People do not put new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined.
Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved. -Matthew 9:17
In Jesus’ time, they did not put wine in glass bottles like we do. A wineskin was made of the complete hide of an animal, such as a goat or a sheep. New wine was put into new wineskins, because as it ferments, it generates carbon dioxide gas that exerts pressure on the skin bottles. New skins expand; old, inflexible ones burst under the pressure. Everyone knew that new wine needed to go into new wineskins. So, in drawing attention to the need for new wineskins, what is Jesus telling us about our life with Him?
I believe Jesus is calling us to wholeheartedness and also a willingness to change, to be flexible. He is describing the process of conversion. Half-hearted pouring of our new commitment into the old containers of our lives will not do; they are just not flexible enough to meet the challenges for growth and change. When an addict joins Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), they commonly hear this at their first AA meetings: “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.” (AA Big Book) Recovery from addiction and discipleship with Jesus both require wholehearted commitment and willingness to change our lives.
The call to conversion can come from a crisis close to home like addiction, or a crisis as large as our planet. Earth, our common home, is in crisis with climate change resulting in “100 year” fires, droughts, and floods. We are in the midst of a Great Extinction where, if the current rate of human destruction of Creation continues, one-half of Earth’s higher lifeforms will be extinct by 2100. In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis identifies our current ecological crisis as a “summons to profound interior conversion.” What everyone needs, he writes, is an “‘ecological conversion,’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.” Pope Francis is calling Catholics to this conversion.
Pope Francis is praying for this grace of the Holy Spirit, this conversion, so that we will have the flexibility to change and live into the Laudato Si’ Goals (https://laudatosiactionplatform.org/) promulgated for the whole church in 2021. The Laudato Si’ Goals call for “new wineskins” in the areas of economics, education, spirituality, lifestyles, and community participation. And if our ecological conversion is wholehearted, it will include every aspect of our lives, especially our understanding of, and our expressions of our intertwined relations with God, self, others, and Earth.
Patty Gillis is a retired Pastoral Minister. She served on the Board of Directors at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit. She is currently a member of the Laudato Si Vision Fulfillment Team and the Passionist Solidarity Network.