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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I received this question from a reader, Kasia:

Sister, please tell me more about this "offering up"...

I understand the theory. But I don't think I fully understand the mechanics of it.

Let's say I'm working our front desk, and I'm waiting for my co-worker to relieve me for lunch. I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, and I want to get off the desk before the phone rings AGAIN. (Just theoretically, of course!) She's taking her sweet time, and I'm getting more and more frustrated and uncomfortable. So I think, "Offer it up." Have I offered it up if I'm still irritated? What if the irritation goes away as soon as I start offering it up? Did it count?

Dear Kasia,

This is a gigantic question, right up there with how many prunes are too many. (Are three enough? Are six too many?) Great saints have grappled with it, great leaders have grappled with the saints grappling with it. You can't offer up your suffering if you're not suffering.

St. Rose of Lima wore a crown of thorns she made for herself out of metal spikes and she slept in the family's garden shed. Her superiors tried to stop her from punishing herself too much. She covered the crown in flowers. The minute anyone's back was turned, POW! She was rubbing her face with pepper.

St. Catherine of Sienna only slept 2 hours a night and consumed only the host.

St. Therese the Little Flower slept with a wool blanket in the summer and no blanket in the winter. Among other things.

Besides being saints, what did they all have in common? They seem to have not been crabby during all of this, which seems to have worried them to ever new heights of self inflicted misery. And...

They died really young.

Of course, it was the old days and medical field isn't what it is now. But come on. No food, no warmth, too much warmth, infections with no antibiotics? And no one is praying that God will cure them. They weren't Christian Scientists.

This sort of behavior is discouraged these days. But I think your question had to be at the root of their sacrificial enterprises. They obviously never thought they were doing enough.

So how do we sort this out without ending up in the ICU? Or the looney bin?

By getting into the spirit of the thing!

1. Buck up! The souls in Purgatory are suffering way worse than you, pretty much no matter
what's going on. When I slammed my toe into the bathroom door and it was knocked sideways I had to howl, yes, but I also had to think, "well, I'm not also on fire." Hungry? Thirsty? Try Purgatory.

2. Stop whining. The souls in Purgatory are in abject misery. They're on fire. One hour seems like sixty years. Some of them appear to mystic saints and beg for prayers to release them.

But they're very happy. They already have the Heaven stamp of approval. They are not going to slip through a crack in the Purgatory floor and drop into Hell. Take a tip from them.

3. A gift...like a sacrifice for a soul in Purgatory...is no good if it's given begrudgingly. You don't give your old Aunt Sadie a wad of wrapping paper with no tape, slung around a box of melted chocolate and say with you lower lip out, "here's your gift." Buck up, stop whining and dig up some enthusiasm.

Technically, in answer to your question, it does still count if you're still irritated and it does still count if the irritation goes away. It's a win win for the Church Suffering. I vote for "irritation goes away"as the actual goal here. Not the physical irritation. The bad attitude.

You may fail, but trying really, really counts here.

And for the record, while you're sitting there hungry and thirsty waiting for the pokey co-worker, I hope the phone DOES ring again and that you have to put on the most dulcet of your tones. Wouldn't it be wonderful if they have a big problem that you have to solve?

And while we're on the subject of you at your desk...stop judging your co-worker. She may be 'taking her sweet time' or she might be off offering up sacrifices for the souls in Purgatory while the Xerox spits out 300 half printed sheets in the middle of a paper jam.

Maybe it would help if the whole situation had a gimmick, like "It's a Wonderful Life" where a bell would ring when a soul went out of Purgatory. I think we can go with a bell. Angels aren't dead people, so no bells are ringing for anyone getting wings.

A loud buzzer might be even better. It's annoying.


KatDee said...

I have always had a problem with the self-inflicted sufferings of the saints. It's one thing to joyfully suffer persecution for one's faith, or to suffer in the service of others, like Mother Teresa working in the filth of the streets of Calcutta.

But it always seemed to me that rubbing one's face with pepper and wearing a crown of thorns was self-aggrandizing; as if to say, "Look how holy I am! I'm suffering!"; after all, didn't Jesus say the hypocrites do as much? And aren't our bodies a gift from God that we're supposed to take good care of?

The point that the sufferings of the saints who did that were getting souls out of Purgatory helps with this a bit. That and the fact that they're in heaven so God must not have much of a problem with any of the points I just made.

Mikala said...

I think I remember a saint who wrote that it is possible to live out some of your purgatory before death...I can't remember exactly who, maybe St. Catherine? Is this called being a penitent? or a "victim soul"?

Anonymous said...

I think being a "victim soul" is for OTHER peoples' time in purgatory, not your own...but correct me if I'm wrong - and I'm sure Sister will.

I have a sense that God doesn't deal with measuring out much except justice.

dutch said...

I think forgetting ourselves should always be the highest goal. NOT thinking of ourselves so much, we need to hurt ourselves on purpose. Where is the acceptance of God's Grace in all that self-infliction? Mercy me.

PS: the Little Flower is my favorite RCC saint. I do love her even though I am Protestant. +

Candy Girl said...

i wear little flower too and its a hard call between her offering and the help st rita has given me in recent times...good new sister, IM PREGNANT! after 3 years and many treatments to conceive, just when my faith was starting to leave me, god has in his infinite grace and mercy allowed me to stop tormenting my husband and just make a baby already!!! i have you to thank for my new prayers and my renewal in all things good...may god bless you and keep you!