“The Lord was pleased to crush him.” Thus the first line of God’s Word today, from Isaiah 53. If I were a cynic, I would think this is some kind of cruel joke. Why would God want to crush anyone? Getting crushed by life is the number one reason people don’t believe in God. As St. Teresa (whose feast day we celebrated last week) said to God after falling off her horse into a stream, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them.” Who wants to believe in a God who, for example, would let a young father die of cancer? Better to believe in technology or money or pleasure—at least those things can give us a little relief from a life always subject to sickness and tragedy.
On Friday I preached a requiem Mass for a man who died of cancer, leaving a wife and two children, ages 12 and 14. When Roberto was first diagnosed, I went to his home for dinner. My heart bled for the two children, whose blank expressions showed their confusion, not able to imagine life without their father. His wife was more composed, but equally at a loss to understand. We all believed in God’s providence but could not possibly understand why this was happening. Roberto, however, who was being crushed, did understand. When asked how he felt, he would say with a smile: “Never better.” We didn’t believe him. We thought he was either in denial or painting over his darkness with a plastic smile. How much longer before he crashes, we thought. How much longer can he keep believing in a loving God?
But as the cancer ate away at his body, and every treatment failed, Roberto continued to smile (except momentarily when in extreme pain). And we began to believe him. Last week, just before he died at home, he continued to insist that he had never been better. And I believe now that Roberto was right. He came to see that the sickness was healing him, that is was a gift by which he could finally let go and trust. It was precisely through his infirmity that he gained the capacity to make that act of loving trust in God, and in his wife and children. Never had he believed in all of them, and loved them so!
In the Gospel, James and John demand that Jesus give them whatever they want: a really bad move. Haven’t we learned by now that God knows what will make us happy, and that only a fool tells Eternal Wisdom what to do? Jesus is patient with them: “what do you wish me to do for you?” And they blithely ask for the two top positions in his kingdom. Jesus replies: “you don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I will drink?” The brothers’ response has always impressed me: yes we can. They don’t know what discipleship will demand, but they want it, for love of Christ. And Jesus assures them that they will drink with Him, both on earth and in the Kingdom to come. He will make them capable of drinking their chalices to the bottom, because they have asked for it.
At some point in our lives Jesus will ask each of us, ‘can you drink from my chalice?’ May God permit us all to say yes, we can. Roberto Gutierrez was a very blessed Catholic American man. He and his wife had lucrative jobs, they lived in spacious home with large front and back yards, a pool, nice cars, two children (a boy and girl), and a bright American future. They were dialed in. But then Jesus came to Roberto and asked him, can you drink from my chalice? Roberto spoke for his wife and children: yes, we can. Drinking from the divine chalice, he said “I’ve never been better.” And he was right.
Peace and Joy
The question will come to us someday, if it hasn’t already. We all say yes I can, but then falter when it comes to living it out. It’s best to practice with the small stuff: you get the flu just before going on that Hawaiian vacation; someone gives you a rude gesture in traffic; your best friend stops calling you for no apparent reason. Best to practice with the small adversities and disappointments. It will lead to our peace and joy, if we, with Our Lady, can see God’s will in every circumstance. He never leaves our side, and we will be peaceful if we can only believe that. I continue, in this month of the Holy Rosary, to encourage all of you to pray the rosary, if not daily, then at least a few times a week. If we pray with and to Our Lady, we will be able to go to Calvary and back, as she did, with peace and joy.