AVE MARIA PRESS Notre Dame, Indiana 1996

In memory of Adam John Arnett
Novembre 17, 1961 February 13, 1996

HENRI J.M. NOUWEN is the author of more than thirty books, among them the best-selling Behold the Beauty of the Lard, With Open Hands, and Out of Solitude (all published by Ave Maria Press). He taught at the University of Notre Dame, as well as Yale and Harvard Universities. From 1986 until his death in September, 1996, he was pastor of the L'Arche Daybreak community in Toronto where he shared his life with people with mental disabilities.


Prologue - The Chalice and the Cup Introduction The Question
Chapter 1 Holding Chapter 4 Lifting Chapter 7 Drinking
Chapter 2 The Cup of Sorrow Chapter 5 The Cup of Blessings Chapter 8 The Cup of Salvation
Chapter 3 The Cup of Joy Chapter 6 To Life Chapter 9 To the Bottom
Conclusion The Answer

Epilogue  - One Cup, One Body


This little book was written during the first few months of my sabbatical year, a year that the l'Arche Daybreak community gave me for my writing. I am deeply grateful to all the members of the community, and especially to Nathan Ball, the director, and Sue Mosteller, the pastor, for their encouragement and support during this ti me away from home.

I also owe much gratitude to Peggy McDonnell, her family and friends who, in memory of Murray McDonnell, offered me the financial support for my writing.

I wrote Can you Drink the Cup? while staying with Hans and Margaret Kruitwagen in Oakville, Ontario, and with Robert Jonas, Margaret Bullitt- Jonas, and their son, Sam, in Watertown, Massachusetts. Their great kindness and generous hospitality offered me the ideal context for reflection and writing. A special word of thanks goes to Margaret Bullitt Jonas's mother, Sarah Doering, who offered me the use of her third-floor apartment while she made a three-month Buddhist retreat.

I am also most grateful to Kathy Christie for her very competent and efficient secretarial help and for her great patience with my many "urgent" calls and "important" changes of mind. Her friendship is a real gift to me. A special word of thanks goes to Susan Brown, whose last minute line-editing was an unexpected blessing, and to Wendy Greer, who made many valuable corrections.

Finally, I want to thank my editor Frank Cunningham at Ave Maria Press for his long-term interest in my writing and his special care for the presentation of this text.

I dedicate Can you Drink the Cup? to Adam Arnett, my friend and teacher about whom I wrote in these pages. Adam di ed on February 13, 1996 just at the time this text was finished. I hope and pray that his life and death will continue to bear much fruit in the lives of all those who have known him and loved him so much.



Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came with her sons to make a request ofJesus and bowed low; and he said to her, "What is it that you want?" She said to him, "Promise that these rwo sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom." Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?" They replied, "We can." He said to them, "Very well; you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father." (Matthew 20:20-23)



It was Sunday, July 21, 1957. Bernard Alfrink, the Cardinal Archbishop of the Netherlands, laid his hands on my head, dressed me with a white chasuble, and offered me his golden chalice to touch with my hands bound together with a linen cloth. Thus, along with twenty-seven other candidates, I was ordained to the priesthood in St. Catherine's Cathedral in Utrecht. I will never forget the deep emotions that stirred my heart at that moment.

Since I was six years old, I had felt a great desire to be a priest. Except for a few fleeting thoughts of becoming a navy captain, mostly because of the influence of the men with their blue and white uniforms and golden stripes parading the railroad platform of our town, I always dreamt about one day being able to say Mass, as my uncle Anton did.

My maternal grandmother was my great supporter. An astute businesswoman, she had built a large department store, where my mother did some part-time bookkeeping work and where I could run around, use the elevators freely, and play hide-and-seek with my younger brother. As soon as she discovered my budding vocation to the priesthood, she ordered her store carpenter to build me a child-size altar and had her seamstress sew all the vestments necessary to play priest. By the time I was eight years old, I had converted the attic of our home to a children's chapel, where I played Mass, gave sermons to my parents and relatives, and set up a whole hierarchy with bishops, priests, deacons, and altar servers among my friends. Meanwhile, my grandmother not only continued to give me new things to play priest with, such as chalices and plates, but also gently introduced me to a life of prayer and encouraged me in a personal relationship with Jesus.

When I was twelve years old I wanted to go the minor seminary, but both my parents feh that I was much too young to leave home. "You are not ready to make a decision about the priesthood," my father told me. "You better wait until you are eighteen." It was 1944, and they wanted me to go to a gymnasium in our town, dose to Amsterdam. The Second World War had come to a very critical stage, but my parents were able to keep me and my brother away from the cruelties of war and even provided us with a rather regular school life. After the war we moved to The Hague, where I finished my secondary education. Finally, in 1950, I went to the seminary to study philosophy and theology and prepare myself for ordination.

On that 21st day of July, 1957, when my life-long dream to become a priest was realized, I was a very naive twenty-five year-old. My life had been well-protected. I had grown up as in a beautifully kept garden surrounded by thick hedges. It was a garden of loving parental care, innocent boy scout experiences, daily mass and communion, long hours of study with very patient teachers, and many years of happy but very isolated seminary life. I carne out of it all full of love for Jesus, and full of desire to bring the Gospel to the world, but without being fully aware that not everybody was waiting for me. I had only met-and that quite cautiously-a few Protestants, had never encountered an unbeliever, and certainly had no idea about other religions. Divorced people were unknown to me, and if there were any priests who had left the priesthood, they were kept away from me. The greatest "scandal" I had experienced was a friend leaving the seminary!

Still, life in me garden of my youth was quite beautiful and offered me invaluable gifts for me rest of my life: a joyful spirit, a deep devotion for Jesus and Mary, a true desire to pray, a great love for theology and spirituality, a good knowledge of contemporary languages, a serious interest in scripture and the early Christian writers, an enthusiasm about preaching, and a very strong sense of vocation. My maternal grandmother, my paternal grandparents, my parents, friends, and teachers all encouraged me to trust my desire to live a life with Jesus for others.

When Cardinal Alfrink handed me the chalice, I felt ready to start a life as a priest. The joy of that day still lives in me as a precious memory. The chalice was the sign of that joy.

Most of my classmates had chalices made for their ordination. I was an exception. My uncle Anton, who was ordained in 1922, offered me his chalice as a sign of his gratitude that a new priest had come into our family. It was beautiful, made by a famous Dutch goldsmith and adorned with my grandmother's diamonds. The foot was decorated with a crucifix shaped as a tree of life, from which golden grapes and grape leaves grew to cover the node and bowl. Around the rim of the foot these Latin words were engraved:

"Ego sum vites, vos palmites, "which means, "I am the vine, you are the branches." It was a very precious gift, and I was deeply moved to receive it. I remember saying to my uncle: "I have seen you celebrating Mass so often with this chalice; can you really do without it?" He smiled and said, "I want you to have it. It comes from your grandmother, who died too soon to see you as a priest but whose love for you, her oldest grandchild, is with you today." When I still hesitated to accept the chalice, he said: "Take it, but pass it on to the next member of our family who will be ordained."

The chalice is still with me, because so far no one else in my family has been ordained to the priesthood. I keep it in the sacristy of the Dayspring Chapel in Toronto, where I now live. I often show it to friends and visitors. But so much has happened during the thirty-seven years that followed my ordination that my uncle's decorated golden chalice no longer expresses what I am presently living. During the Eucharist today, I use several large cups made by the glassblower Simon Pearce in Vermont. The precious golden chalice that could only be touched and used by an ordained priest is replaced by large glass cups in which the wine can be seen and from which many can drink. These glass cups speak about a new way of being a priest and a new way of being human. I am happy with these cups on the altar table today, but without the golden chalice given me by my uncle Anton nearly forty years ago, they would not mean as much to me as they do.




In this book I want to tell the story of the cup, not just as my story, but as the story of life.

When Jesus asks his friends James and John, the sons of Zebedee, "Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?" he poses the question that goes right to the heart of my priesthood and my life as a human being. Years ago, when I held that beautiful golden chalice in my hands, that question didn't seem hard to answer. For me, a newly ordained priest full of ideas and ideals, life seemed to be rich with promises. I was eager to drink the cup!

Today, sitting in front of a low table surrounded by men and women with mental disabilities and their assistants, and offering them the glass cups of wine, that same question has become a spiritual challenge. Can I, can we, drink the cup that Jesus drank?

I still remember the day, a few years ago, when the story in which Jesus raises that question was read during the Eucharist. It was 8:30 in the morning, and about twenty members of the Daybreak community were gathered in the little basement chapel. Suddenly the words "Can you drink the cup?" pierced my heart like the sharp spear of a hunter. I knew at that moment-as with a flash of insight-that taking this question seriously would radically change our lives. It is the question that has the power to crack open a hardened heart and lay bare the tendons of the spiritual life.

"Can you drink the cup? Can you empty it to the dregs? Can you taste all the sorrows and joys? Can you live your life to the full whatever it will bring?" I realized these were our questions.

But why should we drink this cup? There is so much pain, so much anguish, so much violence. Why should we drink the cup? Wouldn't it be a lot easier to live normal lives with a minimum of pain and a maximum of pleasure?

After the reading, I spontaneously grabbed one of the large glass cups standing on the table in front of me and looking at those around me-some of whom could hardly walk, speak, hear, or see-I said: "Can we hold the cup of life in our hands? Can we lift it up for others to see, and can we drink it to the full?" Drinking the cup is much more than gulping down whatever happens to be in there, just as breaking the bread is much more than tearing a loaf apart. Drinking the cup of life involves holding, lifting, and drinking. It is the full celebration of being human.

Can we hold our life, lift our life, and drink it, as Jesus did? In some of those around me, there was a sign of recognition, but in myself there was a deep awareness of truth. Jesus' question had given me a new language with which to speak about my life and the lives of those around me. For a long time after that simple morning Eucharist, I kept hearing Jesus' question: "Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?" Just letting that question sink in made me feel very un comfortable. But I knew that I had to start living with it.

This book is the fruit of having done that. It strives to make Jesus' question pierce our hearts so that a personal answer can emerge from there. I will follow the three themes that emerged that morning in the Dayspring Chapel: holding, lifting, and drinking. They will allow me to explore the spiritual horizons that Jesus' question opens for us and to invite you who will read this to join me in this exploration.