The Catholic University of America

June 30, 2014

Heaven and the Oenophile

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Fathers face many challenges in raising their children. My latest, choosing the wine for our youngest daughter's wedding, was (to put it simply) befuddling.

By disposition, I am pro-wine. Our children have often heard me recite Richard Wilbur's touching poem written for his son's wedding:

"Saint John tells how, at Cana's wedding feast, the water pots poured wine in such amount, that by his sober count, there were a hundred gallons at the least."

I have to confess that I don't know what I'm doing when it comes to wine, not even a little bit. I can tell red from white in a well-lit room, but pinot noir, malbec, Chianti and merlot are really all the same to me. Within each category I cannot discern differences in quality unless something has turned to vinegar. And let's not even get started on what wine goes best with what meal.

Most of the time my uncultivated taste makes life simpler. I'm an easy dinner guest, and I can be perfectly satisfied with a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck. Still, as I pored over the selection at Costco (see?) with our dear future son-in-law, I could tell that I'm probably missing out on something rather important.

I can't be sure of this, of course, because wine is a habit I never cultivated. The experience of great wine remains one of those "known unknowns" that former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once talked about. When it comes to how a great wine is supposed to taste with the right cut of beef, I don't even know what or how much I don't know.

We've all had similar experiences. When freshmen walk into our classrooms at The Catholic University of America this fall, many will have no idea what to expect. Many will not have studied calculus yet nor grasped what it is good for. Many will not have read philosophy or understood why it fascinates people.

Or, to get back to the wedding again, one could think of marriage this way. For all the preparation the church gives engaged couples, they can't possibly understand what they're in for when they pledge their lives to one another until death. These are things they can only appreciate after diving in headfirst.

The greatest known unknown is heaven, and we hear about that in Corinthians: "what eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart." The first time children hear about heaven, they may wonder whether they will like it. ("We're there forever? What will we do all day?") Later in life, we learn more about the beatific vision and the completion of our nature that unity with God offers. Even then, it remains a mystery we can't fathom.

But a happy marriage may offer the closest approximation. Husbands and wives complete one another in a natural kind of unity that God envisions for us on earth. And what binds them together, with God's grace, is love.

That is a fitting thought to finish off a wedding day -- that marriage is our nearest approach to heaven. I don't mean to be sentimental or unrealistic. My wife and I have been married a long time, long enough to know that growing together requires hard work and self-sacrifice. We know that love is not a feeling; it is what we do.

We hope our children learn that, too, along with all the other joys of married life that are to them as red wine is to me. As Wilbur would have said, may they never lack for water, and may that water smack of Cana's wine.