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March 2, 2003

“New Wine, New Wineskins!”

(Mark 2: 18-22 )

This week, a good friend of mine died, Fred Rogers, whom you may have known from his popular PBS children's TV show, "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood." I met Fred 7 years ago at the funeral of a friend of ours, Fr. Henri Nouwen, and he started writing and calling me regularly to talk about the world and peace and we became very close. I heard from him many times since I came to New Mexico, and he wrote me at Christmas. But he got stomach cancer four weeks ago and died very quickly. He, his wife, children and grandchildren were all gentle, loving people. Fred was both loved, because of his work for children, and dismissed by this cynical country, as na´ve and a wimp, but the country was all wrong about him. He was a devout Christian, an ordained minister, a theologian and he knew exactly what he was doing. He tried to teach us not just to love our children and our neighbors, but to realize that we live in a global neighborhood and have to love everyone everywhere and be against war and injustice anywhere. Fred continued to grow. His heart was wide open. He was open to whatever God and Jesus had to show him. That's why I think of him as a saint.

Jesus tells us today that he is bringing new wine which requires new wineskins. Whenever something new happens in life, that means we have to make a change. When we have a new baby, we have to change, adjust our lives and care for the baby. When we get a new home, we have to pack up, move out, unpack and change our lives. When we start a new school or a new job, we have to get up earlier, meet new people, do new things and change.

Jesus tells us that one way to understand his life is as an invitation to new wine which he says requires new wineskins. The Gospel is trying to get us to see that he is offering us something entirely new, a way of life, a new way of acting, a new way of thinking, which means he wants us to get rid of our old wineskins and let go of our old ways of acting and thinking, and try out his new wine.

So the question of the Gospel today is: What is the new wine Jesus is bringing you, and what are the new wineskins he wants you to use? I invite you to reflect on these questions.

For me, I think his new wine is his message, his life, his call to conversion--to love one another, pray constantly, seek justice for the poor, put down the sword, love our enemies, forgive one another, show compassion to one another, take up the cross and follow him, which means he wants us to change, to be converted again and again to his word.

But the problem is, Who wants to change? The religious leaders in his day certainly didn't and told him so. "We don't want your new wine," they said. "We're not changing. We don't want your new way of doing things. We want things to stay the same. We like the old wineskins, the old ways of doing things. We are perfectly content with the way things are." Jesus kept inviting them to his life, they kept resisting his invitation, and finally, they couldn't take it anymore, so they killed him. Even the disciples betray him, deny him and abandon him. No one wants the new wine that Jesus offers.

So we might also ask ourselves: how open are we to Jesus? Do we want the new wine that Jesus brings, or do we reject his new wine, his new way of life, his call to change?

Lent begins this week on Ash Wednesday, and it's a time to say, "Yes, Jesus, we want to drink your new wine, we will discard our old wineskins, we want to receive whatever new gifts you want to give us."

So I invite you to spend the next few days preparing for Lent and what you are going to do this Lent for Jesus. There are so many things you can do, and I urge you to do something new and positive and beautiful for Jesus. You can take 20 minutes each day in silent contemplative prayer and listen to Jesus. You can try to attend daily Mass. You can take a little time to read the Gospel every day. You can come to our Lenten Bible study series on Monday nights. You can join the Pope's call to fast one day a week for peace. You can give alms and visit the sick and the imprisoned and do deliberate acts of compassion. You can come to our reconciliation service. You can come to Stations of the Cross on Friday nights. You can study Gospel nonviolence and get involved in the Catholic peace movement and speak out against war and nuclear weapons. You can see where Jesus wants you to grow and try to work with him a little bit every day on that area.

Lent is a precious opportunity to return to God, to turn back to Jesus, to start walking again each day with Jesus, to follow his path of nonviolent, compassionate love, and to taste the new wine that he offers.

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