Published April 19, 2007
I can’t remember what prompted her remark that day, but “offer it up” was often the advice given to someone who had stubbed a toe or skinned a knee.
Although most children didn’t get the point, adults knew that “offer it up” was one of the great jewels of our Catholic faith. And still is today.
You see, “offer it up” helps to answer the question that everyone, at one time or another, asks: “Why do we have to suffer?”
Truly, only Catholicism adequately sheds light on this mystery.
The horror of suffering lingers in our hearts throughout this Easter season. Recalling the Passion narratives, who is not appalled by the way our beloved Jesus was treated?
Here was the God who created the world out of love, who comes after the lost sheep, heals lepers and forgives sinners—and what did human beings do?
Ganged up and killed Him in the most brutal way imaginable.
Still, we believe that Jesus’ suffering was not in vain but was, instead, part of God’s plan to mend the breach between God and human beings, which happened at the fall.
The horrible suffering endured by Jesus also assures us that God is not removed from our own pain today.
He has been there Himself.
If we cry out when our veins are punctured with intravenous needles, He knows that pain because His skin was pierced from thorns and nails.
If we have grown weary and weak from a debilitating illness, He knows what it is like to be bruised and exhausted.
If we are mired in emotional anguish, Jesus was aware, well in advance, about the details of every bloody step He would take on the road to Calvary.
So the simple saying “offer it up” illuminates a deep truth: Christ’s death on the cross shows that God can take any suffering and transform it.
That was the ultimate meaning of the Crucifixion: Christ Himself “offered up” His suffering on the cross. He gave His life out of love for us.
“From a supernatural point of view, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, which cannot be turned to God’s glory. Every defeat can become a victory …” writes Alice von Hildebrand in “The Privilege of Being a Woman.”
Every defeat can become a victory: This means we can prayerfully offer God our own agonies today: our emotional struggles, physical pain, our doubts, our sorrows, our regrets.
Each morning, we can turn our day into a prayer: “Oh Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all the apostles of prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.”
If we offer our suffering to Him, God will transform it. This includes the pain of losing a spouse; struggling with the problems of teen-agers; losing a job; battling an illness.
The least powerful among us, the ones who are paralyzed, the ones in nursing homes and hospices, can offer Him their distress, loneliness and heartbreak and be mystically involved in the salvation of the world.
Seven years ago, when I was newly diagnosed with cancer, I was at the hospital, feeling sorry for myself, when I spotted an old man in a wheelchair who seemed to be in terrible shape.
Nearby was his faithful daughter, pushing the chair and looking quite downtrodden herself.
In that moment, I whispered a silent prayer: “Lord, I offer you my emotional suffering for the betterment of that old man and his daughter.”
And that, really, is the whole meaning of “offer it up.” By giving Jesus whatever is in our hearts, He will take the suffering and transform it.
It was the power of love that raised Jesus from the dead. We cannot figure out the Resurrection with our rational minds, but we know from Scripture that it was a promise of love fulfilled.
And every time we offer God our hardships, that promise is fulfilled again. By giving Him the darkness in our lives, we renew our faith in the stunning light of the Resurrection.
We also bespeak our faith in the endless, immortal and invincible power of love. And with our faith, we participate, in a mystical way, in God’s own plan for the redemption of the world.
Artwork featured in the print edition by Jef Murray. Lorraine Murray and her husband, Jef, work part-time in the Pitts Theology Library at Emory University. Her books are available at www.lorrainevmurray.com. Readers may e-mail Lorraine at firstname.lastname@example.org.