"Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?"
Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a family friend. He was just 37 years old, had six children; two of them with special needs. It was probably one of the longest funerals I had ever been to, and certainly one of the most memorable. Rob was a police officer, and there were probably 150 or so officers in attendance from his department and several other departments throughout the suburbs. But that was nothing compared to three times that many sitting in the body of the church. Rob had been a part of the church, active in youth ministry when he was in high school, and was in my parents' religious education class in his freshman year. He was involved in several community projects, as well as the Special Olympics. He was a very giving and loving young man, and he will be missed.
One of my memories of him was just last year at this time, when I was working as a hospital chaplain at Good Samaritan in Downers Grove. One Sunday morning, we had a terrible accidental death that came in, and the family members were feuding about it, accusing one another of causing the death. I had been running back and forth between the two groups, and finally I was told the detective was here, and the family was with him. I went in to check on them, and noticed that the detective was Rob, who had the family calmed down – much more than their chaplain had been able to do – and the situation was finally under control for the moment. He had the ability to do that, and many will miss that about him.
Rob found out six months ago that he had stage four cancer and would not have long to live. I am told he lived his last months with great beauty, continuing to love his family and respect those who cared for him. I think Rob knew what St. Paul said to the Corinthians in today's first reading:
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
For we who live are constantly being given up to death
for the sake of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
Like St. James and his brother John, we are all called to drink from the chalice which Jesus drank. That means that we will always bear the dying of Jesus in our own bodies. We can't explain why bad things happen to good people, but we can explain how good people handle bad situations well: they handle it well because they know Christ and live in Christ every day of their lives. Sometimes the chalice we will have to drink will be unpleasant, distasteful and full of sorrow. But with God's grace, our drinking of those cups can be a sacrament of the presence of God in the world.
Everyone who is great among us must be a servant, and whoever wishes to be first among us must be our slave. Rob knew how to do that and be joyful in it. May we all be that same kind of sacrament for the world.