Dorothy Day has appeared on people’s radar after Pope Francis spoke of her in his address to the U.S. Congress on his visit in September. I’m glad. Dorothy has been my heroine and mentor for many years. My daughter Temma bears her family name “Day” as a middle name, “Temma Day.” I recently included Dorothy and Temma Days in a sermon. The sermon was part of a series on “Traveling With Jesus” from the Gospel of Mark chapters 8 through 10. This particular Sunday we were focusing on Mark 10:35 – 45 when James and John come to Jesus and ask him to do them a favor: to make it possible for them to sit one at his right hand and one at his left when Jesus reaches his glorious end.
“James and John get that Jesus is going to some kind of glory. They have been with Jesus long enough to know that Jesus had some kind of electricity, some kind of power that was headed straight to the top and they want to go with him. This is understandable. They’ve been following Jesus for awhile. They saw the great vision on the mountain. Jesus is going to set up a new world, a better place where the good people will be on Jesus’ campaign staff and begin to redeem the world from top to bottom, the greatest form of government ever. We’re going to end up in a better place, isn’t that what we say when someone dies? Jesus, when you at last lift up the poor and set things right in the world, I want to be there.
And Jesus replies to this perfectly understandable request by saying: “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
I heard a sermon on this Scripture passage 30 years ago. It has never left me, the greatest compliment to the preacher, but most of all to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. 30 years ago in the spring of the year, I was pregnant with our daughter Temma. Tim and I along with a small busload of other folks traveled to Washington D.C. and joined other Christians for an event called Peace Pentecost sponsored by Sojourners Christian Community and their pastor Rev. Jim Wallis. One issue of power at the seat of our national power at that time was the nuclear arms build-up. Sojourners and all those who had gathered had planned a massive demonstration involving an act of civil disobedience on the steps of the White House. There was training in preparation for the civil disobedience and over all of us gathered there was an air of great excitement and resolve.
The banners where we met had the great words from Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” I wanted desperately to participate in the act of civil disobedience. I wanted to be arrested and brought to jail along with the others. I wanted to be in line with my great heroes and heroines, Jesus, Dorothy Day and Dr. Marin Luther King. The day before the planned act, Henri Nouwen was there to preach. Those of you who do not know Henri Nouwen, Henri was a Catholic priest, a wonderful theologian and the author of many books. Nouwen taught at Yale Divinity School for many years, with the “best and the brightest” he writes. And then he heard the call of God to give all of that up and go to live with the L’Arche community in Toronto, Canada. A federation of Christian communities around the world begun by Jean Vanier, L’Arche (French for “The Ark”) are homes where persons with intellectual and physical disabilities live in community with persons without disabilities. Nouwen moved from New Haven, Connecticut to Toronto, from teaching in an esteemed school to living and ministering with some of the “little ones” that Jesus keeps teaching us about on our journey.
One of Nouwen’s fellow community members traveled with him to Washington D.C. for that Peace Pentecost event and he along with Henri preached about “Can you drink this cup?” I remember him lifting up the cup and repeating Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?” And I, along with James and John, kept saying, “Yes, I can.” “Yes, I want to go all the way with you Jesus.” “Yes, I’m ready and able.” “Bring me along with you to your glory.”
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” The road that Jesus is walking is a road that leads to torture, to death on a cross. The “cup” that Jesus is to drink is the cup of his horrible death. The “baptism” that will drown him is the baptism of his death as he suffocates to death on a cross. and there, yes, even there, out of the dust and ashes, out of the smoke and fallout, even there God will raise up new life.
I did not participate in the act of civil disobedience on that day 30 years ago. My spouse and others convinced me that protection of the baby inside of me was more important. I did sit outside the National Cathedral and prayed that God would use me. I didn’t understand, didn’t know that the baby inside of me was going to show the way. James and John did not die with Jesus at Calvary, but they did learn something about Jesus’ way to glory, heroism, and power.”
I often think of my prayer that day, made in Washington D.C. Dorothy Day writes of a similar prayer in her book, “The Long Loneliness.” In Washington D.C. for the “Hunger March” there to cover the story for “The Commonweal,” the first Catholic publication for which Dorothy wrote, she writes: “I stood on the curb and watched them, joy and pride in the courage of this band of men and women mounting in my heart, and with it a bitterness too that since I was now a Catholic, with fundamental philosophical differences, I could not be out there with them. I could write, I could protest, to arouse the conscience, but where was the Catholic leadership in the gathering of bands of men and women together…?” “When the demonstration was over and I had finished writing my story, I went to the national shrine at the Catholic University on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. There I offered up a special prayer, a prayer which came with tears and with anguish, that some way would open up for me to use what talents I possessed for my fellow workers, for the poor.” (“The Long Loneliness” Harper & Row, 1952, pp. 165-66)
Dorothy too, did not know that her prayer would be answered through a French peasant man, Peter Maurin, who enters Dorothy’s life shortly after her prayer and whose spirit and ideas led Dorothy and others on the way in establishing The Catholic Worker movement. We do not know the cup we will drink or the baptism with which we will be baptized but we do know and can know that God will answer a prayer to be used and God will be right there drinking the cup and being baptized with us.