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Icon of the Crucifixion

On Sunday evening my wife and I gathered together socially with some friends.  One of them said to me, “I haven’t seen any new blog posts from you in a while.  We’ve missed that!”  I responded that our kitchen remodeling project and a new part-time job had combined to capture much of my attention.  But, for the last two weeks, my main distraction has been living with the pain of a bulging disk in my lower back.  I have had several inspirations but between the pain and the delirium from a lack of sleep, it’s been difficult to assemble a blog-worthy, sensible and continuous train of thought. 

Several of our friends there that night are active in the Life in the Spirit charismatic movement and they gathered together around me, laid hands on me and prayed over me for healing of my back.  There was no instant miracle and, unlike the cripples that Jesus healed, I didn’t automatically jump up and begin dancing.  But, I did feel a relaxing sensation in my back, perhaps a tiny bit of relief.

Then, yesterday morning I was able to stand up a little straighter and walk a little farther than I have been able for over two weeks.  And, last evening as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed that, although sudden movement still caused some pain, it was the first night since I injured my back that the continuous pain seemed to have subsided.  This morning it seems I’m walking a little taller even than yesterday.  I don’t know exactly what brought about the relief but I want to believe it was the efficaciousness of the prayers from those friends and many others around the country.

But, enough about my back, except to say that the lessening of pain has brought enough clarity to my thoughts that I feel able to jot down one of those inspirations.

I’m sure many of you reading have experienced back issues and the pain associated with it.  I never have.  In fact, I’ve experienced very little physical pain in the course of my life, nor can I say I’ve had any significant emotional pain save for some of life’s inconveniences.  So, when this came about, you could say my situation was one of groaning and writhing in unaccustomed misery.  

A morning or two into this I prayed my normal morning offering: “Heavenly Father, thank You for this day, thank You for the many ways You show Your love for me.  Lord Jesus, this morning I offer up my prayer, work, joy and suffering, in union with Your sacrifice of the Mass, for the conversion and salvation of souls, and for reparation of sins committed against You.  Amen.”

It struck me that the suffering I was offering up that day was unlike any I had previously offered up.  I wasn’t frustrated over petty inconveniences, dislikes, or things I didn’t understand.  It was bigger stuff that couldn’t be ignored simply by turning my thoughts to more favorable circumstances.  No, my back was giving me a constant reminder that life wasn’t as it should be.

It occurred to me then that I have often suggested to men whom I mentor spiritually, without having a complete understanding of the physical or emotional pain they might happen to be in, that they should offer up those things they do not choose, do not like, and cannot change with a morning prayer similar to that which I repeat every morning.  And, although it is one of those situations where “I didn’t know what I didn’t know”, I suddenly felt somewhat hypocritical by having asked of others that which I was now finding so difficult.

I decided then and there that I needed to practice what I preach.  So, I continued my prayer by specifically mentioning the pain in my back and asked Jesus to not let me waste the opportunity to offer my suffering in union with His for the relief of the suffering of others.  I prayed for my 89 years young dad who had just a couple weeks earlier broken his hip and was recovering, for the peaceful repose of the souls of several members of our parish who had recently passed away, for the conversion of mine and other’s children and their return to the faith, for friends who are struggling through difficult marriages and divorce, and a plethora of others who are hurting in one way or another.  

I felt an acute awareness that these prayers were more effective than my normal petitions on behalf of others.  They were specific and heart felt, but more importantly I felt I was making an investment in their healing by offering a sincere desire that my suffering take away that which they were experiencing.  I felt an intense trust in the salvific love and power of Jesus that would bring others into a closer and loving relationship with Him.  It was a totally new and unbelievable experience!  I felt peace.  I felt loved because I was loving.  I was happy to suffer.  I was grateful for my faith which emphasizes the value of participating in the suffering of our Lord Jesus on His cross for the redemption of others.  And, somehow, I wasn’t surprised when I actually thanked God for the pain in my back.  Nevertheless, I ended my prayer of thanksgiving by adding words that He’d heard before, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”  (Mt 26:39)

Since that morning two weeks ago, I’ve had more people to include in my petitions:  the deaths of friends’ parents, an aunt who suffered a stroke, a friend who is in the hospital with a serious condition, for the success of the current class of men and women who are being formed in Spiritual Mentorship, and many others.  I’ve come to realize that I shouldn’t limit my petitions to only those people I know about, but to everyone who is suffering or far from God and, thus, I’ve now begun asking our Blessed Mother Mary to use my aching back as She sees fit.  With each successive day’s offering, I’ve continued to find more and more peace and comfort in my affliction.  Although the pain is still present, I am grateful for the transformation from what was selfish misery to grace-filled purposeful acceptance and desire to not waste the opportunity to participate with Jesus in His mission of redemption.

So, thank you, my friend, for asking what has inspired me since I’ve been laying low and moving slow over the last couple of weeks.  Thank you, everyone, for your prayers for healing – I have felt every one of them.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for this experience!  Thank You for the extra time You’ve given me to spend in silence and solitude with You these last two weeks.  It’s been an unplanned silent retreat…well, at least from my end.  Thank You for showing me how and allowing me to help You draw others closer to You through my suffering.  I know and trust that someone, somewhere, is reaping the benefit.  And, Father, rain down special blessings on that someone out there who offered up their suffering for me.  Amen.”

Postscript:  On May 21st, after participating for several days with Jesus in His mission to save souls, I read Offer It Up, that day’s Rosary meditation from John Leyendecker and the Holy Family School of Faith explaining the Church’s teaching about redemptive suffering.  Check it out!

(An Opportunity for Redemptive Suffering was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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