HENRY J.M. NOUWEN
CAN YOU DRINK THE CUP
In memory of Adam John Arnett
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|
|Part 1 HOLDING THE CUP||Part 2 LIFTING THE CUP||Part 3 DRINKING THE CUP|
|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
Part 3 DRINKING THE CUP
Chapter 7 DRINKING
The cup that we hold and lift we must drink.
I have very vivid memories of my first year at the University of Nijmegen in Holland. I had just been ordained a priest, and Cardinal Alfrink had sent me to the Catholic university to work for a degree in psychology. But before the school year started, I had to undergo a long hazing process to be accepted into the student society and to become a member of a fraternity. Drinking beer was definitely one of the ways to get in! I wasn't used to drinking that much beer and had a hard time showing any prowess in this domain. But once I was finally admitted into the society and had made some friends in the fraternity, "having a drink together" became an expression for sharing, personal attention, good conversation, and the deepening of fellowship. "Let's have a beer!" "Can you join me for coffee?" "Let's meet for tea." "May I offer you a Heineken?" "What about another glass of wine?" "Come on, don't be shy, let me pour you another… you deserve it!" These and other similar ways of speaking created an atmosphere of companionship and conviviality.
In whatever country or culture we find ourselves, having a drink together is a sign of friendship, intimacy, and peace. Being thirsty is often not the main reason to drink. We drink to "break the ice," to enter into a conversation, to show good intention, to express friendship and goodwill, to set the stage for a romantic moment, to be open, vulnerable, accessible. It is no surprise that people who are angry at us, or who come to accuse us or harass us, won't accept a drink from us. They would rather say: "I will come straight to the point of my being here." Refusing a drink is avoiding intimacy.
At worst, drinking together is saying, "We trust each other enough that we don't want to poison each other." At best, it is saying, "I want to get dose to you and celebrate life with you." It breaks through the boundaries that separate us and invites us to recognize our shared humanity. Thus, drinking together can be a true spiritual event, affirming our unity as children of one God.
The world is full of places to drink: bars, pubs, coffee and tea rooms. Even when we go out to eat, the waiter's first question is always "Can I offer you something to drink?" That is also one of the first questions we ask our guests when they enter our home.
It seems that most of our drinking takes place in context in which we feel, at least for a moment, at home with ourselves and safe with others. Drinking a cup of coffee to interrupt work for a moment, stopping for tea in the afternoon, having a "quick drink" before dinner, taking a glass of wine before going to bed-all these are moments to say to ourselves or others: "It is good to be alive in the midst of all that is going on, and I want to be reminded of that."
Drinking the cup of life makes our own everything we are living. It is saying, "This is my life," but also "I want this to be my life." Drinking the cup of life is fully appropriating and internalizing our own unique existence, with all its sorrows and joys.
It is not easy to do this. For a long time we might not feel capable of accepting our own life; we might keep fighting for a better or at least a different life. Often a deep protest against our "fate" rises in us. We didn't choose our country, our parents, the color of our skin, our sexual orientation. We didn't even choose our character, intelligence, physical appearance, or mannerisms. Sometimes we want to do every possible thing to change the circumstances of our life. We wish we were in another body, lived in another time, or had another mind! A cry can come out of our depths: "Why do I have to be this person? I didn't ask for it, and I don't want it."
But as we gradually come to befriend our own reality, to look with compassion at ourown sorrows and joys, and as we are able to discover the unique potential of our way of being in the world, we can move beyond our protest, put the cup of our life to our lips and drink it, slowly, carefully, but fully.
Often when we wish to comfort people, we say: "Well, it is sad this has happened to you, but try to make the best of it." But "making the best of it" is not what drinking the cup is about. Drinking our cup is not simply adapting ourselves to a bad situation and trying to use it as well as we can. Drinking our cup is a hopeful, courageous, and self-confident way of living. It is standing in the world with head erect, solidly rooted in the knowledge of who we are, facing the reality that surrounds us and responding to it from our hearts.
The great figures in history looked deeply into their cups and drank from them without fear. Whether they were famous or not, they knew that the life which was given to them was given to live to its fullness in the presence of God and God's people, and thus bear much fmit. They needed to make it bear fruit. Jesus, the carpenter's son from Nazareth - "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" people asked (John 1:46) - drank his cup to the bitter end. All his disciples did too, different as they may have been.
Spiritual greatness has nothing to do with being greater than others. It has everything to do with being as great as each of us can be. True sanctity is precisely drinking our own cup and trusting that by thus fully claiming our own, irreplaceable journey, we can become a source of hope for many. Vincent van Gogh, miserable and broken-hearted as he was, believed without question in his vocation to paint, and he went as far as he could with what little he had. This is true for Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day of New York, and Oscar Romero of San Salvador. Small people, but great in drinking their cups to the full.
How then can we, in the midst of our ordinary daily lives, drink our cup, the cup of sorrow and the cup of joy? How can we fully appropriate what is given to us? Somehow we know that when we do not drink our cup and thus avoid the sorrow as well as the joy of living, our lives become inauthentic, insincere, superficial, and boring. We become puppets moved up and down, left and right by the puppeteers of this world. We become objects, yes, victims of other people's interests and desires. But we don't have to be victims. We can choose to drink the cup of our life with the deep conviction that by drinking it we will find our true freedom. Thus, we will discover that the cup of sorrow and joy we are drinking is the cup of salvation.
Chapter 8 THE CUP OF SALVATION
Gordie Henry, who has Down's syndrome, is one of the core members of the Daybreak community. Once he said to me, "What is good about our life is that you make so many friends. What is hard about our life is that so many friends leave." With this simple observation Gordie touched the place where joy and sorrow are embracing each other. As a long-time member of Daybreak, Gordie has had many assistants come to live with him. They carne from various countries, sometimes for a summer, sometimes for a year, sometimes for many years. They all loved Gordie very much, and Gordie carne to love them. Strong attachments and deep bonds of friendship developed.
But sooner or later, the assistants had to leave. Some got married, some returned to school, some lost their work permits, some looked for a new direction in life, and some discovered that community life wasn't for them. Gordie, however, stayed, and felt the intense pain of the many separations.
One day, lean Vanier, the founder of l'Arche, carne to visit Daybreak. He gathered the whole community around him and said, "What questions would you most like to ask me?" Thelus, one of the core members who had lived at Daybreak as long as Gordie, raised her hand and said: "Why are people leaving alI the time?" lean understood this question was not just Thelus' question but also Gordie's question and the question of all long-term Daybreak members.
He gently moved closer to her and said: "You know, Thelus, that is the most important question you can ask. Because you and many others want to make Daybreak your home, where you can feel well loved and well protected. What then does it mean when so often someone you love, and who loves you, leaves your home, sometimes for good? Why then do you have to suffer the pain of so many departures? lt may feel as if people do not really love you! Because if they love you, why would they leave you?"
As he was speaking, everyone looked at him very attentively. They knew this man truly understood their pain and sincerely cared for them. They wanted to hear what he had to say. With great gentleness and compassion, lean looked at everyone who was listening and said: "You know; your joy and your pain give you a mission.
Those who carne to live with you, from whom you received much and to whom you gave much, aren't just leaving you. You are sending them back to their schools, their homes, and their families, to bring some of the love they have lived with you. It's hard. It's painful to let them go. But when you realize that this is a mission, you will be able to send your friends to continue their journeys without losing the joy they brought you."
These simple words entered deep into our hearts because they made us look differently at what had seemed such a harsh tearing apart. The cup of joy and sorrow had become the cup of salvation.
Drinking the cup of sorrow and joy is only possible when it bring us health, strength, freedom, hope, courage-new life. Nobody will drink the cup of life when it makes us sick and miserable. We can only drink it when it is a cup of salvation.
This is beautifully expressed in Psalm 116:
The Lord is merciful and upright,
our God is tenderness. . . .
My trust does not fail even when I say,
"I am completely wretched."
In my terror I said,
"No human being can be relied on."
What return can I make to the Lord
for his generosity to me?
I shall take up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.
(Psalm 116:5, 10-13, New Jerusalem Bible. The word "Yahweh" is replaced by "Lord.")
Here the mystery of drinking the cup becomes dear. The coming and leaving of friends, the experiences of love and betrayal, of care and indifference, of generosity and stinginess can become the way to true human freedom. Yes, people who love us also disappoint us, moments of great satisfaction also reveal unfulfilled needs, being home also shows us our homelessness. But all of these tensions can create in us that deep, deep yearning for full freedom that is beyond any of the structures of our world.
Indeed, there is a mission emerging out of a life that is never pure sorrow or pure joy, a mission that makes us move far beyond our human limitations and reach out to total freedom, complete redemption, ultimate salvation.
Jesus drank the cup of his life. He experienced praise, adulation, admiration, and immense popularity. He also experienced rejection, ridicule, and mass hatred. At one moment people shouted "Hosanna'; a moment later they cried: "Crucify him." Jesus took it all in, not as a hero adored and then vilified, but as the one who had come to fulfil a mission and who kept his focus on that mission whatever the responses were. Jesus knew deep within himself that he had to drink the cup to accomplish the work his Abba-his dear Father-had given him. He knew that drinking the cup would bring him freedom, glory, and wholeness. He knew that drinking the cup would lead him beyond the entrapment of this world to complete liberation, beyond the agony of death to the splendour of the resurrection. This knowing had little to do with understanding or comprehending. It was a knowledge of a heart shaped in the garden of eternal love.
Thus the cup which Jesus was willing to drink, and which he drank until it was completely empty, became the cup of salvation. In the garden of Gethsemane, the garden of fear, Jesus' heart cried out with the psalmist: "No human being can be relied on. . . . I shall take up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord." Drinking the cup of salvation means emptying the cup of sorrow and joy so that God can fill it with pure life.
"Salvation" is about being saved. But from what do we need to be saved? The traditional answer-and the good one-is sin and death. We are entrapped by sin and death as in a hunter's snare.
When we think for a moment of various addictions-alcohol, drug, food, gambling, sex-we get some idea of that entrapment.
In addition there are our many compulsions. We can feel compelled to act, speak, and even think in one way without being able to choose any other way. When people say: "Be sure you dean the room before you leave it, otherwise he gets raving mad!" or "Whatever she does, she first needs to wash her hands," we know that we are dealing with compulsive people.
Finally, all of us have our obsessions. An idea, a plan, a hobby can obsess us to such a degree that we become its slave.
These addictions, compulsions, and obsessions reveal our entrapments. They show our sinfulness because they take away our freedom as children of God and thus enslave us in a cramped, shrunken world. Sin makes us want to create our own lives according to our desires and wishes, ignoring the cup that is given to us. Sin makes us self-indulgent. St. Paul says: "When self-indulgence is at work the results are obvious: sexual vice, impurity, and sensuality, the worship of false gods and sorcery; antagonisms and rivalry, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions and malice, drunkenness, orgies and all such things" (Galatians 5: 18-21).
Death too entraps us. Death is surrounding us on all sides: the threat of nuclear death; the reality of death caused by the many international, national, and ethnic conflicts; the death resulting from starvation and neglect; the death through abortion and euthanasia; and the death coming from the countless diseases that plague humanity, especially AIDS and cancer. Sooner or later the inevitability of our own deaths will catch up with us. In whatever direction we run, death is there, never leaving us completely alone. Not a day passes in which we are not worried about the health of a family member, a friend, or ourselves. Not a day passes that we aren't reminded of those snares of death.
Sin and death entrap us. Drinking the cup, as Jesus did, is the way out of that trap. It is the way to salvation. It is a hard way, a painful way, a way we want to avoid at all costs. Often it even seems an impossible way. Still, unless we are willing to drink our cup, real freedom will elude us. This is not only the freedom that comes after we have completely emptied our cup-that is, after we have died. No, this freedom comes to us every time we drink from the cup of life, whether a little or much.
Salvation is not only a goal for the afterlife. Salvation is a reality of every day that we can taste here and now. When I sit down with Adam and help him eat, chat with Bill about our next trip, have coffee with Susanne and breakfast with David, when I embrace Michael, kiss Patsy, or pray with Gordie, salvation is right there. And when we sit together around the low altar table and I offer to all present the glass cup filled with wine, I can announce with great certainty: "This is the cup of salvation."
Chapter 9 TO THE BOTTOM
The question now is: How do we drink the cup of salvation?
We have to drink our cup slowly, tasting every mouthful - all the way to the bottom! Living a complete life is drinking our cup until it is empty, trusting that God will fill it with everlasting life.
It is important, however, to be very specific when we deal with the question "How do we drink our cup?" We need some very concrete disciplines to help us fully appropriate and internalize our joys and sorrows and find in them our unique way to spiritual freedom. I would like to explore how three disciplines-the discipline of silence, the discipline of the word, and the discipline of action-can help us drink our cup of salvation.
The first way to drink our cup is in silence.
This might come as a surprise, since being silent seems like doing nothing, but it is precisely in silence that we confront our true selves. The sorrows of our lives often overwhelm us to such a degree that we will do everything no t to face them. Radio, television, newspapers, books, films, but also hard work and a busy social life all can be ways to run away from ourselves and turn life into a long entertainment.
The word entertainment is important here. It means literally "to keep (tain from the Latin tenere) someone in between (enter)." Entertainment is everything that gets and keeps our mind away from things that are hard to face. Entertainment keeps us distracted, excited, or in suspense. Entertainment is often good for us. It gives us an evening or a day off from our worries and fears. But when we start living life as entertainment, we lose touch with our souls and become little more than spectators in a lifelong show. Even very useful and relevant work can become a way of forgetting who we really are. It is no surprise that for many people retirement is a fearful prospect. Who are we when there is nothing to keep us busy?
Silence is the discipline that helps us to go beyond the entertainment quality of our lives. There we can let our sorrows and joys emerge from their hidden place and look us in the face, saying: "Don't be afraid; you can look at your own journey, its dark and light sides, and discover your way to freedom." We may find silence in nature, in our own houses, in a church or meditation hall. But wherever we find it, we should cherish it. Because it is in silence that we can truly acknowledge who we are and gradually claim ourselves as a gift from God.
At first silence might only frighten us. In silence we start hearing the voices of darkness: our jealousy and anger, our resentment and desire for revenge, our lust and greed, and our pain over losses, abuses, and rejections. These voices are often noisy and boisterous. They may even deafen us. Our most spontaneous reaction is to run away from them and return to our entertainment.
But if we have the discipline to stay put and not let these dark voices intimidate us, they will gradually lose their strength and recede into the background, creating space for the softer, gentler voices of the light.
These voices speak of peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, joy, hope, forgiveness, and, most of all, love. They might at first seem small and insignificant, and we may have a hard time trusting them. However, they are very persistent and they will grow stronger if we keep listening. They come from a very deep place and from very far. They have been speaking to us since before we were born, and they reveal to us that there is no darkness in the One who sent us into the world, only light. They are part of God's voice calling us from all eternity: "My beloved child, my favourite one, my joy."
The enormous powers of our world keep drowning out these gentle voices. Still, they are the voices of truth. They are like the voice that Elijah heard on Mount Horeb. There God passed him not in a hurricane, an earthquake, or a fire but in "a light murmuring sound" (1 Kings 19: 11-13). This sound takes away our fear and makes us realize that we can face reality, especially our own reality. Being in silence is the first way we learn to drink our cup.
The second way to drink our cup is with the word. It is not enough to claim our sorrow and joy in silence. We also must claim them in a trusted circle of friends. To do so we need to speak about what is in our cup. As long as we live our deepest truth in secret, isolated from a community of love, its burden is too heavy to carry. The fear of being known can make us split off our true inner selves from our public selves and make us despise ourselves even when we are acclaimed and praised by many.
To know ourselves truly and acknowledge fully our own unique journey, we need to be known and acknowledged by others for who we are. We cannot live a spiritual life in secrecy. ' We cannot find our way to true freedom in isolation. Silence without speaking is as dangerous as solitude without community. They belong together.
Speaking about our cup and what it holds is not easy. It requires a true discipline because, just as we want to run from silence in order to avoid self-confrontation, we want to run from speaking about our inner life in order to avoid confrontation with others.
I am not suggesting that everyone we know or meet should hear about what is in our cup. To the contrary, it would be tactless, unwise, and even dangerous to expose our innermost being to people who cannot offer us safety and trust. That does not create community; it only causes mutual embarrassment and deepens our shame and guilt. But I do suggest that we need loving and caring friends with whom we can speak from the depth of our heart. Such friends can take away the paralysis that secrecy creates. They can offer us a safe and sacred place, where we can express our deepest sorrows and joys, and they can confront us in love, challenging us to a greater spiritual maturity. We might object by saying: "I do not have such trustworthy friends, and I wouldn't know how to find them." But this objection comes from our fear of drinking the cup that Jesus asks us to drink.
When we are fully committed to the spiritual adventure of drinking our cup to the bottom, we will soon discover that people who are on the same journey will offer themselves to us for encouragement and friendship and love. h has been my own most blessed experience that God sends wonderful friends to those who make God their sole concern. This is the mysterious paradox Jesus speaks about when he says that when we leave those who are dose to us, for his sake and the sake of the Gospel, we will receive a hundred times more in human support (see Mark 10:29-30).
When we dare to speak from the depth of our heart to the friends God gives us, we will gradually find new freedom within us and new courage to live our own sorrows and joys to the full. When we truly believe that we have nothing to hide from God, we need to have people around us who represent God for us and to whom we can reveal ourselves with complete trust.
Nothing will give us so much strength as being fully known and fully loved by fellow human beings in the Name of God. That gives us the courage to drink our cup to the bottom, knowing it is the cup of our salvation. h will allow us not only to live well but to die well. When we are surrounded by loving friends, death becomes a gateway to the full communion of saints.
The third way to drink our cup is in action.
Action, just as silence and the word, can help us to claim and celebrate our true self. But here again we need discipline, because the world in which we live says: "Do this, do that, go here, go there, meet him, meet her." Busyness has become a sign of importance. Having much to do, many places to go, and countless people to meet gives us status and even fame. However, being busy can lead us away from our true vocation and prevent us from drinking our cup.
h is not easy to distinguish between doing what we are called to do and doing what we want to do. Our many wants can easily distract us from our true action. True action leads us to the fulfilment of our vocation. Whether we work in an office, travel the world, write books or make films, care for the poor, offer leadership, or fulfil unspectacular tasks, the question is not "What do I most want?" but "What is my vocation?" The most prestigious position in society can be an expression of obedience to our call as well as a sign of our refusal to hear that call, and the least prestigious position, too, can be a response to our vocation as well as a way to avoid it.
Drinking our cup involves carefully choosing those actions which lead us closer to complete emptying of it, so that at the end of our lives we can say with Jesus: "h is fulfilled" (John 19:30). That indeed, is the paradox: We fulfil life by emptying it. In Jesus' own words: ''Anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39).
When we are committed to do God's will and not our own we soon discover that much of what we do doesn't need to be done by us. What we are called to do are actions that bring us true joy and peace. Just as leaving friends for the sake of the Gospel will bring us friends, so too will letting go of actions not in accord with our call.
Actions that lead to overwork, exhaustion, and burnout can't praise and glorify God. What God calls us to do we can do and do well. When we listen in silence to God's voice and speak with our friends in trust we will know what we are called to do and we will do it with a grateful heart.
Silence, speaking, and acting are three disciplines to help us to drink our cup. They are disciplines because we do not practice them spontaneously. In a world that encourages us to avoid the real life issues, these disciplines ask for concentrated effort. But if we keep choosing silence, a circle of trusting friends to speak with, and actions that flow from our call, we are in fact drinking our cup, bit by bit, to the bottom. The sorrows of our lives will no longer paralysed us, nor will our joys make us lose perspective. The disciplines of silence, word, and action focus our eyes on the road we are travelling and help us to move forward, step by step, to our goal. We will encounter great obstacles and splendid views, long, dry deserts and also freshwater lakes surrounded by shadow-rich trees. We will have to fight against those who try to attack and rob us. We also will make wonderful friends. We will often wonder if we will ever make it, but one day we will see coming to us the One who has been waiting for us from all eternity to welcome us home.
Yes, we can drink our cup of life to the bottom, and as we drink it we will realize that the One who has called us "the Beloved," even before we were born, is filling it with everlasting life.
Conclusion THE ANSWER
I have looked at many cups: golden, silver, bronze, and glass cups, splendidly decorated and very simple cups, elegantly shaped and very plain cups. Whatever their material, form, or value, they all speak about drinking. Drinking, like eating, is one of the most universal of human acts. We drink to stay alive, or we drink ourselves to death. When people say: "He drinks a lot," we think of alcoholism and family trouble. Bur when they say: "I wish you could come over to have a drink with us," we think about hospitality, celebration, friendship, and intimacy.
It is no surprise that the cup is such a universal symbol. It embodies much that goes on in our lives.
Many cups speak of victory; soccer cups, football cups, and tennis cups are eagerly desired trophies. Pictures of captains holding a victory cup while being carried triumphantly on the shoulders of their teams are imprinted in our memories as reminders of our excitement at winning moments. These cups speak of success, bravery, heroism, fame, popularity, and great power.
Many cups also speak of death. Joseph's silver cup, found in Benjamin's sack, spelled doom. The cups of Isaiah and Jeremiah are the cups of God's wrath and destruction. Socrates' cup was a poisonous one given to him for his execution.
The cup that Jesus speaks about is neither a symbol of victory nor a symbol of death. It is a symbol of life, filled with sorrows and joys that we can hold, lift, and drink as a blessing and a way to salvation. "Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?" Jesus asks us. It is the question that will have a different meaning every day of our lives. Can we embrace fully the sorrows and joys that come to us day after day? At one moment it might seem so easy to drink the cup, and we give a quick yes to Jesus' question. Shortly afterwards everything might look and fed quite different, and our whole being might cry out, "No, never!" We have to let the yes and the no both speak in us so that we can come to know ever more deeply the enormous challenge of Jesus' question.
John and James had not the faintest idea of what they were saying when they said yes. They hardly understood who Jesus was. They didn't think about him as a leader who would be betrayed, tortured, and killed on a cross. Nor did they dream about their own lives as marked by tiresome travels and harsh persecutions, and consumed by contemplation or martyrdom. Their first easy yes had to be followed by many hard yeses until their cups were completely empty.
And what is the reward of it all? John and James' mother wanted a concrete reward: "Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom" (Matthew 20:21). She and they had little doubt about what they wanted. They wanted power, influence, success, and wealth. They were preparing themselves for a significant role when the Roman occupiers would be thrown out and Jesus would be king and have his own cabinet of ministers. They wanted to be his right- and left-hand men in the new political order.
Still, notwithstanding all their misperceptions, they had been deeply touched by this man Jesus. In his presence they had experienced something radically new, something that went beyond anything they had ever imagined. It had to do with inner freedom, love, care, hope, and, most of all, with God. Yes, they wanted power and influence, but beyond that they wanted to stay dose to Jesus at ali costs. As their journey continued, they gradually discovered what they had said yes to. They heard about being a servant instead of a master, about seeking the last place instead of the first, about giving up their lives instead of controlling other people's lives. Each time they had to make a choice again. Did they want to stay with Jesus or leave? Did they want to follow the way of Jesus or look for someone else who could give them the power they desired?
Later Jesus challenged them directly: "What about you, do you want to go away?" Peter responded: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:67-69). He and his friends had started to glimpse the Kingdom Jesus had been talking about. But again there was that question: "Can you drink the cup?" They said yes over and over. And what about the seats in the Kingdom? They might not be the kinds of seats they expected, but could they still be closer to Jesus than the other followers?
Jesus' answer is as radical as his question: ". . . 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 20:23). Drinking the cup is not a heroic act with a nice reward! It is not part of a tit-for-tat agreement. Drinking the cup is an act of selfless love, an act of immense trust, an act of surrender to a God who will give what we need when we need it.
Jesus' inviting us to drink the cup without offering the reward we expect is the great challenge of the spiritual life. It breaks through all human calculations and expectations. It defies all our wishes to be sure in advance. It turns our hope for a predictable future upside down and pulls down our self-invented safety devices. It asks for the most radical trust in God, the same trust that made Jesus drink the cup to the bottom.
Drinking the cup that Jesus drank is living a life in and with the spirit of Jesus, which is the spirit of unconditional love. The intimacy between Jesus and Abba, his Father, is an intimacy of complete trust, in which there are no power games, no mutually agreed upon promises, no advance guarantees. It is only love-pure, unrestrained, and unlimited love. Completely open, completely free. That intimacy gave Jesus the strength to drink his cup. That same intimacy Jesus wants to give us so that we can drink ours. That intimacy has a Name, a Divine Name. It is called Holy Spirit. Living a spiritual life is living a life in which the Holy Spirit will guide us and give us the strength and courage to keep saying yes to the great question.
Epilogue ONE CUP, ONE BODY
On July 21, 1997, it will be forty years since Cardinal Bernard Alfrink ordained me to the priesthood and my uncle Anton gave me his golden chalice.
The next morning I celebrated my first Mass in the sisters' chapel of the seminary. I stood in front of the altar, with my back to the sisters who had been so kind to me during my six years of philosophical and theological studies, and slowly re ad all the Latin readings and prayers. During the offertory I carefully held the chalice. After the consecration I lifted it high above my head so that the sisters could see it. And during communion, after having taken and given the consecrated bread, I drank from it as the only one allowed to do so at that time.
It was an intimate and mystical experience. The presence of Jesus was more real far me than the presence of any friend could possibly be. Afterwards I knelt for a long time and was overwhelmed by the grace of my priesthood.
During the nearly forty years that have followed, I have celebrated the Eucharist every day with very few exceptions, and I can hardly conceive of my life without that consistent experience of intimate communion with Jesus. Still, many things have changed. Today I sit behind a low table in a circle of handicapped men and women. All of us read and pray in English. When the gifts of bread and wine are brought to the table, the wine is poured into large glass cups, held by me and the Eucharistic ministers. During the Eucharistic prayer the bread and the cups are lifted up so that everyone can see the consecrated gifts and experience that Christ is truly among us. Then the body and blood of Christ are offered as food and drink to everyone. And when we offer the cup to each other, we look each other in the eye and say: "The Blood of Christ."
This daily event has deepened our life together aver the years and made us more conscious that what we live every day, our sorrows and joys, is an integral part of the great mystery of Christ's death and resurrection. This simple, nearly hidden celebration in the basement of our small house of prayer makes it possible to live our day not just as a random series of events, meetings, and encounters, bur as the day the Lord has made to make his presence known to us.
So much has changed! So much has remained the same! Forty years ago, I couldn't have imagined being a priest in the way I am now. Still, it is the continuous participation in the compassionate priesthood of Jesus that makes these forty years look like one long, beautiful Eucharist, one glorious act of petition, praise, and thanksgiving.
The golden chalice became a glass cup, but what it holds has remained the same. It is the life of Christ and our life, blended together into one life. As we drink the cup, we drink the cup that Jesus drank, but we also drink our cup. That is the great mystery of the Eucharist. The cup of Jesus, filled with his life, poured out far us and all people, and our cup, filled with our own blood, have become one cup. Together when we drink that cup as Jesus drank it we are transformed into the one body of the living Christ, always dying and always rising for the salvation of the world.