It is the Cup of Suffering

This is the cup of suffering that Jesus asks James and John if they are willing to drink of it. It is also the cup of suffering that Jesus asks the Father to take away if at all possible.

Over the years, I have met many people who have been in the midst of suffering. They didn’t seek it, but when it came their way, they took the cup of suffering into their hands and drank every last drop of it. I have also met those who have sought to leave the cup of suffering on the table. Like Jesus, they have called on the Father to take this cup away from them.

In my own life, I have responded to the cup of suffering in both ways. Sometimes I am willing to drink of it, and other times I just wish it would pass me by. Sometimes I am able to thank God for it, and other times I beg God to take it away.

In my life, I have had the privilege of knowing several martyrs. When I was a seminarian, I was invited to sing in the choir for the ordination of several auxiliary bishops in the cathedral in Cleveland. After the celebration there was a reception, and at the reception I met Jean Donavan, a young woman who had been doing volunteer work at the mission sponsored by the diocese in El Salvador. A few weeks after the celebration she returned to the mission, where later she would be murdered by soldiers along with three religious sisters. When I met her, she knew that it would be dangerous to return to El Salvador. She knew about the archbishop, St. Oscar Romero, who had just recently been executed for calling for peace in the land. She knew about priests, catechists and others who had been killed for doing nothing more than caring about the poor and standing up for their rights. She knew that the cup of suffering was a real possibility, but she loved the people of El Salvador and couldn’t imagine abandoning them in the midst of their suffering. So she returned to El Salvador, she took up the cup of suffering, and paid for it with her life.

A few years later, I was part of an intercongregational retreat for members of several different Precious Blood communities in the United States. One of those I met that week was Sr. Agnes Mueller, an Adorer of the Blood of Christ, who was back in the US for a few months before she returned to Liberia to work at a mission there with four other ASC sisters. While they were back in the US, they were praying and discerning whether or not they should return to the mission. A civil war was raging, and Liberia was not a safe place to be. However, her heart was with the people she had come to serve and had come to love along the way. While she and the other sisters knew the danger that awaited them, they were willing to take the chance. They willingly took up the cup of suffering, and the following year they, too, were executed by soldiers for doing nothing more than caring for those in need. Pope St. John Paul II called them "martyrs of charity" when a Mass was celebrated for them at the Vatican shortly after their deaths.

When I think of these brave women who willingly drank from the cup of suffering, I wonder what I would do if I had to face the situations they faced. Could I drink that cup of suffering? I honestly do not know.

However, I have drank from the cup of suffering when someone I loved was taken away by death, when physical ailments prevented me from doing things I had otherwise been able to do. I spent over a year and half unable to walk, and even now can only do so with great difficulty. Many people have told me that they do not know how I could do it, but I know that the cup of suffering I endure is also a cup that strengthens me to face the difficulties before me. That is also what Jean Donovan and Agnes Mueller knew when they took up the cup of suffering in their lives.

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