Click the photo to watch a video of Bishop Cistone's Homily
Bishop Joseph Cistone
75th Anniversary Mass
Diocese of Saginaw
June 27, 2013
Once again, I extend to each of you a warm welcome to this anniversary Mass. It is a great honor for me to serve as your shepherd, especially during this year of praise and gratitude to our heavenly Father for His many blessings.
Today, our Mass is offered in honor of Mary, Image and Mother of the Church. We entrusted this year of celebration to her intercession, beginning with our opening Mass on the Feast of her birthday, September 8th, and our closing Mass on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15th.
We just listened to the familiar account of the Wedding Feast in Cana. In those days, the groom was responsible for providing the wine for the feast. To run out of wine would have been a great embarrassment for the groom and his family. It was also the custom to serve good wine first. Then, as the guests consumed enough alcohol that they couldn’t tell the difference, the groom could begin serving inferior wine.
Mary informs Jesus of their predicament and then tells the stewards to “Do whatever He tells you.” Scripture records relatively few words spoken by Mary and, since these are her last recorded words in scripture, they are significant. “Do whatever He tells you!” Mary’s unwavering desire to do the will of God was also central to her first recorded words at the Annunciation: “I am the maid servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say” (Luke 1:38).
“Do whatever He tells you.” So, at Jesus direction, the stewards fill 6 fifteen to twenty-five gallon water jars with water. Picture it! That’s over 100 gallons. Ordinarily, these jars would hold the water used for purifying the hands and feet of the guests, a necessary ritual to participate in the feast. Jesus orders the jars to be refilled. But, on this occasion, through the power of Jesus Christ, ordinary water becomes superior wine. Over 100 gallons!
Saint John tells us this was the first sign performed by Jesus. And while providing wine at a wedding feast may not have been as significant or life-saving as healing a leper, giving sight to a blind man, or raising someone from the dead, the symbolism becomes as important as the actual results.
In scripture, water and wine take on special meaning. Water is associated with baptism, the cleansing of sin and conversion to a new life in Christ. Water is a reminder of the promises you and I once made to be faithful witnesses of Jesus. While these promises are easy to make, they are also difficult to keep, and often broken.
Wine, on the other hand, symbolizes the blood of Christ. It represents the blood of martyrdom and a life not just of baptismal promise, but a life faithfully lived in full conformity to what God has willed.
And, herein lies the deeper meaning of this miracle of water-turned-wine. Water isn’t sufficient – we must become wine! Jesus calls us to transform the water of our baptismal promises into the wine of lives fully lived in conformity to God’s will. Simply belonging to the Church is not enough. Each of us must be transformed into a person active and alive in the grace of Jesus Christ…evangelizers in word and deed.
At a later time, while speaking of bridegrooms and wedding feasts, Jesus used the image of new wine and old wineskins. He said: “People do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and in that way both are preserved” (Matthew 9:17). The new wine Jesus speaks of was new then, but is certainly not new to us. It is the Gospel He preached and lived. Jesus challenged the people to step out of the comfort and confines of their old ways of living the faith, in order to become new vessels for new wine.
This mission of converting lives from water into wine, of pouring new wine into new wineskins is another way of describing the work of the New Evangelization. It’s all about becoming more alive in Jesus Christ and influencing others to follow.
Providentially, our 75th anniversary provides us a marvelous opportunity not only to celebrate our oneness with Christ in baptism and our rich history as a Church, but to recommit ourselves to live more fully the Gospel of Christ, in word and action, in new ways and new wineskins. The waters of our own baptism must become the wine of undivided hearts and faithful service. Ordinary will not do. We must dare to be great!
Practically speaking, we are being challenged to live the good news of Christ in new wineskins. Instead of assuming that people know the richness of our Catholic faith, it is time to teach and re-teach them, in new creative ways. Instead of spending time debating why some people have left the Church and waiting for them to return, we must go out and bring them back. Instead of harboring old grudges, we must be willing to reconcile our differences. Gossip and complaining must give way to charity and fruitful deeds. Instead of simply practicing our faith in the comfortable structures we have enjoyed for many years, we must dare to serve this new wine in new wineskins. Now is the acceptable time to place all our energy into becoming the Church Jesus calls us to be, a people that truly lives in a spirit of faith, hope and charity.
Today is a day to reflect on history. And the Diocese of Saginaw, as well as each and every distinct parish, has a great story to tell. In the telling of our stories, we realize that all history is made up of both continuity and change. Continuity can be a firm foundation or an obstacle to God’s design. It can be both comforting and boring. Change, on the other hand, can create both excitement and anxiety. It can reflect an openness to the Spirit or a digression from God’s will. As Christians, we are called to focus on the things that endure. And yet, we live in a world where so many things are transitory and provisional. When I shop at the supermarket, I’ve learned to take special note of the “sell-by” date, because few things last forever. Wineskins may grow old, but the new wine is always new.
In the end, it’s all about God’s will…doing whatever He tells us. Discerning and obeying God’s will, however, is not easy…especially when His will calls us to let go of what is familiar and follow new paths. So many times, in our personal prayer, we try to convince God to conform His will to our own. I have often told the story of the time I was expecting a change in my parish assignment. While on retreat, I kept telling God the type of parish and pastor that I believed best for me. At some point during the retreat, I realized that God already knew where I was going and I began to ask for the grace to accept His will in the new assignment and serve his people well.
Scripture tells us: “My thoughts are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways.” God’s will is often a challenge, calling us to change…to stretch beyond our comfort zone…to set aside our personal plans and desires…to trust in what we cannot see. Pain and sadness, disappointments and uncertainties are not necessarily signs that things are going wrong. On the contrary, such sentiments are often signs that we are deeply entrenched in the passion and death of Christ, awaiting new life.
For the past two years, our diocesan planning process has greatly challenged us to experience what it means to be transformed from water into wine, to consider new wineskins for our work of evangelization. The words of Jeremiah proclaimed today have held special meaning for us and have provided direction on our journey: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope.” Together, we have placed this journey in the hands of the Lord; and we remain fully confident of His guidance and the hopeful future which lies ahead.
No one can know the future for certain. Faith and trust in God are essential. Our ancestors back in 1938 never imagined how their Church and the world they knew would be in 2013: Seven new popes... Five new bishops... Dozens of new parishes... Vatican II... Mass in the vernacular... Air conditioned churches... Guitars, trumpets and cymbals at Mass... Pastoral Administrators... Lectors and Eucharistic ministers.
And what a different world! Numerous wars... Man on the moon... The growth and diminishment of the local auto industry... GPS systems for farming... Automated milking machines... Microwaves… Computers and TVs in every home… Teenagers with their own cars. Throughout these many decades, our Church has been challenged to create new wineskins in order to fulfill the demands of the Gospel. And where we have failed in responding appropriately to these challenges, the results have been painful.
Today our hearts are filled with gratitude, confidence and trust. Gratitude for God’s many blessings and the faith-filled people who came before us. Confidence in God’s providential love as we face the uncertainties of this time of transition. And trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in us.
At our opening Mass last September, I offered this plea to all the faithful of our great Diocese. “We must keep in mind that this local Church belongs to Christ. Its mission is only entrusted to us…a mission to evangelize, to bring the Good News to God’s people in word and deed, to reconcile sinners to the Lord, and to be a channel for the graces and promises which the Lord has in store for us who believe. While we reflect upon the past, our eyes must be fixed on the future of this great Diocese. In particular, we must focus on our young people and be willing to sacrifice a desire to hold on to what was and commit ourselves to all that can be.”
May we, through the grace of Jesus Christ, be transformed from water into wine. May we find the courage to carry within us the new wine of the Gospel in new wineskins. And may the Lord find us ready and faithful in our Future Full of Hope. God Love You.