By Deacon F. K. Bartels
6 September, 2013
To become a new wineskin you must be re-created. The Spirit of Love does the work, but you must also do your part in response to his unfailing Love.
In today’s gospel (Lk 5:33-39) our Lord Jesus Christ speaks to us about the incompatibility of “new wine” and “old wineskins.” Should “new wine” be poured into “old wineskins,” the skins would burst due to their inability to withstand the pressure created during the fermentation process. In a word, the old skins are inadequate for the reception of new wine.
In the same way, the New Covenant cannot coexist with the Old Covenant, as if the two are equal in every way, as if the New Covenant should mean nothing more, nothing new, nothing greater (see Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament. 2nd Ed., 117).
St. Augustine observed that, allegorically speaking (allegory is a sense of Scripture that speaks to faith), the old wineskins signify the apostles, who would burst before they could contain the sublime and heavenly teaching of Jesus. At Pentecost, however, the apostles are enabled by the gift of the Holy Spirit to receive in themselves “a greater fullness of grace and truth” (ibid.).
The gospel also points to the relationship between Christ and his Bride. The heavenly teaching of Jesus, who inaugurated the New Covenant in his blood, is the new wine poured into the new wineskin: the Church. The Bride of Christ transmits to the world the entire deposit of faith: The saving, heavenly wine and teaching of Jesus is poured out to all nations and all people by mother Church, whose mission is exactly the same as her Beloved’s: to satiate humanity’s thirst for the incomparable wine of salvation.
Further, today’s gospel also speaks in a spiritual way of our relationship with the sublime and wondrous Beloved, the Risen One who thirsts to pour himself into our hearts. The question is, have we opened ourselves as a “new wineskin” to Jesus? Or, rather, is it the case that we have too long “been drinking old wine,” and therefore have no desire for the new? Do we say to our own detriment, “The old is good”?
What does it mean to become a new wineskin? What must one do? You should first understand that your life is a spiritual journey; along the way you should be firmly resolved to make progress daily. A successful spiritual life is one that progresses in stages from infancy to maturity and on to perfection. If you are uninterested in making spiritual progress, then you are static. If you are unmoved, disinterested, even indifferent, the old wine will remain deceptively satisfying. Eventually, it will sour. It does so slowly, in a subtle and often unnoticeable way.
If you want to become a new wineskin that you may drink deeply of the new, sublime and heavenly wine, you must give up the old. It’s not unlike dying. It is painful at first. Unless one recognizes himself as a sinner in urgent need of God, there will be no progress, there will be no death to self, there will be no new wine. Recall that, as Christians, we are not here to enjoy constant pleasure or live the life of ease, power and wealth. We must willingly die to those things, for we are here to die for Christ. We are here to unite ourselves to his cross: the way of self-sacrifice and love. The aim and goal of human life is to become one with Jesus Christ and make his story our story.
To become a new wineskin, we must become a new person, a new creation. Such a wondrous and saving event, mysterious as it is impossible for us to accomplish by ourselves alone, is brought about only with the help of God and his Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who re-creates, transforms, heals, elevates and purifies. It is the Spirit of Love who re-makes us into a new creation and lifts us on the Divine Wind to heavenly places.
However, so often it is the case that we erect what is an impervious shelter of pride around ourselves! In doing so, we make of ourselves stationary, immovable and unfeeling boulders, adamantly resistant to the Spirit’s divine impulses. Humility, then, which is the clear recognition of who we really are before God, is key. Is the old wineskin permeated with pride? Throw it out.
Next, we must firmly resolve to live our life within the grace of God and his salvific plan of love in free and loving obedience. That is, we must set out to live in full communion with the Church. This means we begin with the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. It means we believe the Church and live by what we believe, since the fullness of truth subsides within her womb. Our life must be in unity with the Church because she transmits to the world the mind of Christ. It means we attend the Divine Liturgy every day of obligation (and as often as is possible). It means we live out our life as a sacramental people in the heart of the Church, nestled within her motherly arms as within a holy dwelling place.
There are millions who fail to make spiritual progress because they intentionally reject in some way the teaching and authority of the Church. They continue to drink old wine, but it is not the wine of God, it is a wine of their own subjective design. I will not elaborate on this much further, save to say these things: The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. Whatever we reject of the Church’s solemn teaching we also reject of the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and whose divinity dwells within the Church as a soul within the body.
“He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me,” says Jesus Christ (Lk 10:16). Some may call his words a warning. Yes, perhaps, but they are more a plea of love, for Jesus understands the full extent of the consequences of rebellion against his authoritative Church.
Give yourself to God. Be not afraid to let the Holy Spirit re-create you into a new wineskin. Fear not the new wine! Jesus Christ thirsts to pour himself into you. Yet you must take active, concrete steps of preparation in order to receive this new wine fully. Remember, God will not do for you what he wants you to do for yourself. The Spirit of Love does not conquer the soul by force; he will not overpower you; he will not destroy your own persistent stubbornness or pride in opposition to your own will and your own desires.
To be re-made into a new wineskin can be a long, arduous, even painful spiritual journey. It requires fidelity, resolve, patience, docility, and persistence, coupled with unceasing prayer and heartfelt humility before God. It is not for cowards or for those who prefer unsatisfying, worldly darkness to the sublime and indescribable new wine of Christ.
Open your heart to Jesus Christ and his Spirit: the new wine whose divine flavor satisfies every thirst, not for a time, but forever. You will never be the same.
This homily was first published on Catholic Online.
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