“Offer it up!” I don’t think there is any phrase that can more powerfully and more immediately inspire the desire to perform sacrifice—of the old fashioned (see Aztecs) variety.
For those who did not emerge from an RC cradle or who skipped a few too many CCD classes, the theology behind this phrase invites us to “offer” our sufferings in union with the cross of Christ up to God in heaven (sometimes on behalf of the souls in purgatory or other sinners).
In practice it usually means “Shut the [other eschatological H word] up and stop whining.”
Don’t like the liver and onions she slaved over for dinner? Offer it up! Little brother just experimented with your new (permanent) paint set all over the face of your new doll? Offer it up! Your head, stomach, eyelids and hair all hurt? Offer it up!
Mom may have no use for whining, but apparently the Almighty does.
My friend Theresa* tells a story that illustrates this principle at its finest:
Little Theresa, age 5, was shopping with her mother in a department store, when nature began to call with some urgency. Unfortunately, St. Grace was not available to help.
Theresa (age 5): Mom, I really need to go the bathroom.
Mom: Not right now, Theresa, be patient and offer it up!
Theresa: But mom, I really have to go.
Mom: Offer it up, Theresa.
(Short while later). Theresa: Mom, I really really have to go the bathroom!
Mom: I told you to offer it up Theresa!
(Theresa unable to control herself any longer, pees on the floor of the department store).
Theresa: Offer it up, Mom.
*Not to be confused with my sister Teresa, whose name has no h and who did not pee on the floor…
Speaking of nature and things to be offered up: Shortly after posting my amicable chat with Mother Nature (my most-liked post to date—thanks guys!) the boiler in our apartment building ceased to function.
I am not sure if this is evidence of God’s sense of humor or Mother Nature’s lack thereof. In any case, I went to sleep dreaming of blue Hawaii and woke up being beach-slapped by a scorned Elsa. At first I thought the unpleasant sensation was due to my loathing of all things ante meridian, but a check of the thermometer made it apparent that a call to our landlord was in order. (Our landlord who suspiciously had moved out just a few days prior…).
The first of several boiler repairmen came and we were greeted to some optimistic rattles from the radiator, followed by some more alarming squeals and then the cacophony of a cat or several being offered up, that is sacrificed. A corresponding billow of ash and odor of cremation ascended through the stairwell, followed by a final hiss and then the cold silence of death. It is now 4 days and counting and she has yet to resurrect. (The radiator; no evidence re: the cats).[Update: As of last night, she has in fact returned from the grave ready to atone four-fold for past failures. Thermostat has gone from Siberia to Sauna in a matter of hours…]
I am only grateful that I did not give up coffee or whine for Lent. (On the intentionality of the letter h, see Take 1).
Despite the cheery beginnings, this is not going to be a post about Lenten sacrifice and resolutions. Let’s be real: I am not ever going to be the patron saint of keeping promises.
After posting passionately and poignantly about perseverance and raising the bar and all that, I have managed to blog just about once per liturgical season, and I missed Advent. (This despite daily encouragement from Natalia from Russia and several dozen of her compatriots assuring me that my content is “awesome, great written and include approximately all significant infos (sic)” and “about to go viral…”)
But let it be noted that this is my second blog post during Lent, which means 100% improvement. Canonize me now.
The other reason that this is not going to be a blog post about Lenten sacrifice is that my own Lenten practices have met with dubious results.
There was the year I took seriously a homily about picky eating being an even higher form of gluttony, so I resolved to each day eat something I didn’t like or had never tried before. I ended up liking most of the new things and went up two dress sizes. (Though I still unapologetically loathe raw onions. Any food that is aggressive enough to make you cry even before ingesting is not meant to be consumed).
There was the year I gave up television, which worked just fine on Mardi Gras, but on Easter Sunday and every day thereafter it failed to turn on. (Interesting…) Another year I gave up the sugar in my coffee and was so excited to drink it Easter Sunday only to find that I no longer liked it.
A few years were epic failures—cheese, chocolate and coffee among them—only because I have the self-discipline of a gloveless Elsa. (Too much Frozen? Yeah, I agree…)
I even tried to give up some sins, but as Jennifer Fulwiler notes,
I’d always heard that you should give up something good, but I didn’t really get why, so I just went with giving up cursing for Lent…Then I pictured myself rising on Easter morn’, taking a deep breath, and shouting the f-word. Umm, yeah. That’s why giving up something that’s bad anyway doesn’t quite have the same effect. So no sugar in my tea for Lent.
Of course some people think sugar is bad too…
Then last year, I felt moved to give up Facebook. At first I resisted—it was too pedestrian, and I had sort of scoffed at the social media deserters in previous years. Why does Facebook have to be a bad thing? Why does everything worldly have to be too worldly?
But something (or Someone) continued to nudge me, and so I did. It was the best Lent ever. Not because Facebook was missing, but because there was a space left behind. A space for Someone to show up.
And that’s when I realized Lent is not really about me at all. Not about giving up, any more than Christmas is really about giving. Not about my sacrifice, but about the One who sacrificed for me. Lent exists not because we need to give God something, but in order that He might give us something.
We can think of Lent as a time to eradicate evil or cultivate virtue, a time to pull up weeds or to plant good seeds. Which is better is clear, for the Christian ideal is always positive rather than negative. A person is great not by the ferocity of his hatred of evil, but by the intensity of his love for God. Asceticism and mortification are not the ends of a Christian life; they are only the means. The end is charity. Penance merely makes an opening in our ego in which the Light of God can pour. As we deflate ourselves, God fills us. And it is God’s arrival that is the important event.” (Archbishop Fulton Sheen, emphasis added)
So this season for me is all about receiving. Making room, making time, making myself available for whatever gifts He has in store.
And of course, if God wants to give me some practical penances along the way, I won’t complain.
Joining Seven Quick Takes Friday hosted by Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum. Head on over to see what others have to say!
And if you are visiting from there, welcome!
Featured image (Keep Calm and Offer It Up Shirt) provided by Faith Factory T-Shirts. Available for purchase!
Igloo was made and picture was taken by Alpo Hassinen, from Wikimedia Commons.
The chocolate egg was real, and to size. Photo taken after East Sunday 2011.