Reading: Prologue – The Chalice and the Cup; Introduction – The Question
Last week we had the opportunity to gather together and introduce ourselves. This week Henri writes, “I want to tell the story of the cup, not just as my story, but as the story of life” and he describes how this little book came about. Henri begins by sharing something of his formative years. Using the images of the golden chalice and the glass cups he reflects on his own faith journey. Most important, he describes the moment of insight when the words of Scripture “pierced my heart” and he immediately understood the importance of seriously considering Jesus’s question “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” Henri then posed the three questions (p. 24) we will consider in the coming weeks.
But first, we have ample food for thought and reflection in this week’s reading….
1) Henri reflects, “It was Sunday, July 21, 1957… I was ordained to the priesthood… I will never forget the deep emotion that stirred my heart at that moment.” (p. 16) Looking back from 39 years later, it remained for Henri a day that forever changed his life. Most of us can recall similar milestone events in our lives–events that marked phases in our journey; events that challenged our faith or our worldview; events that resulted in actions we are proud of or we regret. You are encouraged to reflect on your own journey and to identify the milestone events in your life. Explore your recollections and the emotions that you feel. Consider carefully what you have learned and how you grew. To the extent that you are comfortable, share what you discover.
2) “My maternal grandmother was my great supporter… (she) gently introduced me to a life of prayer and encouraged me in a personal relationship with Jesus.” (p. 17) Among the people that Henri recalls from the “garden of my youth” he emphasizes the preeminent role played by his grandmother. Likewise, we often have people that have played a similar role in helping us to know Jesus. Look back at your life and identify those key people. You might say a prayer of gratitude for their gift to you. Where it is possible, consider reaching out to them to say “Thanks!” If you are willing to do so, please share your story of encouragement.
3) “My uncle Anton, who was ordained in 1922, offered me his chalice… It was a very precious gift and I was deeply moved to receive it… my uncle’s decorated golden chalice no longer expresses what I am presently living. During the Eucharist today, I use several large cups… These glass cups speak about a new way of being a priest and a new way of being human.” (p. 21)
(The photograph of Henri’s chalice is by Sheila Eaton care of the Nouwen Archives.) Considering Henri’s words here and from other of his works you have read, what does Henri’s transition from using the golden chalice to the glass cups tell you about his life experience and faith journey? Then consider your own life and faith journey and the changes or transitions you have experienced. If you are comfortable, share your reflections with the group.
4) “Can we hold our life, lift our life, and drink it as Jesus did? … Jesus’ question had given me a new language with which to speak about my life and the lives of those around me.” (p. 23-24) With these words Henri is pointing us toward next weeks’ reading and discussion. But first we might reflect on what Henri means by a “new language” and why he might have felt it was needed. What is it about this Gospel story that opens Henri up to realize “that taking this question seriously would radically change our lives.”? What new insights do you think Henri gained beyond those that he had developed previously that led to the “new language”. What insights have you gained and why does Jesus’ question challenge you?
As will always be the case, these questions are intended to assist us and to help get the discussion flowing, but not to bound or limit the conversation. Please feel free to share whatever comes up for you in the readings and in response to the comments of others.