I am always amused by this ninth chapter from the Acts of the Apostles where Paul was in Jerusalem and is causing all this turmoil, getting into fights and arguments, and so they ship him out of the town and the very next verse says, "And peace. There was peace in the church".
There was peace in the church. I'm not gonna talk about that today.
I'm very grateful to all of you here at St Thomas and St Johns for welcoming me here today. It's good to be with all of you. At the urging of his mother, Jesus turned water into wine. We know that story from the second chapter of the Gospel of St John. And not any wine, it was the best wine, the steward said. St John then continues in the second chapter to tell us, "This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him".
Now, I find that a little strange. I mean, curing someone of blindness or healing a cripple or raising someone from the dead, that would be manifesting glory. That would be a cause for someone to believe in you, but merely changing water into wine and people believed in him because of that. And then, of course, you might ask, "What does that have to do with our gospel today?" I thought you'd never ask.
Well, in our gospel today, Jesus has just celebrated the last supper with his apostles, and now He is speaking to them. Basically, He wants to turn them and us into good wine. Now that would be manifesting glory. Jesus tells us that the Father is the vine grower and He prunes away what does not grow fruit, and He does so in order that the vine will produce more fruit.
If we are to become the very best wine, just as Jesus provided to the surprised wedding guests three years earlier, then we must remain in Jesus and have His word remain in us. This is the context in which I would like to say a few words about Pope Paul VI's letter on human life which he wrote to us 50 years ago.
It's hard to believe. Pope Paul, soon to be proclaimed a saint by Pope Francis, wanted to teach the truth about marriage and family. He wanted to help us and help the Lord produce the best wine out of our lives. He wanted our love to be God's love.
St John, in our second reading today, is trying to address some errors that have crept into the Christian community of his day, and he wants us, thereby, to adhere to the truth of Jesus, and he also wants us to love one another. Truth and love go together. They cannot be separated.
Pope Paul was responding to the many requests to allow the use of the pill recently invented to control births. He came out against this, as anyone of my age or older would remember, and it unleashed a lot of opposition both in and outside of the church. That was unfortunate, for there was much more in this letter about how to make marriage into the best wine, but that all went unheard. Paul VI, in the same letter, also saw the dangers which would arise from a contraceptive attitude in our world.
He foresaw the separation of sexual activity from marriage. He foresaw the breakdown of the family and even the meaning of marriage. He foresaw coercion on the part of governments regarding birth control. He foresaw a general lowering of moral standards. He foresaw a lowering of respect for women.
Marriage is created by God and has a destiny set by God. God is the vine dresser and we must be open to Him pruning away to make marriage really flourish in our day, so marriage and family life and the raising of children are all part of our cooperation with God. When we try to live our lives apart from God, we will not be helping to produce the best wine, but only sour grapes. Pope Paul knew at the time that this was a very tough message, one which would be a sign of contradiction, and he urged all of us to work towards the goal that God has set for us even as we stumble and fail along the way.
I might add that in our confused times where marriage and family seem to mean everything and nothing, we as Catholics can strive to show the world the most excellent way. Sinners, though we all are. by our striving at least we are attempting to show that we are willing to bare much fruit and live a most excellent and sacrificial love.
God bless you all.