Ask a Franciscan

Is ‘Offering It Up’ Still Valid?

Q. A friend of mine, who is a devout Catholic, says that when I get an injury or illness I should offer it up to God as some kind of payment for sin. I cannot image myself going up to some powerful political leader and saying that I would offer up my pain and illness to satisfy that leader’s anger. Who would accept that?

I have trouble dealing with the concept of God accepting pain or illness as payment for some kind of wrongdoing. Jesus did it, but he is God. Is my friend correct? Am I?

A. The idea of “offering it up” is still a valid one in the sense of “Don’t go through life complaining that life is unfair, because it is unfair for everyone.” Each one of us can imagine a more ideal life than we have experienced or are now experiencing. Emphasizing how non-ideal my situation is or has been could be a way of shifting onto others the major responsibility for my decisions and for my happiness.

I cannot change my past, but in a very real way I can choose how it impacts my present and my future. I can keep a chip on my shoulder for past injustices or I can notice that no one lives in ideal circumstances.

God does not cause evil so that people can offer it up. If God is sending cancer, traffic accidents and other tragedies as a way of punishing evil people, then God is also sending those sufferings to many innocent people.

Although sin frequently involves some suffering, not all suffering is a punishment for sin.

The person who cannot “offer it up” may become a perpetual whiner, someone whose life is explained by other people’s decisions—not that person’s. Perpetual whiners can never be truly compassionate because they must prove that their suffering is worse than anyone else’s.

Jesus “offered up” his death on the cross for the sake of sinners, an innocent man dying for the guilty. He died not as a bitter man but as a man full of love for us, including people who use their freedom selfishly.

People facing severe medical conditions or terminal illnesses sometimes speak of “offering up” their sufferings for others. In such cases, this “offering up” can lead them to a deep inner joy and compassion. Those who absolutely reject the idea of “offering it up” will never understand such joy and compassion.

The concept of “offering it up” could be misused as justification of one person’s injustice toward someone else. It could become a devious way of saying, “Keep quiet, do as I say and keep this dysfunctional relationship going because it benefits me.”

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