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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Beauty Must Suffer

We're not on fire. An enormous area here is California is on fire, but we are far away. We don't really even have to breath the awful smoke, nor are we having ash rains as we have had with some of the other fires. Other places have summer, fall, winter and spring. We have rainy season and fire season. The reason we have fire season is precisely that rainy season lasts for about three weeks in February, where it rains a little bit. Then by June, after no rain, and July and August, after it's 102 at 8 am for a few weeks, the place goes up in smoke.

A very large number of people are suffering. I hope they offer it up. I also hope it rains or something, or the wind changes and blows the fire backwards over the acres it already burned.

A question from a reader:
While you are looking into Saint Elizabeth Seton, perhaps you could also break down for me the concept of just HOW our suffering aids the Lord in the conversion of souls and such. While I understand the "offering it up", the old "Methodist" part of me still snarls that by having died on the cross for our sins, Jesus paid it ALL and that he does not, NOT need our sufferings on top of his to aid in salvation of the masses. (My cradle Catholic husband also joins the choir of discontent and unbelief of this as well) I can ALMOST grasp it, the concept sparkles just beyond my reach. I know that the honest to the point way you have of putting things will lay this gem in my hand. Thanks!

Was I looking into Elizabeth Seton? Uh-oh. I hope whoever was waiting on that information has offered up their suffering.

Apparently you really don't understand the 'offering it up' thing at all.

Jesus does not need anyone's anything. He could just go on His merry Way. He never has to hear from you again. He could be perfectly happy living with His Father and the Holy Spirit and all the angels and saints (who, by the way, offered up their suffering...just sayin') and forget all about the rest of us pathetic sinners.

But He doesn't.

He is a hard person to understand.

The suffering isn't about Him. It's about you. If you can suffer and be glad, if you can suffer and not complain, if you can suffer and make it a prayer, you will understand Him a lot better, because that's the way He lived His life.

Let's pretend for a moment that when Jesus died on the cross it had absolutely nothing to do with the forgiveness of sins. Let' say, for the sake of argument, that what really happened here is that this fellow shot His mouth off a little too often and a little too loudly for the comfort level of some minorly powerful people, so they had Him done away with.

Then what does it all mean?

Is it possible to understand that beyond the forgiveness of sins, that Jesus never stopped showing us how to live, even up to the moment of His death? That He did not raise a hand in defense or anger, that He accepted His suffering, that He did not allow His followers to raise a hand, even in defense. That when He said, "You have learned that they were told, “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” But what I tell you is this: Do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him your left. " (Matthew 5:38-42), He wasn't just whistlin' Dixie?

If Jesus had just showed up as God and run all around saying all of this stuff, we could have all just said, "Easy for you to say, God."

But He didn't. He suffered the way we suffered. He suffered all the ways we suffer. He just handled it a lot better than we tend to handle it.

Offering up your suffering is a prayer of communion and understanding with Jesus and with all those who suffer.

If I can sit here in my smokey house while the ashes rain down, I can better understand the suffering of those who are right on the fire line, whose homes are in harms way, whose eyes burn hotter than mine, whose sinuses are clogged and whose throats are choked.

When I have a day when it is difficult to breath, I can better understand the suffering of those with chronic lung problems.

I can be thankful for what I don't have to suffer and I can be more compassionate for those who continue to suffer.

Please don't forget that Jesus also said this, "Whatsoever you do to the least of My brothers, this you also do unto Me." He wasn't just talking about dropping a quarter in a bum's hat.

I hope this helps relax your snarl a bit.


Sr. Teresa said...

Sister...just wanted to say I love the blog and I try to use your wisdom as I form the novices in our little community of Franciscans...We have had many conversations about how old you really are and what you 'do' but it is all guessing until today you said: 'just sayin' and I thought she is younger than she lets on OR cooler than she lets on...BTW..do the kids still say cool? Either way ...you are younger than you let on..at least in spirit!!!
Thanks for the refresher on 'offering it up' I hope you don't mind if I draw from it for future reference..no copying i promise!

Minkykat said...


That was my question. I had been reading about the visitations at Fatima. Following their vision of hell, the 3 children went out of their way, (some might say that they went a little too out of their way), to offer up all that they could muster up to suffer for the conversion of souls.

I do get about how by offering up our pains or troubles in the moment affords us communion with Christ, my question was, when we "offer it up" for "sinners everywhere", how does work in terms of converting sinners?

Could it be that by offering it up, thinking of those who are suffering, that we develop a deeper compassion and understanding of our fellow man and therefore we are better equipped to be that "only bible that some people may ever read" and thus bring people to Christ thru example?

Perhaps that is what you said but I am too dense to have gotten it the first time 'round.


bill7tx said...

Minkykat: "Offering it up" is, as Sister said, a way to turn suffering into a prayer. By offering our suffering up for the conversion of sinners, we are making that suffering into a much more powerful prayer than (for example) our Morning Offering.

At Fatima, Our Lady asked us to pray for sinners because, she said, many sinners go to hell simply because nobody ever prayed for them. She also asked that we offer our suffering up for sinners. Also, the Angel of Fatima said that we were to say this prayer whenever we offer up suffering: "It is for You, my Jesus, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary." At other times, Jesus has asked us to offer our prayers for the conversion of sinners.

It doesn't really matter how it works. What matters is that Our Lord and Our Lady have asked us to do it, and it is clear that they really intend that it will save sinners.

Anonymous said...

Sister, thank you for this post. There is something I just cannot get through my thick head though, and it drives me crazy. I got out of a physically abusive marriage in November, and since then there has been no end to the drama, my husband is in jail, etc. Part of me knows it was right to escape esp. for the safety of the children, but the other part of me feels like I should have been stronger, turned the other cheek one more time, offered it up, leaned more heavily on the Lord, something. I also feel guilty for not visiting him in jail since it is one of the works of mercy. Basically I feel guilty for giving up and I don't know if I did the right thing. Help!!

NCSue said...

I think being a former Methodist may be a bit of an impediment to understanding this "offering it up" concept, as I was one once, too, and have always had a hard time "getting it". But your explanation is the clearest I've read so far. Thanks!

Mary N. said...

The fire is terrible and I hope people are offering it up. I give Him everything. I even unite my breath and heartbeat with His. Nothing sneaks by me. I must drive Him crazy:)

Michele said...

hi sister, iam once again doing the patron saints, this time for the year 2010. if your readers want a saint for 2010, please re direct them to my blog, Saint Philomena's Garden at: http://atraditionalcatholic.blogspot.com

God bless you!

Tami said...

She was right, you gave a great explanation. This is something I have always struggled with, and now I think I may get it. . .well, maybe understand it better. If I truly "got" it, oh wouldn't that be a great day. :)

Minkykat said...

That helps a bit. I realized in the middle of the night last night that "pennance" was the term I was looking for.

I'll keep offering up this maddening bursitis knowing that this pain will do someone some good.

Anonymous said...

Sister Mary Martha,

I have a saint request for you.

Recently, I have started to fall in love with one of my best friends. The other night, he told me that he also feels the same way about me. Which sounds great, at first, until you realize that he's engaged. Now I never intended to cause any strain on his engagement--I never planned to say anything to him--but he brought up how he felt about me first and eventually I couldn't avoid the subject any longer.

I am struggling very much with this.

I feel as though I am culpable for what has happened. I struggle very much with my faith and only recently have been granted the grace to begin a slow return to the church after years of absence. So I am attempting to get my life back on track with the will of God. In a situation like this, while I know it is not my fault for feeling for him as I do, I worry that perhaps I have committed some indiscretion (I believe the term is called an "emotional affair"--point being an affair, which makes me ill,) along with the fear that I might not have the strength to confront what needs to be confronted and do the moral thing in the future. (Whatever might happen between the two of us, since it is still undecided and he is still engaged.)

So, to get to the saint part of this very verbose request, I would love for you to suggest a saint who might understand my situation. Either a saint who struggled with loving a person they were not allowed to have (even involved with an affair,) or one who struggled to do the morally right thing despite their desires. Or, I suppose, any other saint you might suggest.

Thank you for your patience!

Anonymous said...

How about Saint Margaret of Cortona?

Sister Mary Martha said...

by missjames profile shop contact
I wanted to submit a question on your blog, but I couldn't figure out how to contact you there.

Here goes:

I read an article today about nuns in my town leaving the Episcopal Church for the Catholic Church because they disagree with Episcopalians allowing same sex marriages. (http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/faith/bal-md.fa.nuns04sep04,0,7981764.story) The Catholic Church is embracing the nuns defection, so to speak, but it raises a question in my brain that I'm sure you've been asked many times before: Why does the church, which pushes Jesus' teaching of love and understanding, not embrace people who love someone who happens to be the same sex as them?

Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

The Church absolutely embraces people with same-sex attraction! It is her desire, as it is the desire of her Lord, Jesus, that all be saved.

The problem arises when people with same-sex attraction want the Church to change the rules that her Lord, Jesus, set for salvation. Particularly, they want to be excused from the requirement for chastity.

Chastity is not total abstinence from sex. Rather, it is abstaining from all immoral sex. Sex, to be moral, has to be ordered towards the ends for which God created it. Those ends are to help unify a husband and his wife in their marriage, and procreation. Sex between two people who are not each others' husband and wife must therefore be avoided. And when you have two mommies or two daddies, they are not husband and wife.

Anonymous said...

The church DOES embrace people who think they love someone who happens to be the same sex. The church does not CONDONE this misguided (and therefore, self-love which some confuse with real love). REAL love wants what is best for the other person's eternal soul, not 'what feels good for me' in the moment. Key word here= eternal. You don't get to have everything you want in this world. Nobody does. It's not supposed to be that way. Love and lust are not the same thing. Coveting your neighbor's wife (or spouse - it could work either way, here) is no different than coveting anything else that belongs to your NEIGHBOR and not to YOU. Hands off! Carnal love (and we all fall victim to this in some way, shape or form) is the "flesh" in that old saying, "the world, the flesh, and the devil." All three of these, together or separately, keep us apart from God - the God who loved us enough to come and die for us. That didnt feel good, now, did it? Mary stood at the foot of his cross. That didn't feel very good, either. So - whatever your particular sins are - whether it is a same sex attraction, drug addiction, physical abuse, etc. - put on your big boy or big girl pants and learn to say "no" to yourself. Basically, it works the same way in the material world. For example, you can't just smoke like a chimney and then say, "Hey, no fair!" when you're diagnosed with lung cancer. Nobody made you start smoking. You chose that, all by yourself. You don't get to eat as many calories as you want without gaining weight. It's not rocket science, folks! If I decide I love playing with fire, are you going to demand the church embraces that, too?

MaryMartha said...

A totally different kind of question--I hope that is okay. I am not Catholic, but enjoy your blog very much. I have gained some helpful insight and some understanding of your particular faith practices that I've lacked.

My question: In our materialistic society, it's very important to have a lot of possessions. What may nuns "own"? Your clothing? Any jewelry? Books, computer, radio or TV? Real estate you owned before becoming a nun?

By the way, my blogging name being so nearly like yours is an accident. I wasn't even aware of your blog at the time. Fortunately for me, I found you! MM

Anonymous said...

Sr. Teresa, I am a Franciscan Sister, too! You must have a "happenin'" novitiate... I'll pray for yours; please pray for mine!

Anonymous said...

Technically, nuns don't "own" anything. They "have the use of" the clothes they wear, things they use for work (i.e., 'my' laptop, 'my' briefcase) but we usually refer to things as "ours." It belongs to us collectively, not individually. We can ask permission for anything we genuinely need, but not just for anything we want. Some communities collectively own quite a bit more than others (the two extremes in the USA are Mother A's Poor Clares on the wealthy side compared to Mother Teresa's sisters on the poverty side). Every other community is somewhere between those two extremes, most having far more than Mother T and far less than Mother A.

sherry said...

i alwatys wanted to understand the concept of suffering too. Thenk you sister for casting some light on that subject.... I like your blog too...