Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday in the 2nd Week of Lent
Emptying Our Cups

Readings: Daniel 9:4b-10; Psalm 79:8, 9, 11 and 13; Luke 6:36-38

Our readings bring to mind that well-known story of the person who visits a famous monk to learn the ways of enlightenment. The monk welcomes him warmly and pours him a cup of tea. But even when the cup is already full, the monk continues pouring, such that the tea overflows the cup and spills all over the table. In response to the visitor’s puzzlement, the monk explains: you’ve come seeking to be filled with the wisdom that leads to enlightenment. But how can I fill you when you are already full of so many other things?

Every one of us, whether we’re aware of it or not, is born with a hole in the heart. We’re like an empty cup that has a very distinctive shape. We’re all designed to be filled with the presence of God. And the good news that we find in the gospel today is that God wants to fill us even more than we want to be filled. God’s generosity is likened to that of someone pouring a container of grain in another’s lap, who goes to the extent not only of filling the container, but also of shaking it and pressing down its contents, so that it can be filled to its absolute capacity.

But there is a problem. We each have a tendency to fill the hole in our hearts with many different things. Sometimes these can be bad or immoral activities. But they can just as easily be things that are, in themselves, wholesome – good activities and relationships. The trouble is that we try to fill our cups with things that are of the wrong shape. And, often, these misguided attempts at self-satisfaction give rise to the undesirable results: self-righteousness and judgment instead of mercy and compassion, self-centered competition instead of selfless service…

Which is why we need to learn from Daniel. In the first reading, we hear the saintly prophet offering a heartfelt prayer of contrition on behalf of his people who are living in exile. He attributes the people’s troubles to their own waywardness. We have sinned, been wicked and done evil… Yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness! Yet we rebelled against you and paid no heed to your command… What is Daniel doing if not engaging in a process of personal and corporate self-emptying? He is acknowledging guilt, his own and that of his people, so that all can receive the mercy of God. He is emptying the cup, so that it can be filled with the divine brew of God’s forgiveness and love. And, for us too, isn’t this what these Forty Days of Lent are all about?

Sisters and brothers, I am only an ignorant foreigner. But as I witness the hearings and debates, the investigations and rallies, that are filling the local news, I wonder to myself what it is that attracts so many people to the person at the center of this media storm. And I suspect that it is perhaps the perception that here, at last, is someone who is doing what many people wish they had the courage to do themselves. This is a person who is not just pointing fingers at others. Here is a person who is willing first to empty himself, who first acknowledges that he is part of a corrupt system, but who has also decided to stand up and say, enough is enough. It is time to speak the truth…

As we continue to make our way through these days of Lent, how are we being invited to empty ourselves so that we can be filled with the gifts of God?


  1. The symbolic cup contain Joys and Sorrows - there is a favorite song of mine by Ed Ames and titled "My Cup runneth over with Love" - albeit a love song, it reminds us of how blessed we are. That over- running cup can cascade and ripple by simply passing it on with a simple smile, a word of thanks, a wave of the arm, ... simplicity in His presence.

  2. If you attend any time management course, you will be asked to imagine filling a gold fish bowl randomly with all shapes and sizes of stones. When you have filled it to the brim, you find that there are still many pieces that can't go in. The point of the exercise is that if we arrange (organize) the stones (time) properly, we find that we can put more in. It is a question of priorities.

    And so, my take on Fr Chris' reflections is that, even in religious matters, we ought to discern what is important and what is less so. Mind you, they are all good, but they are not all important at this point in time.

    This Lent, apart from fasting and alsmgiving, it is a good time to reflect on (and do something about) what drives us, what occupies our consciousness, what crams our cup.

    They say that in the sunset of one's life, one questions if one has spent one's time wisely, in the absolute sense of the word. I'm not going to wait for sun-down.