"Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine and skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins." Mark 2:22
In the late 80s, I read a book by Sister Sandra Schneiders, New Wineskins: Re-Imagining Religious Life. This book was welcomed by many who were looking for a message of hope in the midst of the dire predictions of the demise of religious life. Schneiders took the saying of Jesus found in today’s Gospel, "new wine is poured into fresh wineskins" and presented it as the reason for our hope. Her message was that the Church is not dead. Religious life is not dead. Our faith is not dead. It just needs "fresh wineskins."
We needed to renew ourselves as followers of Jesus and as disciples of our founders by pouring the new wine that we were producing into fresh wineskins. This insight became the inspiration to reimage the Church, our religious communities and ourselves. It was calling for a conversion of mind and heart, just as Jesus was in his day.
The image of putting new wine into fresh wineskins is a powerful one. It is life-giving. It is hopeful. It is sustaining and nourishing. The old wineskins contained good wines. This wine gladden the lives and hearts of many people. It served the needs of the people of its day, of its time. But new wine is being produced as a new generation of disciples said "yes" to Jesus’ call, as we see in the Gospel. Therefore, we needed new wineskins.
We know this from our own personal experience. We know when the wine that has brought us to this point in life has run out and thus we need new wine. We also know that we need new wineskins to put this new wine into. It is a new day, it is a new challenge and it is a new beginning. It is only fitting that we should have new wineskins to allow our new wine to mature.
Today, we also celebrate the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King. When he was alive, he was the new wine that called for new wineskins. He knew that the new wine that was fermenting all over the United States needed new laws, new norms and above all, a conversion of heat that would create a better society, a society where all men and women, boys and girls, Catholics, Protestants, Muslins, Jews and atheists, could hold hands as brothers and sisters. This is what Jesus called "The Reign of God."
As we look back upon our own lives, we can reflect upon the many times we have ruined the new wine that our life is producing by putting it back into old wineskins. Not only do we ruin the new wine, we also ruin the old wineskins. When we reform our lives, realize what the good things of life are about, who really is important to us, then we know we cannot pour this new wine into old wineskins. A new mindset is needed. New attitudes are needed. New behaviors are needed. Then this new wine will be worth serving.
Once the old wine is gone, we begin anew. We discover that we need to love more, forgive more, respect more, serve more and be a public witness to God’s Goodness. And to do this, we need new wineskins.
Let us toast to the God who knows how to make good wine! May we be fresh wineskins to God’s new wine!
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is a member of Immaculate Conception Community in Chicago, Illinois.