Suffering is the greatest gift God gives us
What Catholics mean when we say we’re “offering up” our suffering
Yesterday I had a thought about how to explain the act of offering up suffering to a non-Catholic. I came up with this analogy: Each minute you suffer produces a gold ring. It’s not something you produce intentionally, and it’s not from anything you’ve merited. It’s the fruit of Jesus’s redemption of mankind on the Cross. He ordained from before time began to allow us to replicate the fruit He produced from His suffering and death on the Cross in our daily lives.
We have a choice to make whenever we suffer: We can give each ring to God, we can ignore it, or we can throw it in the trash, which is what we do when we complain about our suffering and obsess over avoiding or alleviating it. If we choose to offer it up to God, we can do so out of a sense of duty, or out of love. If it’s the latter, each ring becomes much more valuable in God’s eyes, and He can do much more with it. Also, we have the option of writing a specific person’s (or group of people’s) name on each ring, which signifies that we’re asking God to give that particular gold ring to that person.
When we unite that suffering with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharist, and with Jesus’s suffering and death, we give it infinite value, because Jesus’s sacrifices on the Cross and in His presence in the Eucharist have infinite value before the Father. This also allows us to offer each ring up for as many people as we want, since God isn’t limited by space and time, and can multiply each gold ring into as many rings as He wants.
After we write the name or names of the people we’re offering up that particular suffering for on the ring and give it to God, He then offers it to those people. He can’t force them to take it though, because they have a free will, which means they have to choose to either accept it or reject it. The rings are God’s grace, which is God’s power and love made manifest in our lives. If someone rejects a ring, God can then give it to someone else who’s asking for one. If someone accepts the ring and puts it on, it will change their lives in different ways depending on how it fits into God’s plan for that person’s life. What most people don’t understand is that more often than not, when you put on one of these rings, you start to suffer, because suffering is the greatest grace God can give us. Throughout history, the greatest saints had the greatest suffering, because that suffering was grace that transformed them from the inside out and removed their imperfections, so that eventually, nothing was separating them from God.
We don’t think of suffering as a great blessing because our fallen human natures rebel against it, and thus cause us to think of it as a punishment rather than a blessing, and lead us to look for earthly, sinful things to please ourselves. This is what’s known as concupiscence, and it’s the most powerful effect of original sin in us. But God knows what’s best for us, and He knows that only suffering detaches us from the things of this world that we’ve become attached to, including the people in our lives. It’s wrong to be attached even to good things, because nothing deserves our total love and devotion except God. Giving it to anything or anyone else turns that thing or person into an idol. Suffering forces us to turn towards Him and be more attentive to our spiritual lives rather than our earthly lives.
The gold rings can also take the form of virtue and consolations. God can instill virtue in us directly, but the most common way He does it is by putting us in situations where we’re tempted to commit the vice that’s the opposite of the virtue we want and need. This way He works with us to help us become holy and virtuous, and in that process we learn much about ourselves and about God. Furthermore, just as He gives us consolations when we need them, He gives us spiritual desolations when they’ll bear the most fruit in our lives, and when we’re strong enough to bear them. During these dark nights of the soul, it seems like we’re going through Hell, and that God is punishing us for our past sins, or at the very least, that He’s abandoning us to make us stronger. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is actually one of His greatest gifts, because when He withdraws His presence from our senses, that’s when He draws nearer to us, since it’s our senses that get in the way of our souls’ union with Him. If we remain faithful to Him during these darkest and loneliest moments of our lives and constantly turn to Him through prayer, the sacraments, the Bible, and spiritual reading, and to His Holy Mother Mary and the saints, they’ll become the most productive graces God ever gives us, and will turn us into the people God wants us to be.
Who should we be offering up these sufferings for? There are four categories of people we can offer up sufferings for:
1)The poor souls in Purgatory- This is the most important group of people we can help, because they no longer have the ability to offer up their suffering since they no longer have their bodies. God already gave them the chance to do that while they were alive, and many of them chose to ignore those gold rings, to varying degrees. So they are dependent on us to give them our gold rings, which God uses to shorten their time in Purgatory, as well as the degree of their suffering there. When they get to Heaven, they will return this favor by giving the gold rings we gave them to God, who will then give them back to us in various forms, according to His will.
2)All sinners, who need to be converted and sanctified by God’s grace.
3)Specific people in our lives, or that we know about, even if they aren’t in our lives.
4)Specific groups of people, such as priests, teachers, people who’ve committed specific sins, or who’ve had specific kinds of wounds, etc.
When we offer the gold rings to God, He not only gives them to the people we offer them for, but He gives us more of them too. He could use each ring to bestow various blessings on us, such as cures of illnesses, getting a job we wanted, resolving a conflict, etc, and sometimes He does this. He uses them in this way to reward our faithfulness to Him, and to strengthen that faith, while giving us what we need to make it through the most difficult parts of our spiritual journeys. But these blessings are temporary, and don’t produce the same effects in the soul that suffering produces, which is why He so often will send us grace in the form of suffering. He can’t help Himself. He is love. It’s His essence, so He doesn’t know how to not love us. Furthermore, He doesn’t know how to not love us as much as we can possibly be loved. The crosses He gives us are the greatest forms His infinite love takes. It’s the form His own Son’s Cross took. The reason we have smaller crosses is because we have sins and imperfections that separate us from God, and so we could never carry the Cross Jesus carried. That’s why the Father can’t love us to the degree that He loves Jesus. We don’t let Him. Yet He wants to love us as much as we’ll allow Him to.
I think there are four things that get in the way of this: 1)Our sins 2)Being surrounded by the noise of the world and our lives and not hearing and listening to God’s voice when He’s offering us these gold rings 3)Refusing to accept them even when we do hear His voice because we’re afraid of following Him into unknown territory. We cling to our creature comforts because they make us feel safe. 4)Not knowing ourselves. If we truly knew what our souls looked like in God’s eyes, how much sin hurts God, and how much we need His love, we’d do everything in our power to stop sinning and putting up barriers between ourselves and Him.
It’s only when we spend time with God on a daily basis, in silence, that we can hear His voice clearly, and then choose to accept each gold ring He offers us with all of our hearts, minds, and souls.
This is why the offering up of our sufferings is so important. The more of our gold rings we give to God, the more He has to give to others. Since God is all-powerful, He could create an infinite number of these gold rings out of thin air and give them to the people who need them. But He chose not to do it that way. He chose to work with us to redeem the world together. That’s why St Paul said in Colossians 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, which is the church”. Jesus could’ve not only produced the fruit of our redemption, but handed it out to each member of the body of Christ throughout time. But then we’d be passive participants in our own salvation, rather than active participants, and God knew that for our suffering to give our lives meaning and purpose, we needed to be active participants in it. If we couldn’t help ourselves or help others through our suffering, we could still turn to God for help, but we’d be more likely to give into despair because we’d feel helpless and useless. God knew this, which is why He gave us a mechanism by which we can turn our greatest wounds and weaknesses into our greatest merits and blessings, not just for ourselves, but for anyone we choose to offer them up for.
Then, if we make it to Heaven, God will be waiting for us, and I believe He’ll show us the mountain of gold rings we gave Him throughout our life, and exactly how He used each one to bless the people we offered them up for. I believe He’ll turn that mountain of gold into a mansion for us to live in for all eternity, one that’s filled with His loving presence, and one that we’ll never get tired of living in. That’s why we should never waste a moment of suffering, and should never get tired of offering it up to Jesus with love. He thirsts for the salvation of each soul, and He wants us to help Him in this quest. There’s nothing greater we can do in life than love God as much as we possibly can, and there’s no greater goal we can accomplish than saving a soul, with God’s help. We do this by allowing ourselves to be God’s instruments in His work of redemption of mankind. He’s the surgeon, we’re the surgical instruments, and suffering is the invisible force that moves the surgeon’s hand as He’s operating on the patient. May we ask God every day to use the gifts He gives us in the form of suffering to give Him glory, and to radiate to Him and others the love He’s given us.