The elders here will remember a phrase common in Catholic culture of the past; a phrase uttered by a grandmother, a parent, a sister who taught us in school. In response to one complaint or another we would be told, “Offer it up.” Being told to offer our suffering up to God always limped a bit because, as was also part of the culture of the time, we were not given any opportunity to voice the interior experience of disappointment, insult, neglect, pain, sorrow or grief. Today we have been educated to value the need to express feelings. We know that giving them voice is necessary for healing.
But after healthy sharing with compassionate friends, after joining a support group, after praying through the grief, and perhaps after seeing a counselor, a question remains in the heart, “What do I do with the pain?” In this we may need to re-appropriate the concept of “offering it up.”
We are created in the image and likeness of God. The spark of divine life has lived in us since the moment of our conception and that spark was fanned into flame when Jesus entered into the human sphere. We have a Savior who is like us in every way except sin. The gift of the Incarnation, the gift of Jesus taking on the total human experience was to draw us further into divine life. The ancient Fathers of the Church declared “God became human in order than we might become God.” What does that mean? It means that we fully participate in divine life here and now. We participate in the both the glory of God and the pathos of God’s suffering. So we can sit with our pain and say with St. Paul:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…Col 1:24
We need only to read the newspapers, watch T.V. news, survey our own families and friends to see the suffering held within the Body of Christ. Since the Incarnation unites in that Body we are one in the suffering of all humanity. But we do not sink into the suffering. Rather we unite our pain, our sorrow to the entire human experience. By our union with Jesus on the Cross we fully participate in the on-going Redemption of all creation. Even the quantum physicists are telling us that at a mysterious sub-molecular level everything is interconnected. Nothing happens without affecting everything else.
As you contemplate your loss, as you touch your emptiness, as you empathize with the pain of those made homeless by the storm, those being slaughtered in Syria, those who are starving in Africa, those who are homeless in our towns and cities, “Offer it up.” Unite yourself with the God who knows our suffering, who sees our tears and cries with us. Ask that your experience be incorporated into the on-going work of Redemption in our families, in our communities and in our world.
The reflection above was offered at an All Souls Memrorial service at St. Jospeh's Church in Kingston, New York.