You Do Not Know What You Are Asking

wedding-day

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time


I celebrated yesterday the wedding of a bright, young couple. They pronounced their vows—“I take you to be my wife. I take you to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” It was an exciting new chapter of their young lives, exciting and terrifying at the same time. Their friends and family wished them well. They were perfect for each other. They get along well. They managed to survive the stressful build up to the wedding, a good sign they could handle whatever life threw at them. But lurking beneath the surface are lingering fears that their exciting new adventure could possibly go sour. No one wants to think or talk about it. It was a day of wedding cake and champagne toasts, of magical moments and fairy tales, of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens … But there’s an unpleasant statistic hanging over their heads, and over every couple who walks down the aisle, a 50% chance of failure, which is also a 50% chance of success. A half empty glass is also half full. Besides, this particular couple was not embracing their exciting and terrifying new adventure without a clue or a plan. They’ve had at least a year of church-required marriage preparation, of practical counseling and spiritual formation, opportunities to revisit the same challenges before them—career, finances, childcare, in-laws—not counting all the hours they pondered on their own every conceivable future scenario. We help them enter married life prepared for the bumps and potholes ahead. But you can’t know how things will turn out until they actually encounter the bumps and potholes. At some point things will get real. And the best intentions alone won’t be adequate for the task.

We are eager for newly married couples to succeed, and pray that their every wish come true. And some of you know better than they that it’s not all fun and games. Rather, there’s a lot of hard work involved, a lot of eye-opening, back-breaking, mind-numbing, knuckle-crunching, breath-taking hard work. And the success rate is about half. So hang tight, and focus.

If married couples embarked on their new adventure asking Jesus what James and John asked, I think Jesus would have answered much the same. “When we get to this awesome magical paradise called married life, promise us Jesus that we would walk hand in hand our hearts content, at peace, and beating as one, free of stress and pain and grief, with the sun on our faces and the wind on our backs, now and forever, till the cows come home.” Clearly, this image remains popular with young people. Is it Disney? Hallmark? Oprah? Glamour? Macy’s? Pottery Barn? Neiman Marcus? Even little kids can tell when someone’s pants are on fire. “Can you drink of the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

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Last weekend I was at a 50th wedding anniversary celebration. The happy couple renewed their vows. They danced. They shared stories. They cut a cake. They raised their glasses in gratitude for the journey behind them, and the journey yet before them. Their children and grandchildren were there. They shared many wonderful memories and friendships, a half-century of amazing adventures together. They had faced many challenges and emerged bruised but victorious. They came to know joy and grief, strength and weakness. They encountered bumps and potholes on the journey. And their stories proved they had gained wisdom along the way. So far they belong to the 50% still going strong, and they know well the journey they set out on 50 years ago was nowhere near done. Challenges and adventures still lay before them, along with bumps and potholes, and much wisdom to be gained.

If they were to call on Jesus now as at the start of their journey, they might have a better idea what to ask. They would know success is not achieved with magic spells and fairy dust. Instead, the cup of suffering Jesus spoke of will need consuming, that baptism of trial and hardship will need embracing. Much will be demanded of them—humble service, abiding friendship, unwavering commitment and dedication, a selfless and sacrificial love, heroic patience, trust and courage, a willingness to forgive and to extend forgiveness often and without bitterness, ungrudging compassion, a genuine and deep respect for the other, a persistent yearning to put the good of the other above one’s own. I’m sure I missed a few. And there will be moments of doubt and selfishness, of discouragement and self-pity, of impatience and irritation, of loneliness and thoughts of revenge. Jesus asks again, “Can you [still] drink of the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

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With all our endeavors we want to be optimistic and positive. We know our God desires our every success and happiness. But three times before the passage we read in today’s gospel, Jesus spoke to his disciples of the suffering and death he would endure, that he would be rejected by the leaders of his people, but on the third day he would rise to new life. They did not know what he meant. And in his own suffering, death and resurrection they would find their own path of discipleship. If they would ride his coattails into his glorious kingdom, they would walk in his footsteps, by drinking the cup of suffering he drank, by embracing the baptism of trial and hardship he embraced. Does all this still sound like something we want, something we would willingly take on, this discipleship business, this following after him and walking in his footsteps?

For some years now I have heard how some of our young people would hit a rough patch and experience a crisis of faith. Nothing new. We can all relate. What I don’t get is that some parents would rather fold in the face of their teenager’s doubts and fears, and abandon them in their moment of darkness. If it were a medical crisis, we would not give up until we found a cure. But in a spiritual crisis, we would tell them it was okay to sleep in and skip mass? Aren’t we just giving them permission to ignore Jesus’ teaching, that whoever desires the glory of his Kingdom doesn’t need to drink the cup of suffering he drank, nor embrace the baptism of trial and hardship he embraced? There is only one way to the resurrection, and it is through the cross. Jesus walked that path before us, and it is the path we must walk if we want to be his disciples. When our young people hesitate in fear or doubt, we need to take their hand and walk with them. We cannot tell them to ignore Jesus’ challenge to embrace suffering and trial and hardship. We shouldn’t be surprised then if they walk away from their baptism, their faith, and their church altogether. If we turn away from his cross, we turn away from Jesus. Do we still want to drink of his cup? Do we really know what we are asking?

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Rolo B Castillo © 2015