St. John, Wine, and Celibacy

The Feast of St John was somewhat eclipsed by the Feast of the Holy Family this Year, but in the parish of Pfaffstätten, which is a vineyard town, we still had the traditional blessing of wine after Mass. After the blessing it is customary for the people to give some of the wine to the priest— as a sort of offering, I believe.

During Mass I preached the following sermon (more or less).

The Gospel that we have just heard of the finding of our Lord in the temple always makes me think of something similar that happened to me when I was a child. Our Lord was twelve when his parents lost Him, but I was much younger— about four or five. We were visiting my grandparents in Salzburg, and were walking through the city on our way to Mass at the Abbey Church of St Peter. I saw something interesting in a window, and stood staring at it for a long while. When I looked up my family was gone. The Church was not far off, and when they got there (as I heard later) my father sat up front with the older children, while my mother sat in the back with my younger brother. Each of them thought that I was with the other. I wandered about looking for the church. I asked someone where St. Peter’s was, but he answered “in Rome.” It seemed to me that he had misunderstood the question, but I didn’t know how to explain this, so I walked on. I will always remember the feeling of fear and great loneliness that came over me. But my joy was proportionately great when my parents came looking for me and found me. I will never forget that joy either.

God has created us for love, and for the joy which comes from love. After the creation of man God said, “it is not good for the man to be alone,” and so He created a woman, and the first family was founded. The family was created to be a school of love; a union of love in which new life can come into the world and learn to give and receive love. The family is a school of love that ought to prepare us to be taken up into an even greater union of love: the love of God Himself. God’s own life is the unspeakable joy of the love given and received in the Blessed Trinity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And He wishes to take us up into that love, to make us (as it were) part of His own family.

But from the very beginning human families are threatened by sin. In the very first family Cain kills Abel, and through all time many families are torn apart by infidelity and jealously and every kind of sin.

But our Lord in coming into the world restored the family. He Himself was born into a human family, becoming a little child in the manger. And He won the grace for our families to become schools of divine love. Today we celebrate the Feast of John, the beloved disciple, who wrote so beautifully of God’s love. St John tells us that the first of our Lord’s miracles took place at the wedding feast of Cana, at the founding of a new family, where our Lord changed water into wine. Today we will bless wine in honor of St John, as a symbol of the joy that flows from God’s love. But St John, who spoke so eloquently of love, was not himself married. Many of the other apostles were married, but St John was not. In this he was like our Lord Himself, who was born into a human family, but did not found an earthly family; He founded only the supernatural family of the Church. And many monks and nuns throughout the ages have followed the example of our Lord (and of St John), and have resolved to remain unmarried. They do this as a sign that the true fulfillment of our hearts, the final healing of our loneliness and fear, does not come in this mortal life, but in the wedding feast of eternity.

The Church needs both forms of life. She needs good Christian families, who can be schools of love, preparations for and signs of the coming union with God in Heaven. And she needs good monks and nuns, who by giving up the “happy ending” of spousal love in this life, show our hope for something yet greater.


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