On the list of “Things I Don’t Understand,” Pittsburgh traffic tops the list. Bruce Jenner comes in as a close second. Third, I think, is a dry dinner party. Or, more specifically, a dry Catholic dinner party—a dinner party with plenty of Catholics, but no wine (or beer or booze as the case may be).
Such sad affairs are a uniquely American phenomenon—a weird social tick that American Catholics picked up from living alongside tee-totaling Protestants. Elsewhere, they simply don’t exist. Not in Italy. Not in France. Not in Germany or Austria or Spain. Really, not anywhere in Western Civilization that has more than a passing connection to Catholicism. There, if you find food and people, you’ll also find adult beverages.
And that, especially when it comes to wine, is exactly how it should be.
Wine, as the Bible tells us, is a gift from God, given to gladden the heart of man (Ps 105:15). It is “like life to man if you drink it in moderation” and it brings “rejoicing of heart and gladness of soul” (Sir 31:27-28). Wine was so central to the culture of ancient Israel that it played a part in Christ’s first earthly miracle—turning water into wine. Likewise, wine was such a powerful metaphor—for love, life, virtue and vice—that the Scriptures, from Genesis right through to Revelation, are shot through with allusions to the stuff.
Of course, wine is more than metaphor in Scripture. It also served as the vehicle for Christ imparting his Divine Life to the Apostles at the Last Supper. In the Upper Room, wine became blood—Christ’s blood—for the first time. But the miracle didn’t stop there. That work of grace has continued, unceasingly, every day since, on every altar, in every Catholic parish in the world.
That’s why something of the sacred lingers about every grape and every glass. There’s the potential for holiness in wine, a hint of something more to come, of some greater possibility, of some future transformation imaginable only through the sheer, gratuitous gift of God. In that sense, wine is a bit like us—made for more, longing to be transformed, waiting for grace to do what grace does.
And yes, of course, wine can be misused and abused. For all of us, wine, if drunk past “the point of hilarity,” becomes (at the very least) an occasion of sin and confessable matter. For some—the young, the sick, the addiction-inclined—even a mere sip is too much. But none of that makes wine itself bad. It’s us—fallen, weak creatures, prone to sickness and death—that are the problem, not the wine. Nothing that God preordained from the dawn of time to play such a pivotal role in our sanctification can be anything other than good. Especially a fine Bordeaux.
And wine is good—very, very good. It livens a party, elevates a conversation, soothes the weary, relaxes the stressed, and does it all while complementing a meal and tasting oh so lovely. Our God is a loving God indeed.
So, next time you throw a party, whether for two or for 200, don’t stint on the wine. It doesn’t have to be Chateau Petrus that you’re serving up. $10-16 can fetch you plenty of respectable table wines, i.e….
Likewise, if money is what’s keeping your dinner parties dry, when guests ask what they can bring, don’t hesitate to say, “Wine.” That’s the expected offering at just about any dinner I host. It keeps the costs down for me and keeps the guests (and the hostess!) happy.
Lastly, if you’re not sure where to start when it comes to wine buying, take a class, talk to people at the wine store, or just keep buying bottles yourself and making notes about what you like. It’s not rocket science; it’s just human—deeply and wonderfully human.
So, drink. Live. Love. Be Catholic, embracing the graced nature of this world of ours, where every mountain, every sunrise, and every glass of wine gives glory to God.
Ain’t it a grand world?