The Personalist Project

Steve Gershom, a.k.a Joseph Prever, a.k.a. my brother Joey, wrote something the other day that bowled me over. It's called "Full Circle," and it's all about one of those overly familiar and underly understood topics: "offering it up."

Here's how he explains it (do read the whole thing, though; it's not long):

The main idea here, as I understand it, is that when we suffer, if we accept the suffering the same way Christ did--as something which is the will of the Father in some way, or at least as something which the Father has allowed us to undergo--then, by that act of acceptance, we transform the suffering (or allow it to be transformed) from an evil into a positive good.

The principle that is active here is the same as the principle behind the Crucifixion itself--that suffering, when it is accepted willingly--and not with a spirit of avoidance or even merely a spirit of resignation--has a kind of salvific power ... So just as Christ's crucifixion brought about good for us all, so our mini-crucifixions can bring about good for those for whom we decide to undergo them. [emphasis mine]

What struck me was the phrase "salvific power." The idea that suffering has not just a use, not just a bright side, not just something salvageable, but a power, is very surprising when you think about it. Isn't suffering just the opposite of a power? It's not something you do, or choose, but something you undergo, right? Passive, not active?

But here it does acquire a power: something we persons freely wield, not just something that happens to us. 

Steve elaborates:

If I've got a headache, I can either complain about the headache; or I can be resigned and wait until it goes away; or I can make a positive act of the will to accept that headache, or even to choose it. I can say, "I accept this headache, Father, and please use it for [x], who is depressed right now." Or if I hate getting out of bed right when the alarm rings, which I do, I can say "I accept this lack of snoozing, Father, and please use it for [x], who is struggling with addiction." [emphasis mine again]

So the sufferer makes "a positive act of the will to accept ... or even to choose."--thus transforming suffering into its very opposite. In Interior Freedom, Jacques Philippe talks about this power to "choose what I did not choose" and explains why it's such a game-changing ability. We might think the only possible alternative to suffering is for circumstances to change in such a way that the suffering goes away--but you could say the real opposite is for the suffering and the circumstances to remain just as they are and the person using this power to "flip" their meaning to its exact opposite.

Steve goes on to ponder and speculate upon why exactly suffering offered up "works." It has to do with our union with Christ, our being His mystical body. The Redemption, too, seems to "work" not just by His suffering being substituted for ours--rendering the Father willing to play along with a legal fiction whereby His suffering "counts" as ours and ours "counts" as useful. Instead, it "works," because we're united to Him and He to us; our suffering united to His and His to ours.

And at this point, as often happens when I write, I have to ask myself: What do you think you're doing, trying to explain the mystery of suffering and the Redemption in a puny little blogpost?

I do realize I haven't done that. Steve makes no such claim in his excellent article, either. But do read it, do turn it over in your mind, and do let me know what you think. 

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