle: "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm and eat well' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?" (James 2:14-16)
The season of Lent, which we usher in today, is a season of cooperation, aid, almsgiving, a season of reconciliation and forgiveness. It is true that the Church, having compassion for her children, particularly the poor who cannot afford the food they want or need for their health, dispenses from the obligation of fasting, but she asks at the same time to do instead the corporal works of mercy, to attend to those who need help and assistance, to be compassionate towards the needy, to perform other acts of charity which alleviate the burden of those who are suffering.
The Prophet Isaiah says: "Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: that a man bow his head like a reed, and be in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free from the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on you own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the lord shall be your rear guard." (Isaiah 58:5-8)
I trust that this is how you understand the meaning of Lent and fasting, and that you abide by it so that God may grant you more strength, success and blessings.
While I thank you for welcoming me along with my brother Maronite bishops, I ask God at the beginning of this blissful Season of Lent to strengthen your faith in God, and grant you health and success in all your undertakings, and I pray that He may be pleased with you, and that He may shower you with His blessings.