One of God’s greatest gifts to us is sharing in His creativity. Of course, God makes things out of nothing (ex nihilo). We have to use materials, both physical and spiritual, to develop our creativity. This is true especially in the spiritual life.
But this seemingly autonomous ability to create new realities (albeit from other created realities at hand) is a great power. We see this creativity in the grace of parenting when we help God to create new human beings. We see this in the world of science where we investigate objectively the different levels of being to help us understand and manipulate reality for the good of humanity. We see it in the world of art when artists (painters, sculptors, writers, composers, etc.) combine and restructure the Real to produce new and beautiful expressions of the goodness of God’s creation.
But we can also be creative in the realm of the Spirit.
When I was a child in Catholic School, the School Sisters of Notre Dame (who staffed St. Rita’s School in East New York, Brooklyn) emphasized a spiritual doctrine that was very deep. I believe this to be true with other Religious Sisters and Brothers in other schools as well. We were instructed by our religious sisters to ‘offer up’ all that we do for the honor and glory of God. This included everything we did in school and at home. It was especially advantageous to ‘offer up’ our difficulties and pains and disappointments. Everything could be productive and bring us closer to God.
We were, in fact, being trained to sacrifice everything to the honor and glory of God for the salvation of our souls.
Later in my life, as I studied Theology, I discovered that the etymology of the word ‘sacrifice’ is from the Latin ‘Sacrum Facere’, to make something holy. By teaching us to ‘offer up’ our pain to God, we were being instructed in the work of holiness. Everything, especially our sufferings, was material for our creating the Holy in our daily lives.
When I think of this now, I am astounded that we were being taught in grade school one of the deepest doctrines of the spiritual life! Even today, I make a morning offering every morning. In it I consecrate everything I do to God intentionally.
But the saints have found that when we offer especially our suffering to God, there are powerful energies of grace that are released into reality. When we suffer, we can curse and swear and be angry at God; or we can use suffering as a vehicle for welcoming God’s redemptive power into the world.
The saints, when they were not suffering, often initiated suffering for themselves in the form of penances and fasts and other things that they offered up to God.
St. John of the Cross in his book “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” spoke about the purification that suffering can do to the soul in its journey to God. In doing this he made an important distinction between Active and Passive purification. Active Purgation or Purification denotes those efforts when we select the sufferings that we wish to offer to God in this sacrum facere. The Passive Purgation or Purification is when God selects the suffering that He wants you to offer up.
This seems so negative an understanding, doesn’t it? I remember two ladies talking in the row behind me at a performance of the great modern opera “St. Francis of Assisi” by Olivier Messiaen, a devout Catholic. After reading the program notes, one woman said to the other: “Just like those Catholics—Suffering, suffering, suffering!” I laughed. My friend had to restrain me from correcting their misconception.
We Catholics do talk a lot about suffering, but not because we are trying to be downers, but because we are realists: suffering being a fact of daily life. But this spiritual practice of making suffering holy is a pathway to joy in the midst of suffering.
This understanding and practice seems also to take away fear. If all can work out for our good, then even our sufferings have a place in the Divine Plan for my life.
This truly is an Amazing Grace!
A Morning Offering
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.