On a few occasions, my husband has expressed irritation or displeasure with something, only to be greeted with a helpful, “Offer it up!” from his wife. He always asks me what it means to offer something up and I feel like I offer a weak explanation. Since I “think” better in writing than out loud, I’m trying to work it out for him here. (Lucky readers!)
The whole concept of offering it up is something you really never hear about anymore, outside of certain Catholic circles. Of course, inside of those circles, it’s not uncommon to hear a woman talk about offering up labor pain for a particular intention, or something similar. But the majority of our culture has never heard anyone use the phrase, “offer it up,” except maybe ironically. The words have the nostalgic, sentimental feel of something belonging to a bygone era, like holy cards depicting St. Joseph with curled locks, clutching a bouquet of lilies.
(Sidenote: I just cannot with the girly St. Josephs. The man was a carpenter who married his wife while disregarding public scorn, saved his family from an insane king trying to kill his child, and reared the Son of God. I feel like he probably did not use a curling iron.)
But offering it up, much like the real St. Joseph, is not weak or sentimental.
If you are alive, you are suffering. It might be a minor irritation like freezing cold weather that consigns you and your toddler to the mall play place (ahem), or it might be the real suffering of losing someone you love. Suffering in some form falls into the same category as death and taxes; it’s coming for you. The question is not if we will suffer, but if our suffering will be meaningful.
As a child and teen, I never really “got” how Jesus’ death and resurrection saved us. It seemed to me like the reasoning was: We screwed up and God is really pissed off about it and He needed to take it out on someone so He punished Jesus in our place and now He’s not mad anymore. But I kept wondering, “Isn’t God even more mad at us now for killing Jesus?”
Most of us American Catholics lack a real understanding of the theology of Jesus’ death and resurrection and it’s role in our salvation. As a result, we end up assimilating the Evangelical Protestant understanding, simply because of it’s prevalence in American Christian culture. I think this is largely why the whole concept of offering it up has been lost in mainstream Catholic culture. If you don’t understand the Paschal mystery, you can’t understand the role our own suffering plays.
Salvation in the Evangelical tradition is embodied in the idea that the Father somehow “couldn’t see” the Son on the cross, hidden beneath our sin, and punished Jesus in our place. It is a legal fiction- having punished Jesus in our place, the Father declares us just although we are not in fact just. In other words, justification is merely declarative, a legal transaction. Jesus is our substitute. He takes on our sin and it’s consequences (punishment, death) and his righteousness and reward (everlasting life) is imputed to us. God declares us just, completing the transaction. (Disclaimer: There are thousands of Protestant denominations, each with it’s own unique theology. This is a generalization of mainstream Evangelical theology.)
This understanding isn’t compatible with the Catholic understanding of salvation because our understanding is not a merely legal one, it is also a familial one. God does not simply look at Jesus on the cross and “pretend” we are just.
Man’s sin ruptured his union with God. Because God is infinite, so also is the damage to man’s union with God. But finite man is incapable of repairing infinite damage. Christ, fully human and fully divine, possesses the ability not only of restoring union between God and man by satisfying the “debt” of our sin, but he also justifies us in a real sense, and not merely in a declarative, legal sense. He is not a substitute, he is a representative for all the baptized. Because the baptized are in Christ, we are also God’s children. God isn’t offering a simple exchange, he is offering to (re)make us part of his family as adopted sons and daughters. When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ, and are incorporated into his body. We share in his death, and his resurrection. We can unite our suffering to the suffering of Christ on the cross, and our suffering is given meaning and power because it is now part of his suffering. When we “offer it up” we participate in redemption of the world.
St. Paul says, “I make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ in my flesh.” (Colossians 1:24) Obviously, nothing is lacking in Christ’s sufferings in the objective sense. His death and resurrection are completely sufficient. What St. Paul is referring to is our subjective willingness to participate in the redemption.
Anytime I am presented with an irritation, frustration, disappointment, or hurt, I am presented with the opportunity to offer it up. And let me just say, I am seriously the worst about remembering to offer up my daily inconveniences. Will had a bad teething night and I sat there in the rocking chair stewing in an irrational nocturnal rage about how I was so tired and probably Will would never sleep through the night again and my whole life would be ruined as a result. The next morning, after some coffee, I was like, “Oh yeah. That probably would have been a good thing to offer up, hmm?” So the lesson here is that I am a really great role model for offering it up. Or that you should pray for me. One or the other.
Will is also a champion offer-it-upper. Here he is prayerfully offering up the pain and suffering that is not being permitted to consume raw ground beef while grocery shopping. He learned from the best!
I’m pretty sure no one has made it to this point, but my apologies anyway if this post sounds preachy-teachy. I’m sure people are clicking “unfollow” just as fast as they can. Alternatively, you could just offer it up.
Also, I’d like to add that in the course of writing this post, I accidentally deleted it twice. This is clearly a message about practice needed.