Christ’s words in Gethsemane have been echoing in my heart for months now. And today, this most solemn Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday, is the day when we are called to be with Christ in His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. We have begun the Triduum; we walk towards the Resurrection.
These are the words that have been with me – “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). Christ prays them fervently, unto sweating blood, as He sees the Chalice of suffering that God offers to Him as a part of His Plan of Love.
In this moment, the humanity of Christ is radiant: He agonizes before the reality of the suffering He is being asked to face; He asks if there is another way; He feels alone. But what strikes me at this moment as even more radiantly human is the explicit recognition of Christ’s own free will – God and Christ are inseparably One, and yet, Christ was given human form, and with it human free will.
What does this moment mean? What is Christ teaching us?
We are each offered a Chalice, a cup of suffering – at times it is many small Chalices in a daily way, and at times one great Chalice in an epic way. The Chalice is a part of God’s Providence, His Plan of Love for each human soul and thus all human souls.
Why is it a Chalice of suffering if it is supposed to be part of a Plan of Love? Because suffering is an inextricable part of love. And not in a dreary, dramatic, or disordered way. Suffering is a part of love because going out of yourself towards another means a sacrifice, because considering others before yourself is a sacrifice, because giving birth to relationships and exposing your own vulnerability before another is risky and takes hard work, and because to yield your own will to God’s requires the sacrifice of taking that leap of death in total trust of Another.
Yet, the Chalice is an invitation and an offering. Not an order. God does not order Christ to take the cup – He completely respects human free will, incarnate in Christ – because love is also freedom. A wise woman I know once said “If it’s not free, it isn’t love.” To love is to honor the other’s free will as a sacred gift – and God loves and honors us each and every time He puts a Chalice before us – we are truly entirely free to accept it, or not.
We must mirror God in loving others in this way, and have compassion for every human soul faced with a difficult situation, a difficult suffering, or a difficult choice. And though we must support such a soul and uphold them and comfort them and encourage them, loving them also means letting them make their own choice before that Chalice. Because anything less is not love, and anything less takes away their dignity. We can even help them recognize that Chalice, help them understand it- but Lord, gaurd us from ever trying to take away their responsibility to make that decision themselves.When we do that, we cut them short by implicitly communicating that they can’t handle it, we take away the opportunity for growth, and we rob them of the chance to gain all the fruits of Love that God has in store for them – for that is the other part of the Chalice. It is always fruitful. God wastes nothing. Indeed, “Maundy” comes from the latin word mandatum for commandment, because during the Passover meal, before the Agony, Christ gives us the commandment to love:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. (John 15:12-16).
In the image above of the Unity Cross, Mary stands at the foot of the cross and holds up a Chalice so that not one drop of Christ’s precious blood is lost – not one drop of sacrifice is wasted and not one “yes” to God’s will is left barren. Mary understand this to the fullest – when you yield to God in faith, in trust, and out of love – when you accept whatever Chalice you are given – then God can work wonders in you, and you can truly be filled with joy. And that is freedom before suffering – not freedom from suffering – but freedom before it. Freedom before the Chalice.
When we are faced with suffering, with accepting a Chalice, let us remember the joy that awaits us in the Resurrection, and HOPE in that, so that we may have the grace to yield…
“When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. (John 16:21-22).”