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Yesterday’s Gospel was from Mark 10:32-45.  The verse that caught my attention was, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)

I think this verse grabbed my attention because I had just posted on Tuesday, An Opportunity for Redemptive Suffering, relating how I have found joy in and have been thankful for the pain I’ve endured from my injured back by offering up that pain for the sake of others.  But, this morning I went in for an epidural – basically a shot of steroids between my L4 and L5 vertebrae – and have not had any pain today, been walking upright and for longer distances.  Upon returning home from the hospital I asked myself, “What am I going to offer up in place of my aching back?”  I certainly don’t want any more back pain, or broken bones, or cuts and bruises.  I prefer having no pain whatsoever!  

It was still early so I sat down for my morning prayer and meditation.  When I read this verse from Mark, I thought of Jesus giving His life as a ransom to save souls.  I reflected that redemptive suffering like I’d mentioned on Tuesday is uniting our suffering with that of Christ on the cross also for the salvation of souls and for the remission of suffering of others.  In other words, our suffering, if offered up with love and trust, is also a ransoming of others.  But, what will I do if I have no suffering due to pain.

That brought me to the part about serving rather than being served, and I reflected on how I serve others.  I volunteer in various ways which is a form of service.  However, I don’t always look forward to some of those volunteer activities.  That brought me to the idea of sacrifice.  Our service ought to be such that it is independent of whether we like it or not.  If we like it, great.  But, if we don’t like it, we should still serve and give it our best effort and we can look at it as a sacrifice.  Even better, if we have a significant dislike for it, it can, indeed, be a suffering.

It occurred to me that the services I perform as a volunteer are not as numerous or significant as I might tell myself.  They probably amount to three or four hours a week.  What about the rest of the week?  Well, I help people occasionally when they need help.  Then I realized that these kinds of service are reactionary, they are meeting the opportunity when it comes up.  They are chance opportunities that land in my lap from time to time. 

If I really wanted to serve others in a Christ-like way, I would do so with intention.  I would plan it into my day.  My morning prayer would include, “Lord, help me to see during this moment who I can be of service to today.”  In this way, I wouldn’t be waiting for an opportunity to present itself, I’d create the opportunity and then go out and make it happen.

I am retired and don’t have a paying job any longer.  But, I thought about all those days when I went to the office, to the same old grind, and how different they would have been if I’d made it my objective to serve someone, to do something good unexpectedly, because they deserved it for no reason other than they have dignity as a person, a child of God. What difference that would have made in finding joy each and every day!

Thinking more about sacrifice, I came to the realization, for the umpteenth time, that I stink at sacrificing.  I know my faults, I am a creature of comfort.  If it doesn’t feel good I usually don’t want to do it.  Fasting and abstinence are, in their own way, painful, and, I guess, they’re supposed to be.  Going on a diet, laying off of ice cream, and strenuous exercise are not magnets that draw me in.  My intellect tells me they may be the right things to do, but my feelings direct my will to dismiss them as being too difficult and uncomfortable.  I’m fooling myself and missing out on an opportunity to grow in holiness by practicing the virtues of Prudence and Temperance.  And, even if I can muster up the virtue of Fortitude, and prudently do the right thing in the right measure and for the right reasons, it could still be a form of unpleasant and painful suffering for me.  

Continuing this thought process (you’re getting a glimpse of how my brain works), I’ve just spent three weeks suffering very unpleasantly and, through prayer, found intense joy and happiness in knowing that I’ve joined my suffering to Christ’s passion and helped others.  I realized then that this act of Love and Charity is also a virtue which, when I look at it truthfully, overrides the feeling that keeps me from doing the difficult and uncomfortable.  So, why shouldn’t I adopt this same attitude, or better yet, modify my “feelings” regarding every form of suffering, whether it be service, sacrifice, or the pain of enduring those things I don’t like, do not choose, cannot change, and don’t understand, and offer it up in union with Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass for the salvation of souls?  

I can’t think of one good reason.  How about you?

(Lord Jesus, thank You for the time we spend together talking.  Thank You for showing me the Way and for sending the Holy Spirit into my heart and helping me see the truth the way You see it and not as the world would have me see it.  Mother Mary, I pray for the grace to fully utilize my intellect to direct my will, and to live virtuously instead of by my feelings.  Amen.)

(Service, Sacrifice, and Suffering was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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