I’m a Protestant convert to Catholicism. What does it mean to offer up your sufferings to the Lord? And how do you do it?
This is a great question that many people, including myself, struggle with sometimes.
The Problem of Evil
To really get at the meaning and purpose of suffering, we must first address what has been called “the problem of evil.”
God is all good and all powerful right? “So”, the atheists say, “He is a walking contradiction, because He is either not all powerful because He cannot stop the suffering and evil in the world, or He isn’t all good because He allows evils that He could theoretically stop.”
This is what is known as the “problem of evil,” how can what we know about evil in this world coexist with what we believe about God?
There’s been many attempts to address this, even by modern scholars and theologians, but as with everything having to do with God, I think Saint Thomas Aquinas addressed it better than anyone else.
Objection 1. It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.
Reply to Objection 1. As Augustine says (Enchiridion xi): “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.
Summa Theologiæ, Prima Pars 2.3
So we can see from Saint Thomas Aquinas’ answer that every single thing that happens in our life has purpose, there is no such thing as “meaningless suffering.” We may not know the meaning or purpose, but we can be assured that it exists.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Everything in this life has purpose, even things that seem not to have one. We must always remember to pray that we can endure, and in the end we’ll receive our crown.
(For more about meaning in suffering, see this article I wrote a while ago Suffering )
Offering it up
So what about the whole “offering it up?” What are we offering, how do we offer it, and to what end?
Jesus didn’t promise his followers a pain and distress free life, on the contrary, He told them to ‘pick up their crosses’ to follow Him (Matthew 16:24). It’s also striking to note that every one of the apostles met very violent and painful deaths, except for Saint John, he died at a ripe old age, the Romans did try to boil him in oil once but they failed to kill him.
Saint Paul talks about suffering many times throughout his letters, because he was well aquatinted with pain and suffering.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:15-17 (emphasis added)
Why must we suffer with Christ? Was His atoning sacrifice lacking in anyway or in anything? Why is suffering linked with our salvation?
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,
What is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? Absolutely nothing, His death on the cross was/is enough for the salvation of all the world! So what is Paul talking about here? Our affliction can be added to the afflictions of Christ, for the salvation of souls!
Of course God doesn’t need us to add our sufferings to those of His Son, but He allows us to do so, so that we may participate more fully in Christ. I’ve heard it likened to a child assisting their parent at some task that the parent is fully capable of accomplishing on their own, but they allow the child to participate so they can be a part of the final product.
Our suffering may be redemptive in a very physical way too. Take for example a Christian that suffers through a terrible illness, but maintains a hope in God and a belief that when this life is over there will be no more suffering but only happiness for those who die I friendship with God. That persons suffering has become a powerful witness to the faith and may lead to conversion of hearts and souls toward God. When someone sees you maintaining your peace, even when the seas of life are getting choppy all around you, can lead them to ask you the reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15) you can point them to the Grace of Jesus Christ.
How to offer them up
One of the best ways, that I’ve ever heard of, to offer up your suffering is to offer them to the Lord as a sacrifice during the Mass.
During the preparation of the gifts, when the priest prays, “Pray, brethren (brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father,” we can offer our sufferings, our sorrows, and our anguish, as a sacrifice to God.
Another common practice is the Morning Offering, it’s a prayer said daily that offers all our sorrows, as well as our joys, as an offering to God.
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.
Or just in your own words, offer you sufferings, that you will bear them without complaining and without despair, to God as a sacrifice of love.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard regarding suffering comes from a man who was no stranger to it himself, Saint John of The Cross;
Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.
Thank you for asking this question, it was something I wondered about myself when I first came to Catholicism, and I believe it may help some more people to see what we mean when we say “offer it up.” I hope this helped answer your question, God bless you in your journey.
(This was a question asked through the contact form at this page, Questions. If you have a question or your own, please feel free to ask)