The Red Wine of the Gospel
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

The Lord is near to all who call upon him.

My vocation as a Deacon to serve those who suffer with mental illness is one of the greatest gifts the Lord has given me. I can’t think of a greater suffering than the daily struggle with certain kinds of mental illness, like clinical depression or schizophrenia. Some of my patients are very devout and prayerful. In that light, their mental illness is in many ways a gift. It was the experience of their radical helplessness that enabled them to call out to God in the darkness of their suffering. The first Beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs”. In other words, blessed are those who know their radical poverty and utter need for God; for the Lord is near to all who call upon him.

If we were living a life without difficulties, we might never call upon the Lord. That’s why, generally speaking, the Lord allows suffering into our lives. Human beings are at their worst in times of prosperity, but we are at our best in times of suffering. We see this clearly if we study the history of the 20th century, as well as the history of Israel—when times were prosperous, the Israelites turned from the Lord and the observance of His law, the prophets were sent to warn them, they refused to listen, prophecies were fulfilled, suffering fell upon them in one form or another, and only then did they turn back to God, who eventually restored them. In our own lives too we seem to be closest to God in times of great suffering. People often ask: “Why does God allow so much suffering in the world?” Or in my life, or this or that person’s life? But the question we might want to consider is: “Why would God allow anyone to live a life of ease, without difficulties?” I can’t think of a greater cruelty. And God is not cruel, which is why no one lives a life without suffering and difficulty, even the wealthiest.

The Lord calls certain people at various times in their lives, as this gospel makes clear. A few weeks ago we heard the Responsorial Psalm: “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts”. Why not? Why not harden it for a while, perhaps until later, when we feel we’re ready? The reason is that if you hear his voice calling, that’s a grace, and God does not owe us His grace. He does not owe us “graced moments”. Such moments are sheer gift, given gratuitously. And if we ignore his call today, we might not hear it again, because that might be our only window. He calls some people when they are young, others when they are much older. But when he calls us, he calls us for one purpose, which is to labor in his vineyard. He does not call us to a life of ease, but to labor.

But have you noticed how many people have as their goal in life the elimination of work? So many people have their eye on a life of relaxation, ease, rest, enjoyment, etc. That’s not the life the Lord calls us to. The time for rest is later, after, and that will be an eternal rest. Now is the time to labor in his vineyard.

And what is the purpose of working in a vineyard? It is to make wine. The Lord calls us to devote ourselves to producing the red wine of the gospel. He calls us to become inebriated, to get drunk on the red wine of His word. On Pentecost, people thought the Apostles were drunk. They were inebriated in the Holy Spirit.

There is a vast difference, as you all know, between grapes and the wine produced from those grapes. We can eat a pound of grapes and nothing happens, but drink a liter or two of wine and something begins to happen. God made wine to cheer the hearts of men. We experience a kind of euphoria.

That’s what the Lord calls us to, a life of joy, a supernatural joy. A great priest from Toronto once said: “If you knew how much God loves you, you’d die of joy”. This life is about discovering how much God loves us, individually, personally. St. Catherine of Siena said that God loves each one of us, as if there is only one of us. If we don’t know that love, we don’t know that joy, and if we don’t know that joy, we are not inebriated on the potent wine of the gospel. We’re not working in his vineyard. We’re idle.

You see, if I know the love that the Lord has for me, if I’ve tasted that love, I will want nothing else than to labor to return that love. My whole life will be directed to one end: that God is loved and glorified, and that others come to know that love.

Many people have the idea that God loves them, and they use that idea to justify their idleness, their lack of devotion, their lifestyle which is either one of profound mediocrity or a sinful lifestyle. But for the Jews, knowledge is not an idea, but an experience. Jesus said that when he comes in judgment, he will say to some: “I never knew you”. That means he’s never experienced union with that person. In other words, that person never entered into his vineyard to make and drink the potent wine of Christ’s life, which is in his blood. Our primary task in this life is to grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Our total preoccupation must be this love, this intimate knowledge. That’s why piety is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When the heart is on fire with the divine love, we want to ponder that love; we want to think about the beloved, his actions, his generosity, what pleases him, what displeases him, etc. We are moved to ponder the mysteries of Christ’s life in order to more fervently praise and adore him. That’s why the saints were so devotional, and that’s why sacramentals and traditional devotions have always been so important in the history of Catholicism, like the rosary, or Eucharistic adoration, the divine mercy chaplet, novenas, processions, etc.

God the Son joined a human nature in order to enter into our sufferings, so that we would never have to suffer alone. The Lord always keeps us company in our sufferings. What is more, he makes himself present to us under the appearance of ordinary bread. He has become our food so that we may consume him and be one with him, and sit in silence before him when he is reposed in the tabernacle. What humility! If we are drunk on the red wine of Christ’s life, we will want to consume that body and blood as often as possible, and adore that act of humility. This beautiful Church will become for us a sanctuary from the world. It is a space in which Christ is present sacramentally, in the tabernacle. We will want to be here, near him, and we will be moved to adore that presence is profound silence.

When two people are deeply in love, it is enough for them to simply be in one another’s presence, without the need for a lot of words. When a contemplative is experiencing the Lord’s presence mystically, she only wants silence. Words and noise only distract from delighting in this presence. That’s why we have to cultivate a spirit of silence. The need for noise and a great deal of talking is a strong indicator of how far we are from the experience of that divine love--which is why there is so much noise in this culture, and very little appreciation for silence.

When we have tasted that divine love that loves us as if there is only one of us, not only will we be moved to adore that love in silence, we will also burn with the desire that God be more loved, and that others know His love. Genuine piety leads to works of mercy. We will be moved to love the Lord in those who suffer, in the sick, the suffering, the abandoned. This life is about love of God and love of neighbor. We’re here for a short time only. What a waste of time to devote all our labor towards our own personal lifestyle! I’ve heard so many stories of people who have worked all their lives, saved and slaved for the house of their dreams, purchased an old house and spent thousands of dollars renovating it, only to die of a heart attack the day after all was completed. One such house in Toronto was then sold at a low price to the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco. The Lord does not call us to live for ourselves, but to live for Him, for His kingdom, that He may be more known and loved, that others may know the good news of the gospel, the good news of salvation.

It is possible to be a regular Churchgoer and be one who spends his whole life in the market place, idle, not knowing the potent wine of the gospel, but only “ideas” of the gospel, whether those are liberal ideas or conservative ideas. But God is not an idea. Christ is not an idea. He’s a Person, and persons who love long for unity, for mutual indwelling.

As this gospel clearly shows, it is never too late to work in his vineyard. If he calls us today, let’s just go and labor. We need not fear that we’ll tire out. The irony of this work is that the harder we labor for the Lord, the less tired we will be. Christ said it: “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy burdened; for my yoke is easy, my burden is light”.