When I was a boy, anytime I complained to my mom about a stomach ache or other minor pain, she would always respond to me with, “Offer it up!” I hated that answer! I hated it because when I would do it, the pain would remain, and there would be no change in my lot what-so-ever.
At that time, I did not really understand the value of redemptive suffering — the idea that when you “offer up” a pain, trial, inconvenience, or anything else, it becomes a source of merit and grace for you, as well as for the rest of the “Body of Christ.”
When I was younger, I had a hard time understanding grace because it is not an observable thing. Being the analytical person I am, I want hard, fast, concrete, observable proof. But grace is spiritual.
Later in college, after going through my conversion (or better said, reversion) I really started to practice my faith and sought to get others to do so as well. And I began to understand this idea that my mother taught me from childhood of “offering things up.” Even though I never got to see any observable effects, I started to put this into practice.
Around the time that I entered the Legionaries of Christ (guided by the Holy Spirit, I see now) I started a practice of offering up exceptional pains, sufferings, or trials for the special intentions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I realized that I can collaborate with Jesus by offering up my pains. I thought that, if our Lord granted me this special pain or suffering, then He had a special purpose for it to help Him in his redemptive work. (St. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Colossians 1:24). This realization gave me a bit of joy in the midst of my pain.
One day, however, I will never forget. It was during my second year of my novitiate, during our vacation period. I was in Ireland at that time, and for vacation, we would go to the southeast corner of the island to a place called Kerry. (There are more sheep than people in Kerry.) Our vacation schedule was as follows: wake up, morning prayers, Mass, breakfast, a morning class on the spirit of the Legion, and during the rest of the day, we went hiking. In the evening we would return for dinner, night prayers and bed. It was during our second week of vacation, towards the end of July. I do not remember the exact date except that it was a Thursday. We were in our morning class, and all of a sudden I got this horrendous stomach ache. I tried not to show it, but the priest instructing the class could see something was wrong. He asked one of his assistants to check on me, who saw that my face was very pale and so arrangements were made to take me to the hospital.
“Hospital” in Kerry is a bit of a misnomer. It was more like one little room. After talking with me, the doctor decided an x-ray was needed, but that hospital did not have an x-ray machine. So they needed to take me to another hospital about 2 hours north. The doctor asked me if I wanted some morphine before leaving, but I said “No.” He looked puzzled because he could see how much I was suffering, so I explained to him that I wanted to “offer it up.” I think he understood. His tone of voice and expression seemed to say, “You will be suffering tremendously, but if you want to do this thing, that’s your choice.”
I was then transported to the other hospital. The whole time I was in the back seat, hunched over in pain, with tears in my eyes, though I tried to hide these as best I could. And the entire time, I offered up the pain — the most intense I had ever experienced before — for the intentions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
We arrived at the other hospital and they gave me the x-ray. After about an hour or so, suddenly, the pain left me. They told me it was most likely gastritis and that I would likely get this again in the future, and that there is no cure, but I was free to go. I thought, “Boy that was all strange,” and I trusted that Jesus made good use of what I offered Him.
Several weeks later, I got a letter in the mail from my older brother, Mark, who was far from God and had been so for years. I knew this, but not the extent of it at the time. Well, in this letter, my brother related to me a mega conversion experience, and his new found joy in coming back to God. Mark later compared this moment of his life to that of St Paul on his way to Damascus when he got knocked off his horse (Cf. Acts 9). Only with time did I come to understand the magnitude of that conversion of his. He eventually entered Religious life as a Discalced Carmelite (a friar, which is similar to a monk). At that time he was suffering from drug addiction that he was unable to overcome until the moment of his conversion, which changed his life. I rejoiced with the good news of my brother’s conversion, but did not make any other connections.
Until one day, it occurred to me later that my brother’s letter was postmarked at the end of July, when I experienced my stomach pain. In my next letter, I made it a point to ask Mark when, to the best of his knowledge, his conversion had taken place. He wrote that he could not remember exactly when, except that it was around the end of July and on a Thursday!
I cannot say for sure, but I am fairly certain that this is how Jesus made use of my pain. I have had several other significant experiences of offering up my suffering since while never knowing how our Lord used my sacrifice, but exercising my faith all the same.
I have related this story in my preaching and during retreats, but I hesitated committing it to writing as it could be perceived as bragging. In June during a mission trip to Cancun, a friend asked me twice to put this in writing upon my return, but I resisted. However, during the first day of vacation, I flipped a dune buggy in an open field and deeply cut my brow, requiring 14 stitches. I once more offered it up for the intentions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
And though he did not know about the dune buggy incident, just one week later my friend once more asked me to put the story about my brother’s conversion into writing, so I concluded that the Holy Spirit was pushing me to do so too, despite my being so hard-headed and lacking docility to Him.
I hope you find it helpful, and that you begin to offer your suffering in union with Jesus too!