Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Treasury of Compassion

There used to be a form of devotion—perhaps less practiced today but quite widespread not long ago—that included the idea of “offering up” the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating “jabs”, thereby giving them a meaning. Of course, there were some exaggerations and perhaps unhealthy applications of this devotion, but we need to ask ourselves whether there may not after all have been something essential and helpful contained within it. What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ's great “com-passion” so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love. Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves.

Spe Salvi, 40

Reflection – A good Lenten reflection here! I am old enough (just) to have been taught the spirituality of ‘offer it up’. Somehow, I never experienced the ‘exaggerations and unhealthy applications’ of the practice, and in fact I don’t really know what they were or would be. So not only do I remember being taught this, I never got out of the habit of doing it, either!

It’s a simple practice, like all authentic spiritual practices. To simply give to God the little headaches and irritations of daily life. Getting stuck in traffic, aches and pains, plans gone awry—all the little stuff that irks and annoys us and can make us really crabby on any given day. It’s there anyhow, all that negative stuff—we may as well do something with it!

 To offer it to Christ to be a sharing in his passion—now that’s something to do with it! Our lives truly can become a sharing in his redemptive work, his love for the world. Of course it’s not only in the negative and painful aspects of our life that this is true; he wants our joys and our fun, our productive labor, our prayer—all of us.

But we can see, usually, that the good stuff is all blessed and somehow going up towards God, if we have any faith at all. It’s the ‘bad’ stuff, and especially all the petty little stuff that trips us up and seems to have little or no value, that we need to consciously unite with Christ.

So up goes the headache, up goes the traffic jam, up goes the missed appointment, the mean boss, the jangled nerves. All this dross and rubbish of our days, up to God. If we can truly believe (and I believe it is simply true) that all this offered to God with sincerity and devotion can be transformed by his grace into a blessing for the world, what a difference it makes to us!

Our lives are filled from top to bottom with blessings and gifts. The good stuff, the joyous stuff, and all the nuisances and annoyances. All of it is gift: tout est grâce, St. Therese of Lisieux said—the good, the bad, and the ugly, because all of it can be united to Christ and become part of his offering to save and heal the world.

What else do we want our lives to be about, anyhow? And if there is something else we want our lives to be about—well, isn’t that what Lent is for, to purify us of that stuff? Offer it up.

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