Here are a few things that make me crazy: being stuck in traffic; poor customer service; unloading the dishwasher; those cards that fall out of magazines; littering (possibly including those cards that fall out of magazines); and people who don’t listen.
Here are a few things that can make me holy: being stuck in traffic; poor customer service; unloading the dishwasher; those cards that fall out of magazines; littering (possibly including those cards that fall out of magazines); and people who don’t listen.
Seeing a pattern here? Good. Whatever causes me to suffer, a little or a lot, can be offered to God and He can take our offering and use it for His good purpose. We Catholics call this “redemptive suffering” or in more everyday terms “offering it up.” All religious faiths try and make sense out of suffering. Whether it’s karma (Hinduism) or the result of sin (some televangelists) we can all agree that to be alive is to be acquainted with suffering, whether great or small. Catholics understand suffering (and sin and death) as a result of original sin, when our first parents disobeyed God in the garden of Eden. Since that time, God has allowed us to suffer for our benefit. We may not know while we are suffering what that benefit might be but we can usually see His purpose for it when we look back at our past trials. Maybe He allowed it so we’d become more dependent on Him, or maybe by our suffering we’d correct those behaviors or attitudes that had led us away from His path for us. The bottom line is that we’re all going to suffer in this life. The question is: how are you going to handle it?
Christ suffered betrayal, mockery, humiliation, abandonment, was beaten and scourged, spat upon and nailed to a Cross to die. If God Himself suffered so much, we shouldn’t expect not to suffer. As Christ offered Himself to the Father, so must we. We are the Body of Christ and our love for Him unites us in a profound and mystical way. When we offer our sufferings back to Him, He sanctifies them. In that way, we participate in Christ’s redemption of the world. St. Paul writes about this when he says: “…whereof I Paul am made a minister. Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for His Body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:23-24).
Redemptive suffering means that you offer God whatever you might be undergoing and allow Him to make use of it. No pain or disappointment or inconvenience or sadness ever “goes to waste” in this economy of salvation. This has changed my life in a profound way. I’m not perfect at it by any means but “offering it up” has set me free from so much of what used to burden and annoy me. Those things that I said “make me crazy” in the first paragraph are small examples of what I can let go of. Every time I do, I grow a little. I offer my impatience as a gift to the Lord. If I’m inconvenienced by slow traffic, I give this tiny “suffering” for Him to use as He will. When customer service fails me, I say a prayer for the harried telephone rep and give it over to God. When I walk by trash on the sidewalk, not only can I pick it up and give that act back to Him, I can ask for His blessing on the one who threw it down. Nothing is lost to the Lord if we offer it back to Him in love. We can ask Him to use our suffering in a particular way, if we want to. “Lord, please accept this pain (or whatever our sacrifice might be) to help bring my co-worker to know Your Son…” We learn to accept our suffering with peace and we ask God to use it for something good. This is truly taking up our cross and following Jesus.
Living in this sacrificial way transforms our pain and suffering into redemptive acts. It reminds us how we are all connected as members of His Body. For me, it helps me grow in patience and in humility. It helps me react more thoughtfully. It helps me to whine less and be more thankful. It unites me to folks for whom I might never have otherwise offered a prayer. I have a long way to go in learning to “offer it up” but it’s one of the great blessings of my Catholic faith. In my own small, deeply-flawed way it helps me to be just a tiny bit like Jesus. As St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) wrote: “I have had crosses in plenty–more than I could carry, almost. I set myself to ask for the love of crosses–then I was happy.” Amen!
“Each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.”
–Blessed Pope John Paul II