Beyond Lent: Will You Drink of the Cup?

CS-Crucifix-Pixabay

CS-Crucifix-Pixabay

“Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps.” (Luke 9:23)

Take up his cross. Take up your cross. Each day.

But… you’re eating chocolate again, aren’t you? And you’ll be eating meat on Fridays. You got your required one annual visit to the confessional out of the way. (You did, right?) All those things you gave up for Lent, all the penance you accepted, all the little positive things you pursued to show God’s love for other people – you can pack them away for another 320 days or so. Right?

Um, well… not so fast. We are called to make Lent and its lessons last all year long. Don’t forget that season and Holy Week so quickly.

“Can You Drink of the Cup?”

Jesus is the Son of God. The humility of God Made Man held a powerful purpose: saving mankind, the good news that angels proclaimed to shepherds on that first Christmas. The rest of the four Gospels relate so many cases of Jesus showing his divinity–miraculous healings, forgiveness of sins, walking on water, calming a storm and rising from the dead among them. The Word Incarnate was God indeed.

Yet this “God indeed” clearly consisted of flesh and bones: Son of God also Son of Man. Throughout those four Gospels, Jesus showed his humanity on numerous occasions as well. We recalled many of those instances during Holy Week; to me, the most profound example came in his prayer the night before he died, which isn’t reserved for reflection only at the end of Lent. Every Tuesday and Friday, as I meditate on the rosary’s Sorrowful Mysteries, the first of those mysteries captivates my spirit and imagination: the Agony in the Garden, as the scene is related especially in two fascinating verses in Matthew 26.

He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (v. 39)

Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” (v. 42)

Those words echo in my mind every time I ponder that agonizing prayer in the Garden, and inevitably I think of the apostles James and John along with their mother. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, the writer tells us about a time when Jesus was explaining to his apostles what he faced in his coming death and resurrection. Such a sobering moment, and then Mom enters the conversation–out of love for her sons, probably, but it didn’t come off quite that way. She asked Jesus if her two boys could sit in the most honored places when he took over his kingdom.

Jesus responded, “You do not know what you are asking.” Then, turning to the boys, he asked: “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” James and John assured Jesus that they could.

They didn’t fully grasp what was in that cup, a cup that even Jesus told the Father he would prefer not drinking.

Our Own Blood Should Fill That Cup

Drinking of that cup meant suffering greatly, being rejected by all the teachers and leaders of his faith tradition. Drinking of that cup meant being denied by one friend and being betrayed by another. Drinking of that cup meant mortification and immolation, being whipped and mocked, receiving spit in his face and a crown of thorns on his head, fasting and self-denial, carrying the sins of every man and woman of past, present, and future.

For Jesus, drinking of that cup meant completely emptying himself. It is a lesson of Lent that should extend throughout our lives: We are called to imitate Jesus. There is blood in that cup, blood shed by Jesus for all of us, but our own blood should fill the cup as well.

One of the most impactful characteristics of the saints is that they live the reality of this revelation, and that reality transforms the way they treat other people. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is a striking and familiar example. She dedicated her life’s work to ministering to, in her words, “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”

“I try to give to the poor people for love what the rich could get for money,” she once said. “No, I wouldn’t touch a leper for a thousand pounds; yet I willingly cure him for the love of God.”

If you assure Jesus that you can drink of the cup, then you promise to do the “right thing,” to follow in his footsteps despite the covenant guarantee of suffering and pain. It means emptying ourselves of self, of ignoring the things that feel comfortable and easy and pleasing, of passing on lifestyles and choices that involve power (politicians) and wealth (captains of capitalism) and fame (celebrities) and stroke our ego (all of us). In our humanity, we want to embrace those lifestyles and choices, we want to hang on for dear life because our selfishness and pride adore all of those trappings so very much.

We are called to decline even a sip from the “cup of self.” We are advised to spurn that cup and instead reach for the cup from which our Lord drank heartily. The lesson of Lent should direct us to places we never would have ventured otherwise.

“Not As I Will, But As You Will”

The late singer-songwriter Rich Mullins once said it this way: “Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in your beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved, and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken.”

St. Francis of Assisi drank from the cup of Christ once; that lesson opened the eyes of his soul. He loved the poor and identified with them to the extreme of completely emptying himself of self. Born among the well-to-do class of society, Francis grew up with his family in Upper Assisi. Once assimilating a new life because of his conversion, he didn’t just move out of that part of town; he bypassed the lower, poorer part of town and moved to a plain where the lepers lived – the people deemed by most people to be unworthy, intolerable, unwanted.

Francis didn’t just pick up a cross; he embraced it and clung to it and honored it. Pain instead of power and pleasure? “Not as I will, but as you will.” Suffering instead of money and man’s version of success? “Your will be done.”

The Holy Spirit has a cross designed especially for each of us. Picking up and embracing a cross inspires women to answer a call to the consecrated life and men to the religious life. The Holy Spirit has a cup filled especially for each of us. Lifting and drinking of that cup arouses people to enter the Peace Corps, to serve as missionaries in foreign countries or work among the sick, underprivileged, downtrodden, to provide medical assistance among Ebola or hurricane victims.

Perhaps you discovered or became reacquainted with that cross during Lent. You saw it, understood it but couldn’t quite commit to hoisting the burden onto your back and shoulders. Perhaps God placed his cup within your reach, and you watched him pour his desires into it. You saw it but are afraid that it may taste bitter, that drinking it might reveal a flavor and sustenance which will change your life.

Pope Francis said in one of his morning homilies:

To put it simply: the Holy Spirit bothers us, because he moves us, he makes us walk, he pushes the Church to go forward. And we are like Peter at the Transfiguration: ‘Ah, how wonderful it is to be here like this, all together!’ But don’t bother us. We want the Holy Spirit to doze off … we want to domesticate the Holy Spirit. And that’s no good, because he is God, he is that wind which comes and goes and you don’t know where. He is the power of God, he is the one who gives us consolation and strength to move forward. But: to move forward! And this bothers us. It’s so much nicer to be comfortable.

Don’t limit that spirit of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to that penitential season of 40 days. Don’t return to an old way of looking at life. The reality and responsibility of your cross, your spiritual cup, exists beyond Holy Week. The provision and nourishment of the cup are available beyond Lent.

Every day, as you praise and thank God for his love, as you ask him to one day welcome you into his kingdom, he will turn to you and ask that challenging question: Will you drink of the cup?

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3 thoughts on “Beyond Lent: Will You Drink of the Cup?”

  1. Ascetic fraternal corrections are hard to pull off in already sad modernity which nightly tells us of seniors being mugged and three children trapped in a car with their mom for three days who has died at the wheel in Texas. If you are still following sports and enjoying it, let likewise your audience have chocolate after Easter because our cross goes from youth til death but is not meant to be the whole story and constant each minute of our lives. It’s called the gospel…the good news….not the bad news. Some of your readers stress sorrow too much and could be led into the sin of despair easily as e.g. the man in 2 Cor.2:14. The reading, striving Catholic who reads you at all has a larger danger in being incapable of joy, a fruit of the Spirit, in this nutty, dangerous world in which we all think half of our school teachers of our past would be better presidents of the USA than the ones successfully running right now…not to mention our casual current president. Joy does not jump off the page of many Catholic blogs because joy is harder to find than sorrow now in this modernity that nightly reports on tv on the people that God permitted to suffer huge sudden crosses like suicide bombers.
    Yes we must carry our cross but the same Christ said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”. Christ was not crucified hourly for a full three years or thirty three years. Balance is….the hardest achievement. And I believe with Aquinas that His actual one afternoon crucifixion was the most painful in all history because of His nature and perfect sensitivity and what He was the substitute for. His loneliness in the garden was likewise the worst as was Judas’ betrayal….the worst. But at Cana, He not only produced top quality wine but He produced it in great quantity during a wedding in which He obviously didn’t want people fasting. Balance.

    1. Thank you for sharing those thoughts. I agree with the points you share. Forgive me if I seem joyless. I will confess that often in my life, I live with unhappiness and challenge because of clinical depression and have experienced spiritual depression. In the midst of all that, I know an overriding joy and powerful hope. I share that. The message of Jesus indeed is Good News — Great News, I would advise. But the Good News can’t be heard and understood if we don’t embrace all of it. God’s kingdom will come to earth as in heaven only if first we embrace God’s will rather than our own will. And God’s will begins with sacrificing ourselves. Once we pick up the cup and the cross, we indeed will find out that the Blood of Christ tastes delightful and that the cross is light after all.

    2. Just be careful you’re not in a loop that leads back to fearful or demanding passages excessively. I speak from experience also. Here is a remarkable Aquinas passage from the section on despair that helped me against scrupulosity decades ago:
      ” Reply to Objection 3. This very neglect to consider the Divine favors arises from sloth. For when a man is influenced by a certain passion he considers chiefly the things which pertain to that passion: so that a man who is full of sorrow does not easily think of great and joyful things, but only of sad things, unless by a great effort he turn his thoughts away from sadness.”
      Words to live by. Now realize that Aquinas esteemed “sorrow” as part of virtue from a perfect memory of the OT…” sorrow is better than laughter, for when the face is sad, the heart grows wiser”… and he saw Lamentations 1:12 as being about Christ…” see all ye that pass by and attend, is there any sorrow like my sorrow.” But Aquinas is saying….in us who are not Christ…sorrow can easily become an obsession that is supported by sloth about penetrating the sunny side of God and His acts in our lives. And I read the entire Summa T. and I can’t remember him ever warning about too much joy.

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