by Father Robert W. Blauvelt
“Offer it up!” How many Catholics are familiar with this every day admonition, usually from a parent or one of the good Sisters in school? I fell and scraped my knee, Mommy. “Offer it up.” I don’t feel well. “Offer it up.” I’m so sad that grandpa died. “I know, honey. Offer it up.”
I, myself, did not experience this growing up because I wasn’t raised as a Catholic. I became a convert at 19, and I am now 86. How many of our younger Catholics have also not been advised to “offer it up?” How many of us older Catholics have forgotten it and have not passed it on? It is not just a pious platitude.
Recently, I was with a priest friend who shared with me two experiences he had that were deeply moving and inspiring. The first was about a priest/friend of his who was from another diocese. He shared that he was dying of cancer and how he was trying his best to “offer up” his pain and sickness in union with Christ on the cross. He also shared that this was not always easy. My friend was deeply moved by his friend’s spirituality and courage.
The second experience he shared involved a very courageous elderly woman. It seems as though she volunteered for years to take the rectory night calls. She answered all the calls for the priests and in the morning she gave them to whoever was on duty for the day. One day his pastor friend decided to visit her in person and thank her for her kind service. She lived nearby and he went to her apartment. She was sick in bed and he asked her how often she had done this kind deed for the priests. She responded that she had been an invalid and on the job helping the priests in their duties for 30 years! She told him she “offered up” her work and her condition to the Lord, united with His passion. The pastor was astonished by her condition and kindness. Both priests agreed they had come to know an everyday saint. Both stories show what wonderful fellow Catholics we have that really live the faith.
In my many years as an active priest, later in the years I spent in Douglaston with 40 priests in various stages of retirement, and currently where I live with 91 wonderful men and women in this beautiful home for the aged, Queen of Peace, Queens Village, I have heard many stories of compassion, service and dedication as the two I referenced. It’s who we are as everyday Catholics. Thinking about these experiences has caused me to have a new idea of helping with the serious shortage we have with vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Let me explain.
We have all heard the statistics on vocations. We know that our bishop is doing many great things to better the situation, helped by many courageous and generous people, but we could do more! How? We can deepen our Christian faith by doing things differently from many of our secular brothers and sisters who do “just what others are doing.”
Please read this with the gift of faith. How do many of us handle pain, sickness and crosses? “Two Tylenol!” We are quite the medicine nation. Medicine should be used properly and well but St. Paul says in Scripture there is another way to handle our crosses, whether physical or emotional. He wants us to “offer up” our suffering in union with Christ’s offerings on the cross. “For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow” (2 Cor. 1:5) “… provided that you persevere in the faith, firmly grounded, stable and not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, am a minister. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the Word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.” Col. 1:23-26
“What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ…” What possibly could Christ’s suffering on the cross lack? Me! You! Us! The Church – the body of Christ! We are the means to complete what Christ accomplished on the cross by offering up our crosses to Him. Our suffering is not worthless. Our own suffering has value, no matter what it is. For years, I have encouraged my brothers and sisters on how we do this, especially for the years when I have had to give up driving, walk with a walker and now live in a nursing home.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently said: “We are not in touch” enough with the persecution of the people in the Near East. He suggested individuals get more in touch by offering up their crosses in union with that of Christ and with the suffering of these Christians. Powerful! The archbishop was not denying the sacrifices and generosity of American Catholics. He and I are saying we can be more in touch with the power that is in us.
Look at the number of people who worship every Sunday and are nourished by Jesus Christ in Holy Communion and the good that the people of the Catholic Church do. Do we really use the power of Christ enough? Do we use the power of the Holy Spirit and our power as Jesus’ people to make things better? Whether for the persecuted people in the Near East, for conquering violence in our world, for the elimination of poverty, or any of our own personal longings for change, especially for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life? Thousands of people, offering their crosses, united with Christ, will make things happen! Worth it?
Offer it up!
Father Robert Blauvelt is a retired priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn who lives at Queen of Peace Residence in Queens Village.