This Sunday, couples married 50 years will gather for a special Mass at the Cathedral at 2 p.m. along with their families. Given the past restrictions of COVID-19, it will be so good to see these couples’ faces. In order to maintain safety, we are limiting this year’s celebration to those who are 50 years married and will be sending certificates to those who are celebrating other anniversaries. Nevertheless, it will be a time to rejoice in the gift of faithful married love.
I have been thinking about this gift of faith for love and service as my 50th anniversary as a priest approaches next March 18. It seems hard to believe that the day after my ordination, the solemnity of Saint Joseph March 19, 1972, was the occasion for my Mass of Thanksgiving. I am so pleased that this weekend I will join with couples celebrating similar anniversaries during this special observance and asking the intercession of St. Joseph, the defender of life and the foster father of Jesus, who is an exemplar for all fathers as we seek to grow as holy families.
Of course, each couple will bring both joys and sorrows, so inevitable in this world. While I am tempted to preach on the joys only, I have been thinking recently about the blessings of the sorrows. Two weeks ago, the Sunday Gospel was about Jesus’ answer to two apostles, James and John, who though abandoning their fishing nets did not let go of their personal ambitions. When they asked for a special place in the Kingdom, Jesus turned instead and asked, “Are you able to drink of the cup which I will drink?” In other words, can they find deep meaning in following Jesus, even in the crosses in their lives?
In his last book before he died, spiritual author Henri Nouwen addressed this embrace of the will of God in our lives — both the good and the bad and especially seeing the grace, even in the crosses we do not want to embrace. His book, only 107 pages, was entitled, “Can You Drink the Cup?” I recall how vividly he wrote about the gesture that forms the core of the essay: We need to hold the cup, lift the cup, and drink from the cup.
For Nouwen, holding the cup means examining the cup and examining our lives. “We must know what we are living,” Nouwen says. “A life that is not reflected upon is not worth living.”
Nouwen published this essay in 1996, shortly before his death from cancer. Since reading his essay now 25 years ago, invariably this vivid image comes to mind when I hold and lift the chalice at the time of the consecration at Mass.
For Jesus, the chalice was a vessel filled to the brim with pain and suffering. It was the chalice that the Father prepared for Him as Jesus spent His public life seeking to announce the way of salvation, which is the way of love, only to meet with rejection at every turn. Not only at the Last Supper, but also as He was lifted up on the cross the next day, the cup was held and lifted and in his final hour, he drank fully in fidelity to His Father and to those whom he came to save and to serve.
As I look at the married couples coming with their loved ones to renew marriage vows made five decades ago, I can only imagine how their memories recall the cup of blessing of their marriage and the crosses that were part of their life together. We each know that our cup may include pain of our own making, with all the sins and addictions, bad habits and poor judgments in everyone’s life. However, the couple also may recall suffering not of their own doing but heartaches that came their way with a lost job, an illness, a child needing special help. The list can be endless.
Jesus — whom St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews reminds us became one of us except for sin — held and lifted a large cup, not with any failings of his own but carrying the failings and sorrows of the whole human race.
As couples renew their promises, I pray that their suffering for others, especially their spouse and family members, is a pain they look back upon, aware that their cup resembles Jesus’ suffering. However difficult at the time, their faithful love deepened in their generous grace-inspired response in love.
We give thanks for anniversary couples who have held, lifted and drank of the cup of Jesus — God’s will in their lives.