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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Past Imperfect

I understand many of you are very hot. This is a fantastic opportunity to bring yourself into communion with the Church Suffering, better known as the Poor Souls in Purgatory. You know what I'm going to say now, so let's say it all together, shall we?

"Offer............ it .................. up!"

If the Poor Souls in Purgatory are not your cup of tea, you can offer up your misery for the 87 year old lady roasting in a nursing home in Dallas.

Or, you can concentrate on how hot Jesus must have been dragging his enormously heavy cross beam up the street. He would have been hot even if it wasn't actually hot outside. But today, in Baghdad, which is not far from where Jesus lived, the temperature is 115.

Still complaining?

Some of my readers have taken exception with my admonishment that you can't offer your suffering up retroactively. I stand by my warning. I don't get why you don't get it.

Perhaps you can offer up your past suffering even though all you did at the time was grouse. I think you shouldn't.

Offering up your suffering is all about your state of mind during the offering up part. It's about being in communion with the suffering of the world, the suffering of the Poor Souls in Purgatory, and/or the suffering of Jesus Himself. Take your pick. The idea here is to build the character of your soul. How do you do that if you are whining and moaning and then later say, "oh...all that yowling? That was for you, God."

God says....thanks ever so.

Let's say I decide to bake you a birthday cake because you are my friend and I love you. But I hate cooking. Hate it. So the whole time I'm baking you this cake I am miserable and angry. I'm complaining about what a mess I'm making of my kitchen. I call the recipe stupid. I'm slamming the cabinets, I'm cursing you for having a stupid birthday, I blame you for the third degree burn on my thumb because, since I never cook, I don't realize that if the pot holder is wet, the heat will transfer right through the pad to my fingers. Eventually, my whole family (all eight children and Dad) flee the house so as not to get slapped by the wet rag of my frustration and anger. Now I'm mad that Dad will waste money buying all the kids ice cream that they shouldn't even be having so close to the dinner that he should get back here and start cooking, since he has to do all the cooking.

I'm so disgusted with the whole process I only ice the top of the cake. I throw on a candle.

Then I bring it to your party. You say, "Oh! You baked me a cake!" And I smile proudly and say, "It was my pleasure!"

What if someone than gave you the video tape of me making the cake and cursing you and your lousy birthday the whole time? "Geez, Louise," you would think. "Don't do me any favors."

Well, God has the video tape.

I just don't see how one can drop the 8 oz. can of Del Monte tomatoes on one's bare toes, take the Lord's name in vain, feel self pity and put upon, and then later offer that up. Offer what up?

The idea here is to drop the 8 oz. can of Del Monte tomatoes on your toe and, whatever else you may be feeling, find it in yourself to do one or all of the following:

1. Realize that a lot of people are in constant pain all the time.

2. Keep in mind that a lot of people can't feel anything when they drop the 8 oz. can of Del Monte tomatoes because they have no feeling from the neck down.

3. Remember that some people don't have toes. They have a hard time balancing long enough to get the tomatoes out of the pantry.

4.Get it in your brain that, for the Poor Souls in Purgatory, dropping the 8 oz. can on their toe would be bliss compared to being on fire all the time.

5. Meditate on the fact that Jesus never had canned tomatoes. If tomatoes were out of season, He was out of luck.

6. Live with the idea that if you didn't feel pain, you'd have no appreciation for pleasure whatsoever.

7. Take into account that God loves you and the pain of being separated from God is much worse than dropping tomatoes on your toes, canned or otherwise.

Now, smile and say, "I don't mind, God. You're really good to me. I'll take this one for the team."

I fail to see how one does any of that retroactively, except that perhaps on some level you accept the suffering that you had as having been a good thing and thank God for it then.

Better than nothing. But not the spirit of the thing.


John Deru said...

Thanks for your advise, suster !

scmom said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, sister.

Krystin said...

I don't comment, normally, but this couldn't be better timing.. God really does have a wonderful sence of humor!!
Thank you sister for sharing the gift that God gave you!!

Sister Mary Martha said...

John, I advise you to take my advice.

Andrew said...

Perhaps, instead of bickering about when and how we can offer up our suffering, we can all take the first item on Sister’s list and act to ensure that at least one of those people in constant pain begin to experience it less constantly. Sister is right, as usual, it’s not about whining or moaning when a can of tomatoes plummets edgewise onto your big toe and sometime in the future trying to use it to score brownie points with Jesus. It’s about character, and you don’t get it by retroactively bending the rules, and not because God has the video tape, but because it’s also not about the rules. It’s about how you react. Especially when you can feel your heartbeat throbbing through your sock.

Andrew said...

I almost forgot, what a fantastic pun, Sister! I knew it was going to be a great post right when I saw it's title.

Muddy Mama said...

"Offer it up." is a common phrase in our house. So is "No cross, no crown." With so many people crammed into our tiny home it is a reminder we need on a regular basis!

The ability to offer up everything from small annoyances to outright suffering is such a gift! It trains your heart towards gratitude in every circumstance.I know it is true. I have experienced peace and even JOY (Really!) in the midst of suffering. How good is the Good God!

Fr. Daren J. Zehnle said...

Another excellent post, Sister! Thank you for the timely advice; I will put it into practice at soccer practice this afternoon!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sister, I needed to hear that...

PaulaB52 said...

I just read this blog post to my 7 & 9 year old sons. They seem to have a very hard time with the "offer it up" concept. And they have so many opportunities TO offer it up, since they annoy each other to death!

Thanks for another great post.

Anonymous said...

Sister, I always knew that there were still some nuns like you who were still human beings full of laughter! Just teasing.

Of course there are. I can't say for sure, because I only play them on TV LOL - or the stage actually - but I think so.

I guess your post reminded me of an experience that really changed how I viewed the Bible, and what Christ was doing in his time here. It revolves around the first time I had to play a nun.

I was like, "Ok, who ARE these people? Yeah, we call them penguins but they aren't. But are they really 'normal' humans?" Reading script the first time suggested they were, but more research was necessary. Thinking back its sort of amazing I didn't know more, because I used to dream about being a nun when I was small. The fully habited penguin sort of nun. I would wake up feeling generally pleased and happy after those dreams. More than most other dreams.

Anyhoo, my resources were limited not being raised RC, and most didn't go on until after I was cast as the unhappy Abbess. Apparently I played the script well enough to be chosen out of the 3-4 selected to do specific readings; the director was a serious RC and had been taught by nuns, so I guess she knew what she was about.

I would also have to admit that my lack of stature had something to do with it, because I was by far the shortest in the cast, and my nemesis in the house was Oh, about 5 '11". I'm...5'.5". The idea of this wee women 'sheparding' her nuns with a force of will resembling a choke collar made a real impression. Every single performance.

The habits we wore were the real old school super starched penguin deal. They came out of a house that had 'lightened up' somewhat, and had these in storage. I pity the spirit of the sister who was my previous occupant. She probably shook her head many times. I kept crashing into things, tripping, and banging my shins for the first week. The funny thing was, I got to like it after I got used to it. I liked it a lot. Maybe that sounds warped, but I don't think so. There is something very comforting in knowing that you aren't being judged on something that your genes, not yourself determine, like your features. But in your face we really can see who we all are. If you are a beautiful person inside, you will be seen as a beautiful person looking out from under the wimple veil and coif. If you weren't, we all knew that too.

Yes, this is all leading somewhere related to your post....

During the long run, I naturally did a lot of scriptural reading. Initially I focused on what was quoted in the course of script. Later I read a lot more, and I would read the most when I was in my dressing room, before curtain time. The Bible was no longer the lovely gold gilded beautifully hand illustrated thing with neat stories that sat on top of a tall cabinet in my mother's house.( All good, but...)

It was a teaching tool. Whether or not I believed in God as it defined was unimportant. What was important was Jesus did exist, and he had many lessons to give us on improving our own lives and living essentially healthier lives. In most cases I honestly have to say, its about anger management.

This was certainly true of my character around whose internal and external battles the story revolved. Once a popular and gracious leader, her frustration over a particular newer ' not in the mold' sister in the community led eventually to anger. She allowed that anger to consume her, and except for a few it turned her house against her, even if she was ultimately right to restrain this particular sister. She just wasn't getting the message,blinded by her feelings.(She was kinda hurt too.)

Naturally, the ending is rather horrible. Sister ' Goody two shoes,' finally shows her dark side when tired of being hounded, and commits a bloody and barbarous act in the name of her Superior. The Abbess, totally frozen now by her mental state dies rather horribly of a heart problem as a result. The director chose this to be an aortic rupture to reflect the act committed by the sister. (Stage blood doesn't stain like the real stuff....).

Kinda gory? Yes. But it worked. Ten minutes later the show is over. Every time the audience would sit in dead silence for about 15 seconds. Thinking. Then the clapping would start slowly, growing to a cloudburst. We must have had a big impact because we ran far longer than intended.

During that time I did a lot of thinking too. Your posting made me think of it again. Doing 'charitable' things for your friends and associates with anger is not being very charitable. Doing anything with anger is not really good for the soul. Yes, it does produce results sometimes, but we all pay a price.

Especially we need to keep things in context when something does go wrong. We don't want to let anger over little things waste our energy and turn us away from being healthy inside. If doing something for a friend is going to make you angry, you might as well not do it, because you aren't doing anyone any favors, least of all yourself.

I won't say that I know who you people - Nuns- are yet, but I suspect, based on this posting here and my continued experiences 'under the cloth' in the lights, you are still very human. Maybe you'll be able to enlighten me far more than the few sisters I managed to question all those years ago. They didn't want to talk about it much.

Thanks for reminding me of a changing period in my life. I need to recall those lessons frequently.

"Theatre Mite"

PraiseDivineMercy said...

Thanks Sister, I read this in bed with food poisoning. I rather needed the reminder...

Therese said...

What a great post. Thank you sister for this timely reminder.

radio45 said...

Actually, you can look at this type of prayer as a bus ( or in New York City, a subway). If you miss the bus, you can't make it come back to you. But don't worry because there's another bus full of suffering around the corner, so you catch the next bus (or in NYC-subway). Prayers are for the here and now. Not for the, "Gee, I was just sitting there and I coulda prayed" (I coulda had a V8)times.

Angela said...

This is such a timely post, thank you. I am finishing my RICA course - a full year of classes, I am so excited to be moving on into full communion in 4 weeks!

The idea of "offer it up" is something I have heard of occasionally, but didn't quite get it. This is definitely different that what I heard in my former (protestant) churches, so any insights offered are welcome!

Eric and Wendy said...

Your post hit me so hard, I had to offer it up!! :) Thanks, sister!!

mcm said...

sister, i just discovered your blog. you are fantastic.
i am sending my friends. one of my favs is june 14, your post on tattoos. beautiful.

White Stone Name Seeker said...

Brilliant! Thank you.

beez said...

Not only a great message, but very much fun to read. Thanks Sister (and Thanks to Fr. Daren for pointing me to your blog!)

I haven't done it often, but when I do remember to "offer it up" at the time (a Memorial Day visit to the ER was a time when I really remembered), suddenly the misery seemed A LOT less severe.

Shelly said...

Yes, indeed. My 7 kids hear those words all the time. Offer it up, people. *and* we also say, "Better to be hot now than later!!" ;o)

paramedicgirl said...

That was a really good post. I love the way you get your point across with a sense of humour. I was laughing so hard while reading your description of the bickering baker making the cake! Too funny!

Anonymous said...

I was thinking about this tonight. I don't know why. Reading in a couple different places awhile back that badly done sacrifices are "useless" and "wasted" rubbed me wrong somehow, but I couldn't figure out why. Then tonight as I was cleaning up the kitchen after my son's birthday party, this came to mind. It may be wrong in the theological sense - I hope not, but if it is I expect to be corrected - but I plan to continue to offer up even my most poorly done sacrifices for these reasons. (Not that I will be happy with or satisfied with them. At all. Just, I plan to still offer them up.)

I think it's one of Satan's more successful ploys to convince us, "Well, you've done that SOOO badly, you needn't bother offering it up. You should be ashamed. It's entirely useless." As he often does, he mixes a bit of truth in with the poison to confuse us. We should be ashamed of doing the sacrifices that God sends us badly. Yes. But... God doesn't need our perfection. He IS perfection. He wants our effort.

Consider this scenario: Your birthday is coming up and your husband tells each of the kids to make you/Mom a birthday card. One child really is not interested in doing this, being busy playing something. He gripes and complains and makes a quick, half-hearted effort to produce a not very lovely card. In fact, it's bad. This child knows he should do better but just can't want to summon the effort to try harder at this time. The time comes to present Mom with the cards. Everyone does except the reluctant child, who stands empty-handed. You turn to him and ask, "Did you make a card for me?" He replies, "Yeah, I did. But it was so ugly, I ripped it up and threw it away." Wouldn't you wish that no matter how ugly it was, the child had gone ahead and given you that card? Well, your Father in Heaven wants your birthday card too - no matter how badly done, no matter how you complained about doing it - because He loves YOU, not the card, and sees what little, even if hardly any, effort you put into it. Even if the only redeeming value is that you were aware you should do it. Are you only happy with "perfect" birthday cards from your children? Could you even say you're only happy with the cards that they put their total concentration and effort into? How much more does God perfectly and mercifully love us - love anything we give Him as His children?

I sometimes think back on a really poorly done sacrifice I just screwed up and wish I could turn back time. Happily, God does not operate in the boundaries of time like we do! Ggo ahead and offer it after the fact. Offer it up with apologies. Offer it with a contrite heart for having done so poorly, so badly it seems useless and you are ashamed. Humbly let *God* decide if there's anything left to salvage in it. What if the child said, feeling ashamed, "Here's my card. I'm really sorry it's late and it's so ugly." Wouldn't you be happy to see his card at all and even happy to see his recognition that he could do better? God wants that from us. Give the ugly card.

Sometimes I ask Mary to 'fix' my bad sacrifices. I don't want to. I want to have done it right the first time. But like a kid who sees, "Dang, this really stinks," and knows Mom can help, we can go to Mother Mary. If your child made a really bad card for Dad's birthday and then came to you and said, "Please help me, Mom. I got mad and ripped it. I just couldn't make it right like I wanted. Take this and do something to make it better." You would tape the ripped spots and try to decorate it, using your own talents to make a card pretty. Mary, who loves us and loves Jesus, will do that for us if we have recourse to her with humility! Like wanting to offer baby Jesus an apple - our apples often have bruises and bad spots. Often a lot. Even though we wish we had a perfect whole apple to offer, better to let Mary cut it up into slices, carving off the bad spots, even if there's only a little sliver left for Him, than to offer none at all.

So, that's my thoughts tonight on offering up things - even if you complained and griped and whined the whole time, please don't listen to the devil's lies and poisoned truths. Should we do better than that? Oh YES. But if you haven't, please don't let the devil convince you to throw away your card or your apple. Give it to your Father anyway with a trusting, humble, contrite heart like a child. Let Him decide if it's got any value. And try, try again!

God bless,

bill7tx said...

Sister, thank you for reminding me about "retroactive" offering-up not being worth the instant it takes to do it. I have wasted a lot of suffering, I'm afraid.

I received a St. Therese medal in a shipment of Miraculous Medals from Marytown. It probably wasn't put in the bag on purpose, but ... there really aren't any accidents about things like this. So that got me to pull down a book on St. Therese that I bought a couple of months ago ("Where Two Rivers Meet"). And it told about how St. Therese did her offering up -- every second of every day -- and doing everything for Jesus.

I took my not-so-accidentally-received St. Therese medal with me to Mass this morning and had Father bless it. It will go on the chain around my neck with the Miraculous Medal as a reminder to not waste any more suffering (including even all the little crosses of daily life).

Thanks again.