As you all know, the Catholic Church has a new Holy Father, Pope Francis I! Hooray! May God bless him and his office abundantly. I don’t think I have anything especially profound to add to what the other writers in the Catholic blogosphere are saying, so I’ll leave that to them for now.
In between changing/folding loads of laundry and playing family room referee, I was listening to my favorite podcast, Catholic Answers Live. (Really, if you have never heard the show, do yourself a favor, and download it or listen to the live radio show today!)
One of my favorite guests, Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God, hasthe special gift of imparting her spiritual wisdom in a way that only the best spiritual mothers can. She is living proof that the world needs the gift of motherhood from all women–regardless of our vocation or whether or not we ever have biological children of our own.
Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God (Photo from Catholic Answers)
Anyway, a caller on the second hour of the March 6th episode asked what it means to “offer it up.” He “had always heard the nuns” talking about this concept while he was in school, but he wasn’t exactly sure why or how to do this or if he was offering things up in the right context.
As usual, Mother Miriam’s answer blew me away, and I have to share it with you. (I’ll type her response below, but if you’d like to listen to the episode or download it for yourself, click on the link here.)
“In fact, Pope John Paul II, our beloved Holy Father in his time, when one priest came to him because he had enormous pain in his knee and needed surgery, he came to him and said, ‘Holy Father, please pray for my knee,’ John Paul smacked the priest across the face! He said to him, ‘Don’t waste your suffering!’ You see, because we can put our suffering to work for salvation–our own, others, for the Kingdom.
But what is it that we offer up? We offer our pain up in union with Jesus on the cross. You’re Catholic, Dave (the caller), right? Yes? Blessed be God! And you believe when Jesus died his sacrifice was sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole word. But, He brings us in. He allows us to have a share in His suffering and in his mission for the world.
For example, when we’re at Mass, and the priest invites the parishoners in the language of the Mass to offer our sufferings ‘through Him, with Him, and in Him,’ it is that we join our sufferings to the cross, which, at the Mass, as you believe is Calvary made present–not the re-sacrifice of Christ, but the re-presentation of the once for all sacrifice of Christ that happened 2000 years ago in time, brought through time, and made present on the altar.
And, it’s the biggest thing, dear David, that led me into the Church. To know that He died for my sins. I put Him on the cross. I, in effect, yelled ‘crucify Him!’ with that crowd. He died for sin, and He died for my sins. And, to learn that I put Him to death by my sin and that, though I caused His death, He would now receive me in the very sacrifice that He paid in order for me to have life. It was just overwhelming for me. So, He enables us to join with Him. And, in a sense, though His sacrifice is sufficient, we add to it.
I was sharing with a group of women today a story that I have shared many times, maybe [with] some of our listeners, that would help me–of thinking of a mother in the kitchen baking a chocolate cake. She has all of the ingredients. She is sufficient for the task. She needs nothing and she needs no one, but into the kitchen comes her little three-year-old daughter.
‘Mommy, can I help you?’
Jane and her chocolate “Happy Birthday, Jesus” Christmas cake
And, love receives. Love doesn’t say, ‘No, goodbye. I have enough.’ Love receives.
And, so, the mother says, ‘Sure, honey.’
And the little girl comes and throws some egg, or flour, or stuff in the cake. The mother didn’t need her help, but the mother receives her addition. And, it’s a true addition.
Our Lord on the cross died for the world. He’s God. He needs nothing and no one. And, yet, He’s given us a share in redemption with Him. He takes our sufferings–whether it’s your incredibly painful feet or even the smallest annoying cold that somebody has. If we take that pain and we say, ‘Lord Jesus, in a sense, I have a gift to give You. I want to give You this suffering. And, I want You to take it, and I want You to unite it with your suffering on the cross. And, I’m asking, dear Lord Jesus, that You would use it for ________ (and then you fill in that space). For me, for my growth in holiness, for someone I love who needs to come back to the Church, for someone in the third world that hasn’t heard the Gospel.’ Or, just leave it with the Blessed Mother where she knows it’s needed best. And we give it to Him. We are offering it up. We are offering our suffering up to the cross with our Savior. And, He takes it, and He receives it, and He puts it to work.
And, so, we’re not wasting our suffering. And, what I’ve found, dear Dave, concerning when I do that myself, regardless of what the suffering is–it could be physical, emotional, whatever it is–I find that it no longer controls me. The pain may be there or the scars from woundedness may be there. But it no longer controls me because I feel that I can say to the devil ‘take that!’ because I put it to work and defeated, so to speak, that aspect of the fall that caused that pain.
Now, I still have the pain, or I still have the scars, but the sting is gone because, even though it’s painful, as Jesus’ death was on the cross, it’s being put to work now for salvation and for the Kingdom.
So, to me, it’s an incredible privilege that our Lord would allow us to offer up to Him, up to his cross, to unite our sufferings with Him for the salvation of the world.”
After the caller said that he appreciated Mother Miriam’s explanation and that it made so much sense, she said,
“Blessed be God! Nothing touches us that our blessed Lord doesn’t allow, so He must be on his way to making you a saint, Dave.”
Wow. Wow. Wow. I needed to hear those words, and I know I’ll need to re-read this transcript of her response again and again. So many great reminders. After listening to Mother Miriam’s response, I’ve been reflecting on her words. I’m realizing several things and asking myself a few questions:
- I need Blessed John Paul II to show up on my door step–especially on those days when I’m tempted to give in to pity parties. I need him to slap me in the face, and say, “Don’t waste your suffering!”
- How much suffering have I wasted (a stubbed toe, a sinus infection, the loss of a loved one, etc.)? How can I cultivate the habit of “offering it up” so as not to let that suffering go to waste?
- Am I fully laying my sufferings down on the altar when I go to Mass and allowing my sufferings to be offered up “through Him, with Him, and in Him”?
- Am I allowing my suffering to control me? Do I allow even the smallest sufferings to control my day, my interactions with others, or my prayer life?
- Do I receive my spouse, my children, and others in love like the mother baking the chocolate cake? Do I receive them and their real additions in love? Or, do I say that I am enough and need nothing and no one?
- Do I remember that God is God and has no need of me but that even He allows me to unite my sufferings with Him for the salvation of the world?
- Do I believe in the universal call to holiness? Do I truly believe that I could become a saint? If not, why?
- If you’re like me, you’ll be contemplating these questions and Mother Miriam’s words well beyond the season of Lent and for the rest of your life.
How do you “offer it up”? Do you have any practical tips or advice to share?
Copyright 2013 Catherine Boucher