The First reading from today’s Mass, taken from the Book of Jeremiah, could be the basis for the cynical saying that “no good deed goes unpunished.” Jeremiah has interceded with God and brought God’s merciful response on Jerusalem. Now, as he continues his prophetic work by challenging the people to live up to God’s demands upon them to care for the poor and to trust in God’s promises, they seek to destroy him by trapping him with his own words. This is a particularly vile behavior because it is people who KNOW he is saying and doing the right things ( they have benefited from his intercession, after all, and they know it) – and they still want to discredit him by twisting his own words. This is also a particularly “modern” behavior. The “gotcha” mentality that many practice toward political leaders, religious leaders and even ordinary folks is grounded in a cynical conviction that no one really speaks the truth (as Pontius Pilate, the patron of cynics, said in this paradigmatic question “What is truth?”). It is also satisfying and entertaining to destroy other people’s reputations. Ignatius of Loyola offers an antidote to this mentality in Paragraph 23 of the spiritual exercises which he calls a “presupposition.” He offers it for those who make the Spiritual Exercises to facilitate a trust-based sharing between the guide and the exercitant, but the practice could make our world a far happier and safer place if more Christians exercised it on an ordinary basis. In this paragraph Ignatius calls on those working together toward God’s grace to “put a good interpretation on anything that is said, rather than to seek to condemn it.” In other words, assume that the other (whoever the other is) is trying his/her best to speak the truth as he/she understands it, and help make the case for them. The unspoken assumption is that none of us knows everything and we need to hear (with open ears and minds) one another’s insights if we want to pursue the truth.
The Gospel from today’s liturgy is a fascinating story of human interaction that could offer days of reflection. Mark’s Gospel reports this story with the two disciples asking on their own behalf to hold special places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. Today’s reading from Matthew tells the story with the twist that the mother of the sibling disciples asks. Matthew is not willing to cast a bad light on the disciples, so he makes Mrs. Zebedee the source of the ambition (can’t you just imagine them standing behind their mother as she approaches Jesus?). But in both accounts Jesus responds directly to the men by posing an interesting challenge that many Catholics could listen well to today: “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” When I have distributed the Eucharist as a Communion Minister over the years I have been struck by how many approach the Altar and receive the Consecrated Bread, but pass up the “Cup of Salvation” doubtless for a variety of reasons. To put the best interpretation upon this action one could presume that the communicant is ill or coming down with an illness that might be infectious for others. Or possibly the person has an allergy to wine or can’t drink alcohol for reasons of health and well-being or perhaps the person has a compromised immune system and is fearful of “picking up a bug.” Do these genuinely good reasons account for nearly 60% of Catholics who receive Communion, however?
It is possible that Catholics have simply not been catechized to the meaning and importance of drinking from the Chalice as an act of communion with the Body of Christ, head and members. It carries a slightly different symbolism from eating the consecrated Eucharistic Bread, and thus, carries a slightly enlarged sacramental meaning. There is clearly an Old Testament reference or number of references, some of which imply the participation in enduring the consequences of sin. Jesus’ cup is the cup of the suffering of the created order caused by the consequences of human sin through the centuries. The invitation to drink Jesus’ cup (not our own, by the way) is to participate in a particularly intimate and absolute way with his work of repairing the consequences of sin for others. It is a symbolic/real way of taking the suffering of the human community into our own bodies through the power of the Spirit, and through that same Spirit, to alleviate that suffering.
Now most of us are not particularly eager to deal with the suffering caused for others by our own sins, much less take on the work of healing the suffering caused by others’ sins, and yet that above all is the “Mission” of Jesus Christ, and therefore the Mission of His Disciples. By embracing the Chalice and drinking of its contents, we say yes to the priestly work of Jesus that we consented to in our Baptism in a way that is more complete than nearly any other sacramental or spiritual activity we undertake.
One last thought: Jesus’ Cup is also a cup of pure and eternal joy (which after all is the best remedy for suffering it seems to me) for those who receive and exercise the graces offered through receiving the Precious Blood. So sipping from the Chalice at Mass is one of the most grace-filled, dangerous and rewarding actions of the Christian life. In the end, it is important to remember that none of us is going to get out of this life alive, so we might want to be less frightened by germs and more attentive to the possibilities of transforming grace at any time we participate in the Eucharist.
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