Archive for January, 2004

The Wine Homily (2nd Sun Ord. Time C, Jan 18, 2004)

Sunday, January 18th, 2004

Homily — 2nd Sunday OT C Jan. 18, 2004

cabernet sauvignon grapes

The previous parish I was in was predominantly Italian. And many Italian men have a hobby of making their own wine.

I first encountered this when, while visiting the house of a man named Lou, he asked me to go down into his basement to “bless his wine.” In the basement was one 8-gallon glass jug of fermenting wine with a hose on top of it for a siphon, and a case of empty bottles.

Several months later, I was visiting the home of another parishioner named Gino, who also asked me to bless the wine he was making. Envisioning a small setup similar to that of Lou’s, I was shocked when I went into the basement, the whole cellar was full of glass jugs, full bottles, and even 3 oak barrels! I asked him “Is this all legal?” He told me that you can legally make up to 200 gallons for personal use.

Our Lord in today’s Gospel of the Wedding at Cana turns about 180 gallons of water into fine wine. My friend Gino, and our friend Jesus, both have the same thing in common — they both have a great passion for making wine.

My friend Gino makes his living as a chemist, but if he could afford to I’m sure he’d be a full time wine maker. Jesus the Son of God, who made his living as a carpenter, chose wine out of all other drinks to be consecrated and changed into His Real True Presence.

And maybe what makes Gino so interested in wine is also what makes Jesus so interested in it. Because wine is by far the most unique and complex drink in all creation.

When you ferment other fruits, such as blueberries or cherries, they keep tasting and smelling like the blueberries or cherries that they are. No so with red grape wine. The tastes that can be found in good red wine include chocolate, cherry, oak, cedar, raspberry, vanilla, mint, herbs, cocoa, meat, smoke, liquorice, coffee, cola, and black pepper — all coming from the grape alone.

My chemist friend tells me that there are 4000 different chemical components in a grape which give each wine its distinct flavor. And just the slightest presence of one of these chemicals will change the taste of a wine.

Think of a packet of sugar. If you divided a packet of sugar into a trillion pieces, that’s the minimum amount of chemical you would need to change the taste of a wine. Add one-one trillionth of another chemical, and we humans would again taste the difference. It’s no wonder that Our Lord chose this complex drink to become the center of our faith and worship.

Wine is very much like the Holy Spirit, as described by St. Paul in the 2nd Reading. He tells us how there are different kinds of spiritual gifts but only one Holy Spirit, there are different forms of service but the same Lord, there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.

We call the Church the mystical Body of Christ. If we are the mystical Body of Christ we must also be the mystical Blood of Christ as well. And just as one-one trillionth of a particle in a grape will influence the whole batch of wine for better or for worse, so will you and I by our actions influence the whole Church.   Not one of us is insignificant as a member of the Mystical Blood of Christ! 

May we never think that our lives don’t mean much, or that we are too small to make any difference as a Christian. Whatever our gifts are, may we use them for the up building of one another.

I wish to conclude this meditation on physical wine and the mystical Body and Blood of Christ with a few verses by the great English Catholic writer and poet Hilaire Belloc:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

Homily — Baptism of the Lord 2004

Thursday, January 8th, 2004

Homily — Baptism of the Lord MMIV

Landing of the Spirit Rover on Mars January 2004

One of the fond memories many of us carry around with us is the memory of High School Spirit Week.    Freshmen, Sophmores, Juniors and Seniors all compete to see who has the most School Spirit through events like School Colors Day, costume day, dress up day and Spirit Week Dance.

This last week I was reminded of the School Spirit week I had in 10th Grade at Coventry High School, 21 years ago.   That year, 1983, my 10th Grade class won school spirit week, finishing well ahead of the 2nd place senior class.    My class had spirit all right.  Think of what a humiliation it was for the senior class to be beat out not by the juniors, but by sophmores!    Next year, the class of ‘84 came out in full force to just barely beat us, but we got the title back in ‘85 when we became seniors.

While 21 years ago there was little spirit in the class of ‘83, you sure can’t say that today.    One of those 1983 Coventry High School graduates my class of ‘85 beat out was Jim Bell.  I don’t particularly remember him in school, but now he is Dr. Jim Bell, of Cornell University.  And boy does he have spirit now.  Rover Spirit.

Dr. Bell is the leader of the panoramic camera team of the Mars spacecraft named Spirit.  And last Tuesday, Dr. Bell’s color photo of the surface of Mars taken by the rover Spirit made the front page of every newspaper around the world.  The photo on NASA’s web page has received over two billion ‘hits’.

These detailed color photos are already greatly advancing our knowledge of the nearest planet to our own, and perhaps the best is yet to come.   But in all due respects to my upper class mate of Coventry High, while his Rover Spirit is even more impressive than my class’s school Spirit, its nowhere near as impressive as the Holy Spirit, that in today’s Gospel lands on the earth for the first time.

Because the rover Spirit landed on Mars looking for flowing water, but it has found none.    The Holy Spirit has landed on earth also searching for water, and flowing water it has found.
And not just any flowing water, but Holy Water — flowing water made Holy by Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan.

Jesus has turned ordinary water into living water — water that not only gives earthly life but eternal life.    Jesus tells us Unless you are born again of water and the Holy Spirit, you will not enter the kingdom of God.  He told his disciples those who believe in me and are baptized will be saved.

God’s Eternal Son was baptized in earthly water to give eternal and divine life to the water we were baptized in.  Because of Jesus’ Baptism, all who are now baptized in water in the name of the Trinity are now sons and daughters of God destined to live forever.  Today the Holy Spirit lands on earth and finds for the first time this powerful flowing Holy Water in the Jordan River, a water now flowing throughout the Church and the World.

That great color photo of Mars, taken by rover Spirit, shows a dry, lifeless, inhospitable planet.   And that’s really what our planet earth is like before Christ and apart from Christ.  As in the prophet Ezekiel’s vision, our earth is a valley filled with dry human bones.

Today we celebrate Christ’s baptism, His immersion into our world.  And now, for those baptized in Christ, our world no longer looks like Mars does.  Now it is teeming with eternal life.

You know, they say that Mars actually does have water — its just frozen deep under the surface.  But liquid water is what’s essential for there to be life.   And unfortunately, many of us Catholics have become Martians in this respect.   The living water we’ve received at Baptism is now frozen and buried deep in our hearts which have grown cold through our own sin or neglect of our baptismal promises to love God.

But as the Gospel today says, Jesus has come to Baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with Fire.   And the fire of Christ’s Love will thaw the most frozen of hearts, if through a good confession to a priest we allow ourselves to be immersed in that Fire when it has gone out.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, this earth we live on doesn’t need to be a cold, barren, and lifeless planet, devoid of  love and peace.   Today the Body of our Lord Jesus descends into the icy waters of the Jordan, empowering the water, warming it with the fire of His Love.  Through these waters of Baptism may our world always be green and overflowing with the Eternal Life Jesus was born to bring us.