Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Hosea 2:16b,17b,21-22
2 Corinthians 3:1b-6
Mark 2:18-22


February 25-26, 2006, Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

How many people keep their wine in a wineskin these days? You can actually buy a new wineskin on the Internet. They are not low maintenance storage containers. The first one that I found had a whole ritual of heating it in the sun or a heater, rubbing the stitching, blowing warm air into it, moistening it with a little water, and then filling it with some disposable wine and letting it sit for a few days. After all that you discarded the preparation wine and it was ready for storage of real wine.

So even though we tend to use glass bottles to store our wine now, the metaphor still has some applicability to what Jesus is trying to tell the Pharisees and us even 2000 years later. We are in a time in the Catholic Church in Boston, and in a special way, here in the parish of St. Isidore in Stow that in some ways parallels the profoundly different way of being the people of God that Jesus announced during his lifetime. And because of this change, the old ways of doing things, and especially of looking at things, understanding things, will not work any more, even if they were quite satisfactory in the past. Jesus is trying to move people from being rote followers of practices without understanding their purpose to being people who experienced first hand the impact of God's love for them.

The great French theologian, Yves Congar used a different metaphor when asked what he envisioned it would take to be a Catholic in the wake of the insights of Vatican II. He started his answer by pointing out that some animals are surrounded by a shell because they have no skeleton. He continued by saying that the Church in the wake of the reformation had formed a shell around Catholics. It was a shell of ecclesial authority that brooked no questions and admitted no dialog with its clearly defined doctrines and certain moral directives. Existing within that protective shell, Catholics did not need to exercise any religious judgment or questioning or growth, nor did they need any personal experience of God. For a whole range of reasons, that protective shell has eroded away over the past few decades and is now almost gone. Congar concluded that what was needed to be a Catholic was an inner structure, or faith skeleton. Karl Rahner, another giant of a theologian, is quoted as saying that the Catholic of the future will either be one who has experienced something or will be nothing at all. [metaphors taken from the introduction of William Shannon's book Silence of Fire]

What does this mean in practical terms for us as parishioners of St. Isidore in Stow? I would suggest that it means we have to grow a skeleton inside our community if we hope to survive into the future. We caught a brief but sobering glimpse at this future two years ago when the suppression of the parish was announced. We have a brief reprieve from that now but that will not last long if we just continue on as we have in the past. We have been given another jolt of reality with Fr. Butler's announcement that he is moving on. While it is true that it seems likely at the moment that we will be assigned a new pastor, we don't know what kind of pastor we will get. And it doesn't take a math major to see that in a few years there will be fewer priests active than there are current parishes. As staff, all we can do is provide the opportunities to grow a strong faith skeleton in this community, but the growth must come from within the community.

We have an excellent start in our Generations of Faith. This provides an opportunity for all ages to explore, question, and grow in the knowledge and practice of our faith. But only a fraction of our people attend, and for them, it is not nearly enough time to sustain healthy growth. We have introduced and will continue offering supplemental opportunities such as the Continuing the Conversation on Marriage next Tuesday night with Ernie and Susan Collamati. Our next GOF Gathering Session is March 3rd and 5th. Sign up today on the website even if you have not yet participated, and start growing that inner support through personal experience of faith at work. We will have a series of events during Lent that will provide an opportunity to gather and express our needs and vision as a community. Over the next few weeks, the Parish Finance Council will conduct a series of mailings, bulletin announcements, and statements during Mass explaining the financial realities of being a parish. On March 16, there will be an open meeting to see if there is any interest in identifying and addressing social justice issues as a parish community in association with MICAH (Metropolitan Interfaith Congregations Acting for Hope). There will be the Lenten Supper and Stations of the Cross. My own vision is to see additional small faith groups spring up and flourish to complement the two ongoing groups we already have.

Our faith is a wonderfully rich wine that warms the world's heart and brings joy to its spirit. The Spirit is pouring this new wine into a world that is jaded and torn and weary. If we try to stay as we have been, this old wineskin we are will rip and this precious wine spill on the ground without being tasted. Let us pray that we do the work needed to tranform ourselves into a new wineskin that can holdthis precious new wine and then dispense it to warm this world's heart and bring joy to its spirit.

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