How can I 'offer it up'?
This is a question I used to think and pray about in the years after my conversion. I used to ask people and they'd say 'unite your suffering to those of Christ for the salvation of souls' and I thought this a wonderful idea but had not got a clue HOW to do it! I used to grit my teeth during difficult times and pray 'it's for you Jesus and for souls' and this is a really good prayer but after considerable restraint, I'd burst into an outpouring of my woes, with complaints, to a friend! I realized once again that I had not managed to 'offer it up' and wondered if I was the stuff of a true disciple?
Then one Lent I determined not to tell anyone else when I was suffering from something, (or, usually, someone!). I tried to pray about Our Lord's Passion in the Stations and this did indeed help as some of the inspiring meditations spoke so well about how Jesus came to share every aspect and detail of our own sufferings. They described how He wants to be 'yoked' to our own cross as we carry it with Him (not just following Him) and how everything we do for others He counts it as for Himself. I read how it greatly consoles Him when He sees our desire, however feeble, to forgive and 'do good' to those who hurt us and how much He wants to enable this desire by His Grace. Above all I went to daily Mass as far as possible, knowing how very much I needed to receive Him, whole and entire, living now, into my very little soul.
All that, together with the 'morning offering', which a very kind priest taught me, definitely helped me begin to realize that I wasn't 'on my own' in the struggles and in a mysterious way, they were part of Christ's and therefore redemptive for the souls I wanted to pray for. They were my part in 'doing penance' for all that I'd been forgiven too, I understood that. My ordinary daily round as a disciple was greatly helped. However when the time came, as I think it may come to everyone, 'when the rain and the floods came and the winds beat against that house' (Mt 7:25) and the problems were overwhelming and prolonged. I found myself loosing trust in Him, believing that perhaps I wasn't 'good enough' for His deliverance. I tried desperately to depend on friends and my own wits instead and when this failed I sank into profound depression.
I now see that helplessness of depression, awful as it was, as a time of Grace because I learnt through and through how inadequate I was of myself and how I had only ever let Jesus help me in certain parts of my being, not in the deepest 'mess'. It was then that I met the spiritual director who helped me in a life-changing way, Mons Philip Loftus RIP. ( I have described his direction on getting me out of severe clinical depression in detail in an article in the Lancaster Voice in December 2015 and in a blog) The core of his teaching was how to hand everything over to God and learn to really depend on Him, as a child. He taught this in such an effective and simple way:
Every negative thought, (often lurking at the bottom of a negative feeling) and to be symbolically transferred into a pebble. The pebble had to be dropped into a container of water, with the prayer 'may we leave the past to God's mercy, the future to His Providence and may we face the present, trusting in God's Grace'. The water represents the ocean of God's love and mercy.
The 'we' referred to the people that I chose to pray for that day eg the sick, prisoners. I then had to leave that negative thought thus in God's hands…not fish the pebble out again. The effort to do this is our way of drawing Grace, earned by Jesus, down on others. We are in fact 'taking up our cross with Jesus, who helps us to carry it. We are alone no more! This 'pebbling' needs repeating however many negative thought there are and there are many in the beginning…
Alongside this, I had the very helpful teaching on prayer and meditation by Fr. Matthew McGettrick ODC RIP, which I wrote about in the Crusader last Lent 'Keeping Jesus Company' and of course, the prayers and wonderful examples of other disciples including good friends. I learnt how to let Jesus into every dot of my being, especially areas I was ashamed of and I learnt to take the risk that if we do what we can about something, we can and must leave the outcome, and timing to Him, who sees far more than we do and loves us more than we ever dare imagine.
Now I am learning, not without falls, to 'offer things up', that is to unite my sufferings to those of Christ for the salvation of souls. This past year I have had considerable physical health problems which have not responded to medicine very well, sometimes been misunderstood even by doctors and which have caused many sleepless nights and the letting go of activities I loved doing. And yet I can truly say that I have found more peace and even joy when I have been able to 'offer it up' than I have ever known! A member of my family, who is not a Catholic, remarked to me recently in her concern, when some new but risky treatment was offered to me, that in my virtually housebound life I must feel my life has no quality and so it is worth the risk. I took this in the spirit she meant it and didn't argue. But the truth is that, while I welcome whatever will restore me to full active life, if God wants, all these months of apparent suffering have been spiritually rich and possibly done more good for others than all my life's activity hitherto!