2 Sunday C - Homily and Stories

Michel de Verteuil
General Comments

Sunday in the liturgy is always “the first day of the week,” so since Ordinary Time starts on the Monday after the Epiphany, this Sunday is called the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time. We might expect to start immediately with the continuous reading from the Synoptic Gospel for the year, which characterizes Ordinary Time. However, liturgical custom dictates otherwise: on this Sunday each year we meditate on a passage from the first chapters of St John’s gospel. It is as if the Church is reluctant to say farewell to the Christmas season – or perhaps reluctant to leave St John, since we have been reading from his gospel on the weekdays of Christmas.

On this Sunday of Year C we read the story of the Wedding Feast of Cana. As always with readings from St John, we take for granted that the passage is deeply symbolical, and so we can be very creative in our interpretation. By calling Jesus’ action a “sign” – the word this gospel always uses to refer to his miracles – the text invites us to see it as a living lesson leading us to understand God’s saving work in Jesus.

We celebrate God’s work from two points of view: as its beneficiaries, and as those called to collaborate with him in bringing it to fulfillment.

We can identify three aspects of the story:
- the miracle;
- how Jesus came to be involved;
- the intercessory power of Mary.

The Jews attached great importance to the high moments of life. Thus a wedding was not just a brief ceremony, but an experience shared by the entire community. The typical wedding feast could last up to seven days. That sounds strange to our modern way of thinking, but this offered a bright interlude in an otherwise dreary existence. The ceremony would begin on Tuesday at midnight. After the wedding the father of the bride would take his daughter to every house so that everyone might congratulate her. It was a community experience. Weddings were a time of joy.

Years ago when Johnny Carson was the host of The Tonight Show he interviewed an eight year old boy. The young man was asked to appear because he had rescued two friends in a coalmine outside his hometown in West Virginia. As Johnny questioned the boy, it became apparent to him and the audience that the young man was a Christian. So Johnny asked him if he attended Sunday school. When the boy said he did Johnny inquired, "What are you learning in Sunday school?" "Last week," came his reply, "our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine." The audience roared, but Johnny tried to keep a straight face. Then he said, "And what did you learn from that story?" The boy squirmed in his chair. It was apparent he hadn't thought about this. But then he lifted up his face and said, "If you're going to have a wedding, make sure you invite Jesus!" The little boy was on to something. Weddings are time of Joy.

At the wedding, which Jesus attended in Cana of Galilee, there was great joy but a problem developed. There was a shortage of wine. Not only was that a social embarrassment, it was also a symbol. For a wedding to run out of wine was an omen that there was little chance of this particular marriage reaching its full potential, maybe joy was not meant for this couple.

So Mary approaches Jesus and asks him to do something. His response? "Why do you involve me woman?" Sounds harsh, so unlike him, and it has long puzzled biblical scholars...

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John Littleton
Gospel Reflection

John’s Gospel is quite different from those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In contrast with their gospels, which begin by referring to this earthly world and the human Jesus, John’s Gospel begins with eternity. Even the opening words indicate this clearly: ‘In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God’ (John 1:1). The Word is inextricably linked with God for all eternity.

Thus John’s Gospel begins with God and communicates the Christmas story from the perspective of God rather than from the standpoint of this world and human beings, which is how Matthew, Mark and Luke present their gospels. Therefore, John’s Gospel may be described as more meditative and reflective than the synoptic gospels (the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, which display much similarity in content and structure) because, being more spiritual, it invites us to become more reflective about the meaning of Christmas.

It is straightforward for us to relate to the very human image of the infant Jesus lying in the manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. When we watch the figure of the infant Jesus being placed among the other figures in the crib during the Christmas Midnight Mass, we can easily imagine what it was like to be in the stable. We can readily identify with the human feelings and emotions of that moment.

However, it is much more difficult to relate to the more abstract concept of the Word becoming flesh. To do so requires serious reflection about what this means for our Christian lifestyle. Yet God desires that we would be reflective and prayerful people because he has given us the ability to think and meditate — like the people for whom John’s Gospel was originally written.

The reality is that the infant Jesus lying in the manger is the Word of God who has become flesh. The birth of the infant Jesus in Bethlehem is the birth of the Word of God in the world. The infant Jesus is Emmanuel (God-with-us). He is the Word made flesh. This is the mystery of Christmas.
At Christmas Jesus is born anew in the heart of every committed Christian and, through his suffering humanity which he shares with each one of us, he gives us access to God’s life and mystery. This is why we rejoice and give thanks.

We are called to be genuine Christmas people rejoicing that God, in the Word becoming flesh, has fulfilled his promise to send the Saviour into the world. In practice this means that we engage with the mystery of Christmas in a deeper way by turning away from sin and by recognising the presence of the new-born Christ in those around us. Perhaps we can pray best for this by modifying slightly a verse from St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: may he enlighten the eyes of our minds so that we can see what hope his call holds for us, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit (see Ephesians 1:18).

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1. The miracle of Cana is the transformation of water into “the best wine”. What was colourless and bland becomes colourful and sparkling, a source of joy and energy.
Though we are free to apply the story to any experience of transformation, it is highly significant that the water was “meant for the ablutions that are customary among the Jews” ; this is a transformation of religion, therefore – it had become bland, selfcentered, focused on personal purity, now it is renewed and brings joy into the world.

It is a common theme of the gospels that Jesus’ mission was to transform the religion of his time and make it more human – the sabbath is for human beings, not human beings for the sabbath. In Jesus’ parables the kingdom is often compared to a wedding feast; when the Pharisees complained that Jesus’ disciples did not fast, he answered that “the bridegroom was with them”; in contrast with John the Baptist, Jesus “comes eating and drinking.”
Another significant aspect of the miracle is that Jesus starts with the water that was there. This is a “sign” – the work of redemption, unlike creation, does not create out of nothing.

2.The was St John tells the story, Jesus chose to work the miracles as the conclusion of a personal journey in four stages:
a) Mary draws his attention to the need;
b) Jesus refuses to get involved on two counts,
- “Why turn to me?” (in the more common version, “What is that to me and to you?”)
- “My hour has not yet come”.
c) Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says;
d) Jesus gets involved.
Scholars have offered different interpretations of Jesus’ journey. As always, personal experience is our most reliable guide. We can see the journey as the movement by which people of faith are led by God to enter into a new commitment, a new “hour” of grace, requiring a higher degree of self-giving.

3. Again starting with experience, we can see Mary as “the woman” – either within the human community or within each person. She is the compassionate one, sensitive to the needs of those around her, and sensitive also to the journey that Jesus must make, challenging him and yet leaving him free. 

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Thomas O’Loughlin,
Homily Notes

1. The liturgy presents us with an embarrassment of riches today for preaching. First, there is the Cana incident, which is the dramatic, and memorable, opening of the ministry of Jesus in John’s gospel. Second, there is the passage from Paul on the gifts given to each church by the Spirit, which is one of the very few occasions in Ordinary Time when the second reading is such a sufficiently contained unit, and is also ac­cessible to the gathering from just listening to the passage, that it could be the basis of a homily. However, since there is no intrinsic nor intentional link between the second and the gospel, one must choose to preach on either one or other readings. In either case, the content of the homily can be ap­proach fairly directly.

If you opt for the Cana story, then use notes 2 and 3; if Paul, then notes 4 to 6.

2. We think we know the Cana story – we all have heard it umpteen times, and it is so well told by John with its powerful image of gallons of the best wine in giant jars that it is firmly planted in our memory. But do we see it as a ‘sign’?

3. The key message of John’s first ‘sign’, and one of the very foundations of our believing, can be summed up in ten words: The Divine One is with us and knows our needs. That which was promised to Israel is now among his people. Israel thought of God as good and loving and caring – and a key image of that relationship was that God not only provided food – basic needs – but wine, wine in abundance and freely available – symbolising all that is pleasant and joyful in the world. Wine, in ancient culture as in our own, was associated with having a party – we still bring a bottle when going to a dinner or a party – and wine in abundance was the symbol of generosity – we still do not want to be stingy with wine and then as now people thought of ways of not appearing stingy as we see in the chef’s comments that people serve the good wine first. The abundance of the best wine shows that God is not only infinitely generous, but that his greatest gift was what was only made known in that moment: the Son of God has come among us. Like the best wine which only came at the end of a long period of waiting, so came Jesus in the his­tory of Israel. God is generous and loving and wine is a fit­ting image of his care, but his greatest generosity is sending his own Son among us. It is this gift of the Christ that we thank the Father for every time we gather for the Eucharist and we celebrate his gift in our banquet of bread and wine. 

4. Paul looks at how the various members of the church to whom he is writing have received a variety of gifts. We Christians see the diversity of people with all the various tal­ents as an indication of the goodness and wisdom of God: it is all this variety working with co-ordination that makes the church and builds the kingdom. 

5. However, while we know that there is a variety of gifts and the one Spirit, we are often slow to act on it. Until a gener­ation ago, for example, it was often said that only priests and nuns had vocations. Until just before 1970 everything at Mass, except bringing the cruets to the altar, was done by the priest, and all the people were just’ at Mass’ or were’ getting Mass’ or simply ‘hearing Mass’. All their gifts were simply ignored and the clergy acted as if they not only had all the gifts but that only they had the gifts of the Spirit. Moreover, many people liked it that way: the priests and nuns could do all the religious tasks and they could be left to get on with them, while other people could be Christians with minimal involvement.

6. So this reading prompts a series of questionings: first, each of us must ask what gifts have I for use within this community; second, as a community are we using all these gifts from the variety of all the members of the church for the good of the whole (or are ministries just in the hands of the priest and a little clique that do all the tasks in the community?); and third, to what extent are we still in the old two-class church where vocation and ministry could be dodged by leaving it to ‘the professionals’ (Le. priests and nuns)? These are hard questions, for both priest and communities have to have the courage to be able to change their minds.

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Prayer reflection 

Lord, we thank you for times when, by a movement of grace,
we enter into a new level of commitment:
- begin praying more contemplatively;
- are reconciled with someone who has hurt us or our families;
- join a movement working for social change;
- enter a religious community;
- leave a secure job in order to serve the poor.
It always seems to happen suddenly.
We are doing things as we always have,
relating with family, friends and fellow workers as before.
When we hear that the people around us have no wine
we see no reason why they should turn to us;
like Jesus, we say, “My hour has not come yet.”
Then you send Mary into our lives,
someone who feels the pain of those around her,
someone who knows us so well that she perceives
that we are more ready to get involved than we realise.
She tells those around to trust us
and then leaves us to do things in our own way and at our own time.
Through some mysterious change of heart,
which neither others nor we ourselves can explain,
we find ourselves taking charge of the situation and answering the need,
transforming water into wine.
Your grace within us is revealed to others – and to ourselves.

“In Jerusalem, this holy city of three mighty religions,
no one seems to have the faith to make the peaceful decision.”
    David Rudder, calypsonian
Lord, the different religions of the world have as their special role
to preserve the vision of the world as a great wedding feast where
- ancient enemies are reconciled,
- ethnic groups work in harmony,
- human beings and nature are one,
- there is no more dualism between humanity and divinity.
But so often, when we find ourselves in a situation of conflict,
our groups act as if this is not our concern.
Like the water jars at the wedding feast of Cana,
which were meant for the ablutions that were customary among the Jews,
our observances become a matter of preserving our identity
and of keeping ourselves pure, cleansing ourselves
from what we consider  the contamination of the world around us.
We pray that you will send us religious leaders like Jesus
who will transform our faith into a source of joy and vitality,
so that the men and women of our time will experience
that the religions of the world have kept their best wine till now.

“A time will come when we will once again be called so to utter the Word of God that the world will be changed and renewed by it. It will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming.”   Dietrich Bonhoffer
Lord, the preaching of your Word in our Church has so lost its power
that we are surprised when our contemporaries turn to us in their need.
We pray that the hour of grace will come
when the water which our preaching has become
will be transformed into delightful refreshing wine.

“We must find the courage to leave our temples and enter into the temples
of human experience, temples that are filled with human suffering.”
Buddhist saying
Lord, the hour always comes for your Church
when, like Jesus at the wedding feast of Cana,
we listen to the women among us and respond to the needs of the world.

“Night is our diocese and silence is our ministry,
poverty is our charity and helplessness our tongue-tied sermon.”  
Thomas Merton
Lord, give us the courage to come before you like Mary before Jesus,
Saying simply, “They have no wine,” and leaving the rest to you.

“The days are coming when harvest will follow directly after ploughing,
the treading of grapes soon after sowing, when the mountains will run with new wine
and the hills all flow with it.”
  Amos 9:13
Lord, your will is that the whole world should be a place of abundance
for the whole human family.
Yet Mary’s words to Jesus at the wedding feast of Cana
are echoing in many countries today.
Men and women have no wine to share with their families,
since the wine which nature provided for the festivals has all gone,
plundered by the modern economy, industrial estates and misdirected projects.
Forgive us that so often our Church says to them, “Why turn to us?”
We pray that like Jesus we will be moved to listen to the pain of your people
so that the hour of grace may come when we will work with them
to discover the untapped sources of abundance  among them,
and from the water jars standing there
they will draw out gallons of the best wine,
they will see your glory and believe in you.
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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1. A Sense of Awe 

I consider it divine good fortune that we have a scripture lesson so early in the year which encourages us to ponder a miracle. You and I need to become more sensitive to the possibility of miracles. Such a sensitivity will help us recognize present miracles, which we either do not see or which we take for granted; and it will prepare us to receive still more miracles.

Walt Whitman felt that "each part and tag" of his own person was a miracle, and that "a mouse is miracle enough to confound sextillions of infidels." He reminded us that we are surrounded by the glorious and the miraculous and do not know it. Science ought to have increased our sense of awe, as it has unfolded the marvels of the heavens above and mysteries of our bodies within; but we take the attitude that if we know how far it is to a given planet, we have, therefore, encompassed all its significance. We need to know that God is at work in our world. The affairs of this world, and of our individual lives, often seem to be out of control. At such times we can be reassured by the knowledge that God has worked wonderfully in days past, and that he is still at work.

J. Ellsworth Kalas
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2. Soaking Up God's Goodness

A friend of mine is one of the best chefs in the United States (and has been so acclaimed by people who know what they are talking about). The celebrity chefs on Food Network notwithstanding, most chefs tend to be introverts. My friend, too, is certainly a rather shy and retiring person. He'd rather stay in the background than be center stage with a spotlight shining on him. But like most chefs, the one thing that brings my friend joy is seeing others enjoy his food. More than once when eating in his restaurant, I have seen him standing in the shadows near the kitchen, watching people delight in his culinary creations, and beaming in happiness at seeing the diners' enjoyment. Most will never shake hands with my friend. Most will never bother to seek him out to say "Thank You" or send a letter of appreciation to the restaurant at some later point. Nor does my friend stroll through the dining room tacitly and subtly soliciting praise. He's mostly content to look upon people's delight from afar.

I wonder if God is not accustomed to this as well. At Cana, Jesus watched people enjoy an outstanding wine whose origin most people never learned (and maybe would not have believed even had they been told). And if people did not thank him, it was nothing new. As Augustine first observed - and as C.S. Lewis later enjoyed pondering - what Jesus did at Cana (as in many of his miracles) was really no more than a speeded-up version of what he does every year on a thousand hillsides as vines silently turn water into wine. Millions of people enjoy that wine every year without for a moment recognizing the divine origin of it all. It's a reminder that we serve a God whose effusive overflow of providential gifts knows no bounds. It's a reminder that God is also often content to watch people-sometimes even Christian people who should know better-from afar as they soak up the goodness of his creative work. 

Scott Hoezee
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3. Inviting Christ Brings Joy

Why do we bring Christ into the wedding ceremony? Because if we would only bring Christ into our marriages, we would have better marriages! A few years back psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers was quoted as saying that for about half of all American couples, marriage is a "quiet hell." Many other marriages have degenerated into a "tired friendship," as someone put it. I submit to you that this is a tragedy, and in order to prevent such tragedies, we ought to take the traditional marriage ritual seriously and invite Christ to be a guest at our weddings, just as He was invited to the wedding at Cana in Galilee.  

Above all, in this quaint and lovely little story, John is proclaiming the Good News that Jesus Christ is the Life of every party, that he is the one who livens things up, brings life abundant for all, even anonymous brides and bridegrooms in an out-of-the-way peasant village located somewhere (where, we are not sure) in the Galilee. As William Barclay put it in his commentary on this passage: "...whenever Jesus comes into our lives there enters a quality which is like turning water into wine. The trouble with life is that we get bored with it. Pleasure loses its thrill. There is a vague dissatisfaction about everything. But when Jesus enters our lives there comes a new exhilaration!"

Donald B. Strobe
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4. Signs and Hidden Significance 

I returned yesterday from San Antonio, Texas. While I was there I remembered my first visit to Houston when I was a student at seminary. As I was interested in history, I visited the battlefield outside the city. There, at San Jacinto, General Sam Houston defeated the Mexican army and won independence for Texas. The Texans have erected a huge memorial tower -- it looks much like the Hoover Tower at Stanford University -- and with typical Texas modesty placed a sign in front of it that says. "This tower is ten feet taller than the Washington Monument."

That is what signs are for: to tell you something that you would not otherwise know; to manifest a significance that might otherwise be hidden. That is what John means when he says that this miracle was a sign. What it pictured was the normal outcome of the combination of human and divine activity. Men can fill water jars; only God can turn water into wine! Men do the ordinary, the commonplace, the normal activity, but God touches it, and brings it to life and gives it flavor, fragrance and effect. That is the meaning of this sign: it is an indication of what the ministry of Jesus is going to be like whenever he touches a human life, not only during his lifetime on earth, but also through all the running centuries to come, whenever his ministry would be present in the world.

Thus it affects us today as well. Bring God into your situation and all the humdrum, commonplace activities are touched with a new power that makes them fragrant, flavorful, enjoyable and delightful, giving joy and gladness to the heart. That is the meaning of this sign.

Ray C. Stedman, Water to Wine
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5. A Whole New Era

What about the underlying meaning? What did this strange first miracle signify? In a departure from custom, John fails to interpret for us the miraculous "sign," which for him almost always means a symbol, a kind of acted parable. Some commentators see in it a preview of the last Supper, when Jesus transforms not water into wind but wine into blood, his blood shed for all humanity. Maybe. But, I think not. 

I prefer a more whimsical interpretation. Tellingly, John notes that the wine came from huge thirty-gallon jugs that stood full of water at the front of the house, vessels that were used by observant Jews to fulfill the rules on ceremonial washing. Even a wedding feast had to honor the burdensome rituals of cleansing. Jesus, perhaps with a twinkle in his eye, transformed those jugs, ponderous symbols of the old way, into wineskins, harbingers of the new. From purified water of the Pharisees came the choice new wine of a whole new era. The time for ritual cleansing had passed; the time for celebration had begun.

Prophets like John the Baptist preached judgment. Jesus' first miracle, though, was one of tender mercy. The lesson was not lost on the disciples who joined him at the wedding that night in Cana. Don't let it be lost on you! 

Adapted from Phillip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew,
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 6. The Power of Christ  

Nearly one hundred years ago, there was an American inventor named Louis Enricht who announced that he had discovered a cheap additive that would turn ordinary tap water into automotive fuel. At the time World War I was raging in Europe and gasoline was enormously expensive. Enricht claimed that his new additive would bring the per-gallon cost down to a single penny. That certainly got everyone's attention. 

Enricht even gave a demonstration to a crowd of reporters. He had the reporters check that his jug was full of ordinary tap water, then poured in a small amount of greenish liquid, stirred it up, and invited everyone to test this miraculous mixture in their own vehicles. They did and it worked! Enricht's demonstrations were so convincing that even the world-famous automaker Henry Ford offered him millions to buy the rights for his additive. And no wonder. We're still looking for such a cure to our energy ills today. 

Actually, Enricht had merely discovered that if you add a very cheap chemical called acetone to water it will run an engine for a while. Then it will destroy it. But before anyone found that out, Enricht had managed to convince not only Henry Ford, but several other famous American businessmen who should have known better, to give him millions of dollars for his worthless invention.  

Enricht was a scam artist. His invention looked convincing, but ultimately it destroyed the engine it was supposed to power. The power of Christ, on the other hand, took that which was inferior ordinary well water and made it rich and full and delightful.

 Anything Christ touches is going to be improved by that touch. The water was not only going to be transformed to wine. It would be the best wine possible. In this he was but reflecting the nature of God. God is a giving God. The God who has given us a beautiful and a bountiful world does so because that is God's nature. 

Andreas Schroeder

7. “Make sure you invite Jesus and Mary!"   

Johnny Carson (who hosted the Tonight Show for 30 years), was interviewing an eight-year-old boy one night.  The young man was asked to appear on the Late Show because he had rescued two friends from a coal mine outside his hometown in West Virginia.  As Johnny questioned him, it became apparent that the boy was a Christian.   Johnny asked him if he attended Sunday school.  When the boy said he did, Johnny inquired, "What are you learning in Sunday school?"  "Last week,” the boy replied, “our lesson was about how Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine." The audience burst into laughter and applause.   Keeping a straight face, Johnny asked, "And what did you learn from that story?"   The boy squirmed in his chair.   It was apparent he hadn't thought about this. But then he lifted up his face and said, "If you're going to have a wedding, make sure you invite Jesus and Mary!"  And that is precisely the message of today’s gospel: make sure you invite Jesus and Mary wherever you live and wherever you go – they are the only ones you'll ever need.   In other words, today's gospel lesson is about the sufficiency of Christ in our lives and the power of His mother’s intercession.
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8. The chicken soup is a sacrament:  

J. D. Salinger’s third book Franny and Zooey (1961), was originally a series of two stories in The New Yorker in 1955 and 1957. There is a scene in the book in which Franny, a 20-year-old theology major, has just come home from college for a long weekend in November 1955. She’s a nervous wreck. Her concerned mother, Bessie Glass, brings her a cup of chicken soup. Franny, unhappy, impatient, depressed, pushes the steaming cup of soup away. Franny’s brother Zooey sees this rejection and is indignant. “I’ll tell you one thing, Franny,” he says. "If it’s theology and religious life you’re studying, you ought to know that you are missing out on every single religious action that’s going on in this house. You don’t have enough sense to drink of cup of consecrated chicken soup, which is the only kind of chicken soup that Mom ever brings to anybody?" What was Franny missing? The kitchen is the church. The mother is a priest. The soup is a sacrament; an external sign of God’s healing grace. The pouring out of the soup is a healing. “Mom’s chicken soup” is “poured out” as a sacrament to soothe the soul, to quash the queasiness of a depressed daughter. That is why we read in today’s gospel that first cup of wine poured out at the Cana wedding and offered to the steward of the banquet, the wedding feast was transformed.
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9. Little Tommy was so impressed by his oldest sister’s wedding that he announced.
 
“I want to have a wedding just like Linda had.” “That sounds great,” said his father. “But whom will you marry?” Tommy announced: “I want to marry grandma because she loves me and I love her.” “You can’t marry grandma,” his father said. “Why not?” Tommy protested. “Because she is my mother.” ”Well,” reasoned Tommy. “Then why did you marry my mother?”
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10.  A man who had been a husband for ten years was consulting a marriage counselor.
 
“When I was first married I was very happy. When I came home from a hard day at the shop, my little dog would race around barking and my wife would bring me my slippers with a heart warming smile. Now after all these years everything is changed. Now when I come home, my dog brings me my slippers and my wife barks at me.” “I don’t know what you are complaining about,” said the counselor. “You are still getting the same service.”
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11. Two senior ladies met for the first time since graduating from high school.
 
One asked the other, "You were always so organized in school, meticulously planning every detail. How did you plan your married life?" "Well," said her friend, "My first marriage was to a millionaire; my second marriage was to an actor; my third marriage was to a preacher; and now I'm married to an undertaker." Asked the friend, "What do those marriages have to do with a well-planned life?" "The first marriage was for the money, the second for the show, the third to get ready and the fourth to go!"