this was written for a wild-and-wooly listserv called "freecatholic" today.
At 09:31 AM 5/27/2006, [Somebody] wrote:
>Karen Marie Knapp wrote:
> > "Handling it" and "offering it up" are
> > like a trick dog walking on two legs
> > only ---- it's not a wonder that it does
> > it badly; it's a wonder it manages
> > it at all.
>I do wish that someone could explain
>to me fully and clearly about this
>"Offer it up" principle. I've learned
>a pretty fair amount about the RCC
>and its unique traditions, and I keep
>seeing references to this, in cases
>of intractable pain or even minor pain,
>but I never quite "get" it.
OK, I'll give it a try. Please be patient with me.
As we both know, Jesus Christ of His own will was crucified, dying,and conquering sin, death, and alienation from God for each and every human in his self-oblation and resurrection. He also instructed each of us to take up one's cross and follow Him --- to death, since crosses are for dying on. And St. Paul taught that he (and each of us) could make up in our own suffering what was lacking in the suffering of Christ. Wha? Jesus is God, what could be lacking? But it is still revealed that our trials and sufferings can make a difference.
I've come to believe, from sheer observation, that not having a cross is not one of the options for any human being. The only option each of us have is what each of us does about it. The cross can be accepted, carried freely, embraced, and offered to God as gift and sacrifice --- or one can be bound to it unwillingly, fighting and struggling, and be crushed and broken by it.
It's also, the difference between slaughter and sacrifice. Both involve slitting the throat of a really tasty animal, but it only brings the values of sacrifice if it is offered as gift. Otherwise, it is just dinner.
>One of the moe puzzling references to me
>was fiction, indeed, a murder
>mystery in which a very intense young
>priest poisoned his mother, who was
>dying of terminal, very painful, cancer,
>because he saw that she wasn't
>taking all her morphine on schedule, and
>thought that she was saving up the
>pills to have enough for suicide, and he
>wanted to save her soul from the
>sin of suicide, while taking that of
>murder onto his own soul. One plot
>twist was that his priest friend told
>him after he'd done it that she was
>not taking the meds, not for saving them
>up, but because she was "offering
>it up", deliberately. I did get that that
>was a _good_ thing, and a heroic
>sort of thing for the mother to be doing,
>but there's still something (a
>lot) lacking in my understanding of the
>whole principle of deliberately
>suffering unnecessary pain. Is it
>supposed to be a living penance, giving
>you less time in purgatory, or "adding
>to Christ's suffering" in some way,
>for a penance for all the world's sins,
>or something else entirely?
I have, a few times, had the kind of pain where the types or amounts of pain meds necessary to get rid of the pain also fog the mind or induce lethargy. At the end of life, pain relief can even mean drugging into unconsciousness. And choices have to be made, how much of the pain to alleviate over against how much ability to reason, to understand, and (important to this discussion) to pray and to make gifts, one wants to retain. Sometimes, one can't have them both. Some choose, sometimes heroically, not to alleviate as much of the pain as they could, in order to be able to function mentally and spiritually, including making the offering gift. For pain beyond the physical warning function is by itself just torturous suffering; it can only be an offering unified with Christ's and efficacious in the redemption ---- remember St. Paul's "making up what is lacking in Christ's suffering"? --- if it is given as gift. A slaughter is only a slaughter, but a sacrifice is given.
>And if it's pain that you _can't_ get out
>of, how is "offering it up" done,
>and how is it virtuous, since you
>don't have choice?
Granted that there is very little choice about the pain (or the bereavement, or the destitution, or the whatever), but there are choices about what one does with it or about it. One doesn't have to offer it to God, live as well as possible in the present, and so on. One can, and more than some do, rant and rave at all and sundry, stubbornly deny there's anything wrong, use it as a reason that the whole universe should revolve around oneself, and/or curl up and become an inert lump without putting up a fight. Happenings are just happenings, but what one does concerning happenings can be virtuous, or not, or even evil.
I'm glad that St. Paul wrote that how we handle suffering and affliction can actually make a difference. I think it would drive me to despair if the afflictions of this life had no meaning but torture, no use in hope.
I hope I've made some sense.