by Sharon K. Perkins
I’m in the middle of ending a parish assignment I’ve held for the past 5 ½ years, so there’s been a fair amount of leave-taking, assessment, and introspection in the interim before I move on to the next chapter of my life and ministry. In farewell, a good friend of mine gifted me with a beautiful note and a basket of three bottles of assorted red wines (yum!)—and the labels tell a story.
The 2012 “Aquinas” Napa Valley Pinot Noir is noticeably the stoutest and heaviest bottle of the trio (how fitting is that!?) and just the right antidote for the grieving that inevitably occurs when I make huge changes in my life, even good changes. There is sadness at leaving dear friends, productive work, a familiar setting, and the security of an identity forged over time. But as the august Dominican friar and philosopher/theologian helpfully noted, “Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine,” and I’ve relied on all three to help get me through this transition. That St. Thomas was as practical as he was smart!
The funny thing about being in places of transition, though: they give you time to think. And I confess my thinking hasn’t all been spiritually and emotionally constructive. There’s the self-criticism when I consider all the projects and goals I didn’t get to see to completion, the anxiety of starting something brand new, the self-centeredness of holding on too tightly to past accomplishments, and the self-doubt of wondering whether I’m up for this journey through the unfamiliar. It’s had me about as mixed up as that 2012 Red Winemaker’s Blend in the “Handsome Devil” bottle.
And therein lies the problem. It’s normal to be vulnerable to such thoughts. But continuing to ruminate on them is a subtle, slippery slope that moves the focus off of Christ and squarely onto self. As the bottle’s label says, “forbidden fruit always tastes sweeter”—but only for a very little while, and then those bitter tannins of negativity rush in. Before I know it, that “handsome devil,” the father of lies and deception, turns on me and leaves me hopelessly stuck.
Thankfully, good “St. Francis” comes along with his 2010 Sonoma Valley Merlot and reminds me that “above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.” Jesus put it in another way: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NABRE)
Here’s the thing, dear sisters. We’re not the vine—Jesus is. As branches, we get to display those beautiful ripe clusters of fruit, but we don’t bear them on our own—He bears them through us. It’s not our own private vineyards we’re working—it’s His vineyard, and he’s promised to take care of it, branches, fruit, workers and all. When we can’t overcome the snares of temptation and self-centeredness by ourselves (and when can we ever?), our Beloved is waiting to refresh us, lift us up, and grant a new start full of hope and joy.
Let’s drink to that – I’ve already got the wine!
Sharon K. Perkins, wife to Mike and mother of three adult children, is a 30-year veteran of Catholic parish and diocesan catechesis, a columnist on spirituality and real life, and co-author of “Word to Life,” an award-winning weekly Scripture commentary for Catholic News Service. She’s also the newly-appointed Director of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Catholic Diocese of Austin, Texas and a doctoral candidate in theology, currently writing her dissertation on Marian devotional practice among Czech immigrants. Sharon is proud to be a farm girl and a native of the Lone Star State.