A recent conversation came to mind when I read this morning’s gospel (LK 5:33-39). It concerned my gratitude at having entered the convent in the tumultuous days of the 1960s. It was difficult because of the rate at which things were changing in the world and in our Church but was early enough for me to catch the spirit of the “old ways” so that I understood what had grounded the lives of the older members of our religious community. At the same time, I was able to see the value of what was emerging as a new way of being in the Church that was necessary for us to embrace if we were to survive as a Congregation. My experience stood me in good stead when I was part of the team charged with the formation of new members to our community in the 1980s. I was able to help those of the “new era” who had little understanding of the by-gone culture of religious life that was still clinging to us when they got frustrated with some of the customs and the slow pace of change. Reverence was the order of the day, I felt, on both sides of the equation.
I think that’s what Jesus was talking about today when he spoke of trying to sew new cloth on old garments or pouring new wine into old wineskins. It doesn’t work. The end of the reading, however, is a caution to anyone who just throws out all the old. Jesus says, “The old is good.” Even though we don’t live the same way that the Sisters of St. Joseph who came from France in 1836 (or even in 1966!) lived, we stand on the shoulders of those women whose vision and insight allowed them to cast off what was no longer useful while continuing to reverence what was at the core of the tradition.
It’s the same with Christianity, I think. Sometimes we get so sidetracked in church practice and rubrics that we forget the things that Jesus said and did to keep us on the right path toward God. If we can hold on to reverence – of people and traditions – we can usually overcome differences in our devotional lives and move forward by taking the long view back to Jesus. Perhaps today is a good day to have a glass of that “good wine” and be grateful, while at the same time looking forward to the incredible spiritual insights that are moving us toward universal understanding in our day.