Catholic News Service
Ever been wronged before? By a family member? A colleague? The government? Your favorite baseball team?
What did you do? Or throw? Who did you yell at? For how long? Did the word “patience” enter your mind at any time?
Did you know that “bearing wrongs patiently” is a spiritual work of mercy designed to relieve suffering, within ourselves as much as within anyone else? Isn’t that the reason we say, “Offer it up”?
I did not grow up Catholic, so when I heard people say, “Offer it up,” I had no idea what they meant, except that it had the ring of something rather unpleasant.
And it kind of does: it means turning the suffering inflicted upon you, whatever the suffering was, however it happened and whoever inflicted it, into a sacrifice to God.
Sacrifice? Yes, it’s very unpleasant in our culture. But consider this: No one was wronged in this world more than our Jesus, who bore the worst kind of “wrong” on the cross at Calvary with patience, dignity and a willingness to forgive, in hopes that all mankind might be redeemed.
Unfair? Yes. Undeserved? Of course. But that’s the sort of thinking the prophet Ezekiel addresses, quite pointedly, in a way that calls us to a deeper understanding of what God and suffering and fairness are all about:
“The house of Israel says, ‘The Lord’s way is not fair!’ Is it my way that is not fair, house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not fair?” (Ez 18:29).
That is why, in the midst of our suffering, we are told, “Offer it up.” Don’t stew about it, don’t seek to “get even,” just let it go. Right?
Well, easier said than done, but most of us who call ourselves adults have learned that we’re not going to get anywhere stewing about the wrongs we’ve suffered.
We’re going to drive ourselves nuts seeking proper revenge (which, in our hearts, we know is less than Christ-like), and we will likely function much better in life if we, indeed, “just let go” of our suffering.
St. Peter, who knew plenty of suffering (Christ’s and his own), speaks of this when he writes:
“Whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name. For it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, how will it end for those who fail to obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pt 4:16-17).
In that regard, I am doubly fortunate. Number one, I learned in my childhood that I am no good at revenge, either in taking retaliatory action against the offending party or in thinking dark thoughts against that person.
Each time I so much as think, “Hah, serves you right!” at the misfortune of one who has hurt me, my stomach turns. God, I tell myself, finds the darndest ways to speak to us.
Second, I am married to a woman who in her lifetime has borne a litany of wrongs and hurts (a few inflicted by her loving but occasionally muddled husband). Some of those wrongs have come as a result of her work, and they inflicted pain and suffering on her and, by extension, on those who love her.
What did she do when she was wronged? She took a deep breath. She withheld her desire to lash back, in word or deed. She took time to pray, she took time to ask God for direction and clarity on how to move forward.
And yes, she did move forward, with grace, dignity and a willingness to forgive, mindful that God knew her heart and would bring her through her suffering stronger than ever.
St. Peter would be proud. So would Ezekiel. And Jesus. I know I am.
Nelson, a freelance writer, is former editor of The Tidings, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.