Last month, a lot of journalists were doing their big end of the year wrap-ups.
You had Time magazine with its Person of the Year, Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany.
There was Barbara Walters with her Most Fascinating People of the Year—her top choice being Caitlyn Jenner.
And there was the annual Gallup poll, which for the 20th year in a row declared that the most admired woman in the United States is Hillary Clinton.
But then in the middle of all this, one publication did something that surprised a lot of people and caused a sensation online when the news was announced.
For its end of year wrap up, the editors of National Geographic magazine named the most powerful woman in the world.
It was none of those I mentioned earlier.
Their choice was Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The cover story was written by Maureen Orth—a Catholic and the widow of Tim Russert and also an accomplished journalist in her own right. She wrote about the impact of Mary on the world—and she referenced the gospel we just heard:
“Praying for Mary’s intercession and being devoted to her are a global phenomenon,” she wrote. “The notion of Mary as intercessor with Jesus begins with the miracle of the wine at the wedding at Cana, when, according to the Gospel of John, she tells him, “They have no wine,” thus prompting his first miracle. No other woman has been as exalted as Mary…Pope Francis, when once asked what Mary meant to him, answered, “She is my mamá.”
She is my “mama,” too. She is the “mama” of all of us.
This beautiful gospel touches on many important themes—about marriage, about Jesus revealing himself as God, about how Christ can transform our world and us. We are water and he makes us wine.
But it is also a reminder of the woman behind the miracle. She is mentioned in the very first sentence of this gospel and her impact is enormous.
Those four words – “they have no wine”—change everything. She helps to make the impossible possible. After all, as she learned from an angel all those years earlier: nothing is impossible with God.
This gospel, I think, underscores Mary’s role in salvation history. The woman who brought Jesus into the world here continues to bring his divine presence to others. And her last words in this gospel are her last words in any of the gospels. Her instructions to the servants are meant, as well, for us: “Do whatever he tells you.”
During the Christmas season, of course, Mary was everywhere. We saw her on cards, in nativity scenes, on stamps, in pageants. But those popular images only tell part of the story.
As I like to remind people: she isn’t a plaster figure you put on the shelf.
She is a woman who managed to bear what many of us would find unbearable.
Mary is a teenager who faced an unexpected pregnancy.
She is a wife giving birth far from home, in a cave.
She is part of a family fleeing to a foreign country, seeking refuge to escape a killer.
She is a mother searching desperately for her missing child.
She is a woman standing beside her son as he suffers a violent death.
As Jesus says in the last moments of his earthly life: Behold your mother.
You want courage? Strength? You want a glimpse at the most powerful woman in the world?
Behold your mother.
Through it all, in spite of what she endured, Mary held fast to her faith. She never lost her trust in God or her belief in prayer or her sense of purpose.
Now, around the world, she is known as the lady who gets things done—and who intercedes for us and speaks on our behalf, just as she did at Cana.
I’ve seen this in my own life. Almost 60 years ago, after she had her first child, my mother suffered three miscarriages. When she became pregnant once again, for the fourth time, the doctors didn’t think she would be able to have another child. So she and my father and my sister set to work and went to the local parish, St. Catherine Laboure in Wheaton, Maryland and prayed the Miraculous Medal Novena.
Every Monday night for months, they prayed: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” They prayed so this child would be born.
And it was.
And here I am.
Since then, for 56 years, Mary has walked beside me. I was married at a church named St. Mary’s. Our first parish when we moved to New York was Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I was ordained at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I serve here, at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs.
She is never far from me.
It is my prayer that she is never far from you, either.
Among other things, this gospel passage shows us Mary’s profound influence with her son. When she speaks, he listens. She remains our greatest intercessor.
So, turn to her when you need a miracle, when you think what lies before you is just impossible.
Mary can help us bear the unbearable. And she can help to reassure us: Nothing is impossible with God.
I stand before you this morning as proof.
As the wedding feast at Cana shows us: just one word from Mary can change everything.
She really is the most powerful woman in the world.