HOMILY WEEK 13 06 – Year II
New Wine – Fresh Skins:
Optional Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal
(Amos 9:11-15; Ps 85; Mt 9:14-17)
An elderly lady went to the bar every night and ordered a glass of whiskey and a drop of water. Every night it was the same – a glass of whiskey and a drop of water. After a few weeks, the bartender commented on this – usually people ordered there drinks straight, on the rocks or with a mix. How come she always ordered only a drop of water. She replied, “Sonny, you have to understand – at my age, I can handle my liquor, but I can’t handle my water!”
The readings today are very positive and appropriate for the beginning or ending of a retreat. They are all about renewal, restoration and being a new wineskin for God’s fresh, new, powerful wine.
A quote from spiritual writer Ilia Delio fits here: The fact that Christ risen from the dead now lives in the cosmos in a new way must empower believers to live in a new way as well. We are to be new wineskins for the new life Christ wants to share with us.
In the first reading from the prophet Amos, symbolic language is used to express newness and renewal – God will raise up the fallen booth of David, repair and rebuild it, restore fortunes and they will possess the remnant. The result is a renewed covenant relationship with God symbolized by vineyards and gardens, never again to be plucked up.
For its part, Psalm 85 continues the symbolic language and invites us to turn to the Lord in our hearts. Love, fidelity, righteousness and peace will meet and kiss. God’s righteousness or holiness will come down to meet our faithfulness. God will give what is good, the Holy Spirit, and our yield or holiness will increase.
In the Gospel, Jesus resorts to the symbolic language of a wedding feast to answer a simple question about fasting. When he is present, it is time for celebration and feasting, not fasting. Like at the wedding feast of Cana, his presence is powerful new wine, and we must become fresh wineskins to be able to hold and offer this new wine to the world.
Very opportunely, these readings were the daily readings for the end of a retreat I conducted for a group of sisters. I expressed the hope the retreat was for them a nuptial event, truly a honeymoon with the Lord, that will transform us all (including me) more deeply into those new wineskins.
The new wine was the reminder and hopefully a renewed image of God as mercy, compassion, humility, unconditional love, forgiveness and total non-violence, as revealed by Jesus on the Cross. God is love, and only love. Jesus as the Messiah came with a two-fold role: to redeem and to sanctify, to forgive and to heal, and that forgiveness and healing was present among us all through the retreat, especially in the silence and contemplative prayer, soaking up God’s love.
The new wine, I suggested, was a new awareness and experience of that unconditional love of God, experiencing God’s forgiveness through reconciliation, enjoying some healing through the work of the Holy Spirit within us. That new wine could also be deeper sense of gratitude, a greater sense of self-esteem and self-worth, a greater courage to speak one’s truth, a renewed ability to love one’s self, a greater readiness to forgive others, to apologize to others, to seek reconciliation, and new skills by which to communicate our feelings.
The new wine, I suggested, also extends to the whole community, in the form of more open communication, greater understanding of one another, and a greater sense of unity as a religious family. After all, God’s greatest hurt is our broken brother and sisterhood.
Mary is our model. She was responsible for the transformation of water into abundant fine wine at Cana. She became the new wineskin for the Incarnation through her openness and receptivity. We need to pray to her for that same openness during this retreat.
The Church today honors someone who lived these teachings in an exemplary manner – St. Elizabeth of Portugal. Born in 1271, she was Daughter of King Peter III of Aragon and named after her great-aunt, St Elizabeth of Hungary. Her birth prompted a reconciliation between her father and grandfather. Thus began her reputation for bringing peace; she came to be called “the Peacemaker.” She was married at age 12 to King Denis of Portugal, by whom she had two children. She set up hospitals, orphanages and other institutions, patiently endured her husband’s infidelities, forgiving him and also providing for the education of his illegitimate children. She also acted as a peacemaker in the quarrelsome and complicated politics of the time. When her son twice led rebellions against his father, she helped them reconcile.
On her husband’s death in 1325 she retired from public life, joined the Poor Clares, giving up her rank and wealth for a life of simplicity, devoting herself to prayer and the service of the poor. Throughout her life she was faithful and regular in prayer and daily prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, way ahead of her time.
In 1336 she successfully settled a conflict between her son, by now King Alfonso IV of Portugal, and her grandson, King Alfonso XI of Castile. Elizabeth followed the Portuguese army on the field in an effort to bring about that peace, an effort that led to illness and her death on July 4th, 1336.
She is a model of faith, forgiveness, charity, genuine caring for the poor, peacemaking, and prayer. Canonized in 1625, Elizabeth is a patron of Catholic charities.
The Eucharist is the fruit both of Mary’s receptivity, and Jesus’ openness to the will of God. May our celebration empower us to be receptive to the Holy Spirit as Mary was; to be open to being transformed into new wineskins for the new wine of the Spirit, and to live this new way of life – a share in his own risen life – that the Risen Lord offers us.