Many years ago, a little nun from the Sisters of St. Joseph would drill our third-grade class on the Baltimore Catechism, week after week, until we could recite the answers verbatim. It was as close to the Marine Corps as I ever got.
Occasionally, she’d interrupt her lesson to give us some spiritual advice. She said when we had pain or suffering in our lives, we should “offer it up” because Jesus could do wonderful things with our gift. A scraped knee. A stomach ache. A bruised elbow. Hurt feelings. No offering was too small or insignificant.
She said if we offered our suffering to Jesus, it would help him save souls wandering in darkness. It would provide relief to others in pain and despair. It seemed like such a peculiar exchange. We gave Jesus our pain and he could do incomprehensibly good things with it ... and reward us beyond our dreams in the next life.
St. Paul understood. In his letter to the Colossians, he wrote, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the Church.”
As a child, I thought it was such a magical idea; however, as an adult, I’ve often been more self-absorbed with my suffering than with what Jesus can do if I turn it over. Rather than offering it up, I’ve been inclined to complain: “Why me, Lord?” or “Deliver me from this, Lord!” or “Lord, not again!”
I recently had some medical tests, and every day I’d say, “Do I really have to go through this?” Then, I thought of that little nun’s advice. I tried to stop whining and offer it up, hoping good would come from it. Eventually, I reached a point where instead of asking, “Why me, Lord?” I could say, “This is for you, Jesus. Help me make it through.” And Jesus helped carry the cross.
Even more amazing, every day that I was consumed by my small cross, Jesus would put someone in my path who had a considerably larger cross ... and a smile on her face.
There was the woman I saw at Mass in Manhattan whose body was wracked by cancer. She was so frail and thin it seemed a strong wind would blow her over. As she sat praying — because she couldn’t kneel — I wondered what she was saying to Jesus: “Why did you do this to me?” or “Jesus, this is for you. Take my imperfect offering and use it.”
I met a woman who had to walk with two canes because of knee surgery, and every day she traveled back and forth from the Bronx on the subway to get to her job. She smiled when I told her my problem and said she would pray for me.
And then I met a woman who shared her personal story. Five years ago, her husband of one month fell 15 feet off a ladder and suffered a traumatic brain injury. The neuro-surgeons said his injury was one of the worst they’d seen in 15 years of practice. He was in the hospital eight months before they could transfer him to a rehab facility.
“It took nearly three years for him to fully recover,” she said. “He had to relearn how to breathe, swallow, talk, walk and sit up. He was like an infant doing these things for the first time. Today, he’s a walking miracle. He drives, he’s totally independent and he’s looking for a job.”
Then, she added, “We know that God healed my husband, and we give him all the glory.”
Jesus must have done immensely wonderful things with that offering. Perhaps one of them was to give me encouragement to go another day and offer my little cross for her and her husband. I could have never carried her cross — at least not alone. None of us can. It’s not a test of strength. It’s a test of faith and humility to be able to say, “I’m scared, I can’t do this alone. Jesus, please help me. I offer you my cross.”
We all have crosses, some are heavier than others. Offer them to Christ, and someday, far from this world of suffering, he’ll show you the miracles he performed because of your offerings.
Joe Pisani of Orange is a writer whose work has appeared in Catholic publications nationwide. He and his wife Sandy have four daughters.