Offering It Up…. A Lenten Meditation from Teresa

April 10, 2014 at 7:33 am

As I read from Mother Teresa  Come Be My Light today,  I understood clearly the Catholic slogan  “Offer It Up.” This phrase was commonplace as I grew up.  I also recall my dad stating that we could “offer it up”  late in his life.   I could not really connect with the sentiment.  In fact, it seemed that old school Catholicism had a bit of an overemphasis on suffering in general.  One would hear about various pious practices.  For example, in the Journal of a Soul by the Good Pope John XXIII, I recall he was sitting in an uncomfortable chair.  Rather than finding a more comfortable one, he offered up his discomfort.  Or I think it was the Little Flower St Therese of Lisieux who wanted to eat an apple, but left it untouched offering up her desire for it.  I could not relate.

I will concede that there is admirable ascetic discipline embody by Good Pope John and the Little Flower  as their  intellects discipline and control what can be at times our unruly desires and emotions.  In general, though, I thought that there was too much focus on suffering in the pastoral devotion of the Church.  Where is the promise of joy and fulfillment?  Additionally, I was not sure for what purpose we were “offering it up”.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata experienced a dark night of the soul for years.  During this dark night, she came to understand that she shared in the redemptive mission of Jesus.  Jesus hung on the Cross feeling abandoned by the Father in the face of death reflecting, sharing, and capturing how we as humans so often feel.  “My God, My God,  Why have you abandoned me?”  As disciples of Jesus, we are called to follow Jesus as he carries the cross and will find at times that we too have been nailed to it.  Why?   There are many meaningful answers to this question.  One is offered by Paul :  “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church”.  After 11 years in the Night, this  identity with Jesus redemptive act on the Cross comforted Mother Teresa.

As she told her sisters:   “ My dear children—without our suffering, our work would just be social work, very good and helpful, but it would not be the work of Jesus Christ, not part of the redemption.—Jesus wanted to help us by sharing our life, our loneliness, our agony and death.  All that He has taken upon Himself, and has carried it in the darkest night.  Only by being one with us He has redeemed us.  We are allowed to do the same:  all the desolation of the poor people, not only their material poverty, but their spiritual destitution must be redeemed, and we must have our share in it.—Pray thus when you find it hard—‘ I wish to live in this world which is so far from God, which has turned so much from the light of Jesus, to help them—to take upon me something of their suffering.’  Yes, my dear children—let us share the sufferings  –of our poor—for only by being one with them—we can redeem them, that is, bringing God into their lives and bringing them to God.”

I am sure that I have read or heard Paul’s passage many times, but Teresa has illuminated it in a fresh way.  I have generally identified with Jesus’ Paschal Mystery as capturing the nature of our existence and man’s inhumanity to man.  Similarly, Jesus embodies the philosophy of nonviolence as he follows the Father’s will in his life.  He not only turns the other cheek, but forgives those who kill him.  He dies, but it is not the end as he enters life after life and returns to tell us “Be Not Afraid.”  The Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection applies to the events of our lives.  I was fired as teacher.  A painful experience, but that dislocation allowed a new direction to emerge.

Teresa and Paul throw wholly different light on the darkness that may or does envelope our lives.  It is God’s purification of the soul.  Bringing us to new depths of faith. It is a sharing in Jesus’ pain and redemptive mission on the cross that requires an act of faith on our part in the darkness of the moment.    We can “offer it up” for the redemption of those we love.  Later in the book titled:  Mother Teresa Come Be My Light by Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, Teresa writes her spiritual director,  “St Paul has given me the answer…–so I am happy to suffer it still more and also with a big smile.—If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness’  I will continually be absent from heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on earth.”  The author comments: “Strengthened in the furnace of suffering, she was ready to continue her mission until the end of time.”

Blessed Teresa intercede on our behalf.  We may not even know that we are in the darkness.  We think that we have all the answers.  We think that we have the Truth.  Pray that  the Lord’s light will be brought to our shadowy understanding and existence.  May it light up my life and the lives of my loved ones that we may worship in spirit and Truth and may even this day, bring the light and love of God into our  world of shadows and darkness. Lord, may we recognize and embrace the Paschal Mystery in our lives this Lent.  Help us be quick to embrace Your Cross and to offer up our sufferings for the sake of others and be made ready for the new life of Your Resurrection.   Fill us with hope.