Following my hernia surgery, I am in a moderate degree of physical pain. With all the painkillers that modern medicine has provided, this pain is kept to within the bounds of bearable. I am writing this on the next day after my surgery. Many of you have shared with me your own bouts with surgery and so I know that many of you know what I am writing about!
One of the things that I had to admit was that some degree of pain is good. It is the body’s way of warning us that parts of us are weak and vulnerable. For me, at this time, it is telling me to slow down and to limit my movements otherwise it will keep up it’s protest!
But sometimes pain is just a pain in the neck (so to speak). It won’t be quiet. It keeps demanding attention even when we sleep and take our medication.
Being a believer in God, I go to Him for answers to my questions. Very few times does He answer immediately. Sometimes He is silent. Sometimes He answers later, even years later when we see the whole of His plan and the proper place and reason He allowed me to suffer. The plan of God is often seen in hindsight.
Meanwhile, since my pain is still there, I ask God for help. A voice then comes out of my past: Offer it up. For those who remember our teachers in Catholic School (those wonderful women who sacrificed so much to make sure we had a Catholic education), you may remember that they gave us that advice often: Offer it up.
But what does that mean?
There seems to be an invisible economy of grace by which we can offer our most intimate and invisible efforts and sufferings to relieve someone who just has no more strength to bear their own sufferings. If you make a note to come to our next Opera workshop on ‘Dialogues of the Carmelites’, you will have a fuller and more insightful explanation by one of the most unsung authors of the spiritual life: Georges Bernanos.
This ‘economy of grace’ is our ability to reach out to another person and transfer our graces of surrender and patience to the good of another who feels that they have no strength of will power left. This could be someone living or someone struggling in Purgatory.
Therefore, I am offering up my present sufferings for you the faithful of Immac. This is one effective way to help you even as I have to refrain from overtly pastoral ways. One great author gave this advice to a newly ordained priest who had all the good will in the world, but confessed a lack of time for prayer: “You can do more good for the people of the parish on your knees in prayer than in hours of parish interactions.”
I agree with that advice; but, not only for priests. Every baptized Christian can participate in this work through their Christening, that is, working with Christ as Priest, Prophet and King. That last title refers to Christ’s governing powers for the benefit of everyone in His Body, the Church.
In America, we don’t understand how profoundly our philosophical substructure defines and often contradicts our religious faith. We are ardent materialists and utilitarians: it’s got to be measured and it has to work to have any reality.
But the Spiritual cannot be measured, yet is just as real as a table and a chair. So when someone like Bernanos (or for that matter his inspiration: St. Therese of Lisieux) speaks about the economy of grace as well as both the communion of saints and the communion of sinners, we modern materialists are left with our mouths open and as confused as if someone spoke in a language that we could not understand.
This offering-up or the stark and mad concept of Bernanos called the ‘mystical exchange of deaths’ seems utter nonsense until one faces the dogma of the Redemption of the Human Race on Mount Calvary by the Son of God!
The great philosopher of religion Simone Weil once wrote: “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering but a supernatural use for it.”
I find that both true and comforting, even when my body aches!