Guest contributor: Ed Trego
Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter Sunday, is a time of the year that means a lot to me. To contemplate the Passion of our Lord, the pain he suffered, the death he endured, and finally, his glorious resurrection is, along with Christmas, one of the primary highlights of our Christian year. It provides the whole of the plan of salvation and enables us to focus on that plan and what it means to our life.
There is one Holy Week that had a major impact on my faith and understanding of Jesus’ gift to us. By Tuesday of Holy Week I was so sick I could barely walk or even get out of bed. Once my loving wife convinced me I needed to go to the emergency room, I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and most of Friday in the hospital. Thankfully, it was not a serious illness, mainly the result of extreme dehydration brought on by what was probably a virus. It’s amazing how God uses situations such as this to our benefit even though we may not realize it at the time. This virus, or whatever it was, helped me to learn and better understand the true meaning of Holy Week and the final victory of Easter Sunday. There truly is a silver lining to every cloud.
As a convert to Catholicism, I had often heard that when in pain or distress we should “offer it up to the Lord”, but never truly understood what that meant or why you would do that. Surely Jesus didn’t want us to suffer, so why would we offer our suffering to him? Jesus spent his ministry relieving the suffering of others, so did it mean we were supposed to offer it up so he could take it away? I didn’t really believe that was the reason. At least if it was, it seemed not very many people were doing it right, because there continues to be a lot of suffering in the world.
However, due to my experience that Holy Week, I found a whole new meaning to this practice. I found what I believe is the purpose of offering it up to the Lord. It made a great impression on me and taught me a lesson that I hope will never be forgotten and gave me a far greater appreciation for the true meaning of Holy Week than I had ever had before.
As I lay in bed sometime on Tuesday, so weak that even raising my head was a chore, I was aware of the desire to offer this suffering up to the Lord. This seemed a little odd to me because, as I’ve said before, I had never understood why you would do that. But it didn’t seem to matter the reason, my whole being was insisting that I offer my suffering up to Jesus. So I did.
I didn’t know what I was doing, and really didn’t know why, but I opened myself up to the presence of the Lord and offered him my suffering as a gift from me to him. I didn’t know of any special prayers for this, so it was just a one on one conversation with my God. I didn’t know what to expect, and to be honest, didn’t know if I should expect anything. What I received was one of the greatest gifts of my Christian life. I wasn’t “cured” or anything like that. I discovered that healing isn’t the reason for offering suffering to Jesus. It is an opportunity to share in his suffering and to better understand the sacrifice he paid for our sins.
The gift I received was a deep, personal experience with our suffering Lord. It was almost as if I were there during His passion. I knew, more than I have ever known before; the pain of his scourging; the crowning of thorns; the carrying of the cross. Not only his physical pain, but his personal pain as well. The pain inflicted by the desertion of his friends. The same friends who had just shared supper and the first Eucharist with him. Those who hadn’t had the strength to stay awake and pray with him in the garden of Gethsemane. The humiliation and pain of being betrayed by one of the twelve that he had chosen. Peter’s denial that he even knew Jesus, not once, but three times. It was incredible to understand his suffering as deeply as I did. Finally, the pain and humiliation of the crucifixion and his death on the cross. All the while it was like I could see his face and I could see the love in his face through the pain and the suffering. The love he had shown by becoming man in order to pay the debt for our sins. It was the most incredible spiritual experience I have ever known and I’m sure that it will affect me as a Christian for the rest of my life.
The only word that even comes close to describing what occurred that day is revelation. This was an experience deeper and more meaningful than any other in my life. As I contemplated and virtually witnessed his suffering, I could almost hear Jesus saying to me that all of this was for me. All that he suffered was his gift to me, and to you, and to all mankind; the greatest gift of all, the gift of salvation and eternal happiness with him. I’ve known this throughout my Christian life, but never to the depth that I now understand it.
I know now that “offering it up to the Lord” is something each of us should and need to do. While we are offering our suffering as a sacrifice to Jesus, we also open ourselves to Jesus and to having a better understanding of the suffering and sacrifice that he endured for our salvation. Our relatively minor suffering can’t possibly begin to compare with his suffering for us. But if we are willing to suffer for Christ, perhaps, in some small way, we can say thank you for the suffering he willingly endured for us. This isn’t to say that he wants us to suffer. It certainly doesn’t mean that we should seek to suffer. But there will be some suffering in everyone’s life; maybe physical, maybe emotional, maybe financial. If we can take that suffering and make it a gift from us to Jesus, I know that it will help us understand his gift to us. It will also help us put our hardships in perspective and understand that regardless the suffering we experience in this life, Jesus gave his life that we may not experience suffering in the next.
One of my favorite prayers was written by Thomas Merton. In part it says:
“… the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But, I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.”
I believe that offering my suffering to Jesus does, in fact, please him.