Too Much New Wine?

The following is the reflection from Franciscan Earth Corps Director, Rhett Engelking from FAN’s June 2, 2014 newsletter. It contains a correction from the previous emailed version.

There is an old Latin expression “In Vino Veritas” which translates as “in wine there is the truth.” The expression is often tossed around when remarking how libations have a way of lowering our usual defenses in order that the Truth may come out. Perhaps you have noticed how when people are tipsy, they are more than willing to speak their mind and reveal what had previously been suppressed or obscured. In the readings for the upcoming feast of Pentecost just after the passage from the Acts of the Apostles [Acts 2:13], we hear some of those present scoff at the spectacle of tongues, “They have had too much new wine.” This is a curious bit that is absent from the Lectionary, but it causes me to wonder, “Did Francis drink too much new wine?”

Wine for cheese course

Photo Courtesy of Lance Johnson

Even before the first vineyards in California’s wine country were started at the Mission of St. Francis Solano in 1823, Franciscans have celebrated an association with wine. Prior to his conversion, our image of the poverello is of a young man with the nickname “Frenchman” who enjoyed audacious parties, drunken reverie and the lifestyle of the French troubadours who wandered the countrysides of Europe. He was a likeable man who enjoyed bringing disparate people together, which fits the role of social lubricant that has often been attributed to alcoholic spirits. People followed Francis, and his knack for affiliating all manner of people, regardless of tribe, is likely why he has been called a truly “catholic” saint. One could easily imagine Francis reciting Paul’s exclamation [1 Corinthians 12:13], “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” In such a way, Francis’ later life might aptly be characterized as one who drank “too much new wine.” This drinking of the Spirit is curiously evident if we re-examine the Canticle of the Creatures Francis’ most celebrated anthem to universal kinship with Creation and the firstfruits of the Spirit.

It would be easy to dismiss Francis’ characterization of the elements (Fire, Water, Earth, etc.) as trite or fanciful if we think of Francis as some sort of drunken troubadour wandering the countryside. Yet such a dismissal would be tragic, because it would miss the brilliant synthesis that occurred when St. Francis opened himself most completely to his relationship with the Spirit that was transferred to those who call Jesus Lord. Scripture reminds us the Holy Spirit does not take a singular form. When poured out, Joel [Jl 3:1-5] tells us the Spirit touches the Sun, Moon, Earth, fire, smoke, blood and all flesh. Spirit has been called “Rivers of living water [Jn 7:37-39],” “tongues of fire [Acts 2:3],” “peals of thunder and lightning” [Ex 19:16], and dry, “rattling” bones. [Ez 37:7] Ezekiel’s characterization is most interesting because it asserts that the Holy Spirit is even present in what would otherwise embody Death itself. The Spirit of God in Scripture exhibits both immanence and transcendence. Its unity is personified in Jesus Christ from whom all things came to be [Jn 1:3] and Jesus foreshadows Christogenesis itself as living water bursting forth from springs within all who believe in Him. In reality, through the Canticle’s familial salutations, we can see that Francis was hard at work conforming himself to all manifestations of the Spirit, even Death! When Francis remarked that the “second death will do you no harm,” he hinted at a first death that must take place before the resurrection of our bones. He called Death his Sister.

In a Common Declaration, Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew “acknowledged in repentance” that “the future of the human family depends on how we safeguard the gift of creation that our Creator has entrusted to us.” The “sin” that they refer to is not unlike that present in the city of Babel (Babylon). In the Genesis account [Gn 11:1-9], humans used a Promethean fire to build a city and tower in order to “make a name for ourselves.” Babel personified a totalitarian world of Newspeak, where the world community “spoke the same language, using the same words” and celebrated a triumph of Man over God. The uniformity of Babylon stands in direct contrast to the transcendent unity found at Pentecost who “began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” In the book “Where is Knowing Going?” Fr. John Haughey S.J. terms this transcendent and immanent movement toward universality or wholeness, catholicity. The Canticle of the Creatures is itself a song of praise to the catholicity of a family of creatures conforming to God’s Spirit. It is the type of song that ought to follow our repentance for our collective and individual sins against nature.

This Pentecost, I hope that the Franciscan family will “drink in one Spirit” and even share a little “too much new wine”. We hope you will join us in repentance and catholicity as we build Interfaith coalitions to confront the impact of our modern day Babylons. Our Climate team has been preparing for the People’s Climate March in New York City, NY. This event is one of many leading up to the  UN Climate Summit on September 23 and we hope at the very least that you will tune in locally. As bearers of the legacy of the patron saint of ecology and peacemaking, we carry the blessed burden of communicating how to live in universal kinship with the Earth. We are called to be among the first ones to die to an unsustainable lifestyle, to ignore the uniform message of unbridled consumption, and to demand global climate justice that stems the tide of our fossil fuel addiction. If throughout God’s Creation the Spirit is truly One, it is essential to recognize that no justice issue can be divisible from our stewardship of creation. The World can no longer remain drunk on the old “black venom” of modernization when Christ has prepared for us the new wine of salvation.

Published in: on June 9, 2014 at 9:51 am  Leave a Comment  

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