Offer it up.
I can’t quite remember when my young self first encountered this spiritual concept, but I believe it was somewhere in between “Who made me?” “God made me” and Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy… By the time I was in the 3rd grade, the idea of “offering it up” for the repose of the souls in purgatory was ingrained in my psyche. I wasn’t too sure what “repose” meant, but I well knew by then what purgatory was. According to my teacher, it was a place where I was going to spend a LOT of time.
I had learned that suffering and misery were the currency of the spiritual realm. No amount of suffering was too much. In fact, no amount was ever enough, so I’d better learn to “offer it up” for some other pour soul and hope that I’d have someone else suffering on my behalf when it was my turn to be stuck in purgatory for a few millennia.
It would be several years before I dared to question this spiritual Ponzi scheme. After all, I asked Sr. Rose in 10th grade, if Jesus paid our debt for us, why does anyone need me to make deposits in the Bank of Purgatory? I wasn’t (regardless of what Sr. Rose thought) trying to be a smart Alec. I simply couldn’t follow the logic of the “offer it up” concept.
It would be decades before I came to my own conclusion: We weren’t depositing spiritual currency, hoping to earn interest. Instead, we were receiving a windfall of Grace.
My mistake was to interpret “offer it up” as a way to be pious in misery. That always struck me as proud. How magnanimous, to think that one could help to spring souls from their purgatorial prison! “Oh, how I suffer!” Then, there was the idea that someone other than Christ could redeem souls, even if our suffering were but a few pennies towards the payment. A god who wanted our suffering did not seem to be the same God who regularly filled my backyard with climbing trees and flowers, or our pond with fish, or the sky with a never-ending picture show, or my family’s hearts with love. How could this “god” want to collect our suffering?
After rejecting this misery-monger god for some time, I realized I really had it all wrong. God does want our misery, but God does not want us to be miserable.
Offer it up. No matter what misery and pain we have, God will take it. God will take our misery into the comforting arms of amazing love and grace, for only there can our pain (and we) be transformed. Offer pain, sorrow, misery, disappointment, loss. Offer it all, not as penance or payment, but rather as release. Who are we to think that we can bear such things alone? What must we think of God, to imagine that God wants us to steep in this misery and pain? Life can be hard enough even with Divine help! Who do we think God is, to say that God gave us Christ, the Lamb of God – oh, and by the way, there’s still an outstanding debt and you can make a payment on it by suffering. No, God can take our misery and pain and carry it all with us and for us when our human strength is simply gone. I’m not being Pollyanna here, I’m being a realist. There are painful, terrible things in life. Only God can take these offerings that blind us with pain and bear them, until we are able to start to see a bit beyond the darkness, and once again start to see the climbing trees, flowers, and the skies. Come to think of it, only God can do that.
And God can only do that if we choose to “offer it up.”