The Good Wine
Readers of North Western Winds can be forgiven for thinking I’ve fallen and can’t get up. Readers of my wife’s blog, Doxology, might be wondering if I was ever going to offer my own account of this past weekend. The answers to those questions are no and yes.
I was in the liquor store on Saturday evening, looking for a nice red, something affordable and reasonable that a non wine person like myself could enjoy and remember, something that would accompany the fine steaks my wife was picking out in a nearby grocery. I was in the French section, thinking that those French know wine, and might have just the thing. German wine would have had some sentimental appropriateness, but for some reason, all the German wines tend to be white and sweet, not at all what I was looking for. My helplessness in regard to knowledge must have been apparent, because a customer in the aisle asked me what I was looking for. I explained to her what the meal plan was and that there was a special occasion involved. She told me she knew her wines not too shabbily, especially the French ones, as she was from France originally and had some experience in serving them. She pointed to one type that she really liked, reasonably priced, and also to another brand that came in a larger bottle, suitable for more people. I chose the second, wanting everyone to be able to enjoy a glass with diner and another afterward. It’s very seldom that we have a second drink in this house, but, as I’ve said, this day was special.
Father Dion said, “The blood of Christ.” I nodded my consent, too overwhelmed to say ‘amen’ as I was supposed to, and took the cup and drank, my first communion still on my tongue. The morning had been building toward that moment for some time and in the heat of it I was struck dumb. We had risen early and prepared, putting on good clothes and heading to the church when my parents arrived. Not being a suit and tie sort of fellow in my day to day life, I was wearing the same suit I had been married in four years before. My wife was smartly and more originally dressed, as was my mother in law, who had made herself a new dress for the occasion.
The five of us found Father Dion in the sacristy, happily chatting away with people who had just finished the regular Saturday Mass. He had taken my family (my wife and I, and my mother in law) through the Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (R.C.I.A.) as our parish priest two years ago, and had seen my mother in law accepted into the church that Easter, as is normally the case. Rebecca and I had had to wait until we could prove that a short marriage she had been in before we met was not truly a marriage in the eyes of the Catholic church. That is to say, we had to prove that the sacrament had not taken place and the marriage was therefore not binding. We succeeded, as the Diocese’s Marriage Tribunal agreed with us. The previous marriage was not dissolved but annulled (it never was), and we were free to seek marriage in the Roman Catholic Church, which we would have to do if we were to be in full communion with Rome.
After the process of seeking the annulment, petitioning to have our marriage accepted was relatively easy and quick. We had completed R.C.I.A. and done the marriage preparation class. All we needed was now was to provide documentation – baptismal certificates, marriage certificates, and so on. There was that small matter of a witness to testify that we were not crazy or dishonest, and we each had a parent to cover that.
We took our places in pews right up front, with my non church going parents in the row just behind us, gawking all around and wondering at the stained glass, the beautiful plaques used for the stations of the cross, and yes, the huge wooden crucifix hanging over the marble altar. The bell rang and Fr. Dion made his entrance from the back up to the altar, wearing his vestments and singing a hymn as is customary in the Roman Mass. We were fortunate and glad to have him here for this day, not just because he’s a gifted speaker and a warm and engaging man, but because the Diocese has reassigned him to the biggest Church it has – Holy Rosary Cathedral, located in downtown Vancouver. It’s the Bishop’s church and Fr. Dion now runs it while the Bishop attends to the affairs of the Diocese – and all of the travel involved with that. We were lucky to have Fr. Dion for our parish priest during R.C.I.A. and now we had him back for a half a day.
We began by having our wedding blessed. Rebecca’s wedding ring was blessed as a sign of our union, and we exchanged formal vows. I love the idea of the ring being blessed but this made me feel a bit like a clod, as there is no ring for me. We were married long before we ever thought about faith issues and I don’t wear jewelry of any kind, so I asked Rebecca if it might be alright if we spared me the torture of losing an expensive item I would seldom wear. All of that is still true, but I still felt like my clay feet were bared before everyone present at that instant. The exchange of the vows was, if anything, even more difficult now than it was then. It’s hard to look anyone in the eye for any length of time, and I found this was compounded by standing in front of people. The person I’m looking at is the most precious person I’ve met, and I so want to do this right. I think my voice went weird once. Thank goodness it was only once. Rebecca manages the whole thing like she’s dancing on ice.
Rebecca was then formally accepted into the Church. That step was not necessary for me, since I had been baptised Catholic over thirty years ago. Both of us were then given the Rite of Confirmation, which Fr. Dion did in the place of the Bishop. I recall that this short ceremony left me feeling warm and that I was surprised to see that the Chrism oil had a waxy consistency. After being confirmed, we were given red robes to wear, as is customary. It is also customary for people who are Confirmed to chose a Saint’s name for themselves, usually someone who speaks to or represents them in some way. This is a follow up on the baptismal name that parents get to choose. Rebecca chose St. Gianna and I chose St. Joseph. St. Joseph the patron saint of Labourers, Fathers and Families, of Austria, Germany, and of Canada, among many other things. For all of those reasons and more, he seemed like a very good choice.
After all of this, the Liturgy of the Word began, using the scheduled readings for Saturday, September 3, 2005. They were well suited to the day.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, God has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
This was followed by parts of Pslam 54, which were sung. The Gospel was from Luke:
On a Sabbath, while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
The first reading is pretty clear for people like ourselves, who are late joining the party. There is a lot that could be said about the gospel reading, which I don’t intend to get into here. If I did, I would lead it towards John 15 and its wisdom about the co-mingling of love and law.
Fr. Dion used his homily to talk about ‘growing where you planted’, which is something of a theme with him. He told us about his struggles in different parishes, and a little bit about settling in at Holy Rosary. As he neared the close, he turned the idea over towards the married state, and as usual when I hear him speak, I thought it was lovely.
There was so much commotion when everything was done – many people I hardly know shaking my hand and welcoming me with a genuine warmth – that there was little chance to dwell on communion. The wine washed the host down quickly and before you know it, we were celebrating a nice breakfast at a nearby restaurant. Fr. Dion came along and chatted with us for a good while, telling all about his new challenges at Holy Rosary and his ambitious plans for its future. Time will tell if he can get the job done (it’s a heritage building, dontcha know!), but he is no stranger to construction jobs.
As we sat on our deck after diner and enjoyed that second glass of wine, I recall trying to impress on my memory every moment and every feeling of those few hours of happiness. I also recalled first confession, which we did on Teusday. I remembered reading about what it was and what I was supposed to do, and I recalled how it felt better afterwards – and still does. Penance was light, helped perhaps by the fact that growing up I had little to no idea about religion in general and knew Catholics only by the vestments and something about a waffer.
Sunday was different, however. On Sunday there was no wine. Not wanting to chew the host too quickly, I pressed it against the roof of my mouth – where it promptly stuck. Kneeling down afterwards, I had a moment of panic as I wondered how to deal with this situation. And then – and then the host began to melt and I had a most euphoric eruption of feeling. I thought I was going to burst with joy. I felt like I was naked and unworthy before God, but I was accepted with the most tender hand you could possibly imagine.
John tells us that the wedding at Cana is the first of Christ’s miracles, and it is a most fitting scene. Not only does Jesus visibly transform the very nature of the water, a metaphor for what he intends for all of us if we will but consent to it, but he is also the unseen third person in the wedding feast, the one that literally brings it to fruition. The image of a wedding is fittingly used to describe the relationship between the Church (meaning all believers) and God, going back to the special relationship between God and the Jews, through which we were given salvation incarnate.
From the Catechism #1613 – On the threshold of his public life Jesus performs his first sign—at his mother’s request—during a wedding feast. The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence
#1617 – The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist. Christian marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church. Since it signifies and communicates grace, marriage between baptized persons is a true sacrament of the New Covenant.
The long and bumpy road to my marriage – I married a bit late and then had to come back for the sacramental aspects – has been edifying and humbling. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife, as dear to me as my own right hand, and it all came about in a manner that I could not have guessed in a million years. I know too that I cannot begin to guess what lies ahead for us. I will, however, try to grow where I have been so masterfully planted, and try and remember the third hand that brings us to fruition.