Catholics/suffering

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QUESTION: Father:

    Hello and thank you for taking my question. I have been suffering with anxiety, panic attacks and depression (Suicidal at times) for over 30 years now. Im 48 and it started when I was 13 although I had panic attacks as a young child. I would like my suffering to serve some good purpose. What exactly does the church mean when they say to "Offer your suffering up to Christ." People have told me to "Offer it up" but when I ask them what it means they cant tell me.......... can You ???

         Thank you, Pete

ANSWER: Christians of the Protestant persuasion tend to believe that Jesus suffered and died for us so that we do not have to suffer and die. They see the Sacrifice of Christ as something that happens to Christ and is unrelated to us in that we have no part in it or participation in it.  On the Cross Jesus somehow redirects the Father's wrath and anger at sin away from us on him.  In that way Jesus "paid the price" for sin and we are set free.

I have always thought that was a childish way of understanding the great gift that Jesus gave us for many reasons. For starters it seems to make God arbitrary and more human.  Secondly it misunderstands the nature and purpose of redemption and thus the Cross event.  The Cross is far more than simply Jesus redirecting the Father's wrath and "paying the price."  Protestants act like all it is is a simple debt repayment.  We owed God money we could not come up with and Jesus paid our debt himself.  

Catholics do not understand the Sacrifice of Christ in that way--which is why they say "offer it up" when someone is suffering.  I grant the saying "offer it up" is rather annoying because it minimizes the person's feelings and experience with suffering, but there is a great Truth contained in those simple words.   

Let me begin in explaining that statement by saying that the answer to your question lies in how the Sacrifice of Christ is understood.  Protestants (especially fundamentalists) understand the sacrifice of Christ is "finished."  They do not understand why Catholics say things like "offer it up" for that reason. They think it is an insult to the finished work of Christ to speak in that manner.  

The Sacrifice of Christ is ETERNAL.  The Incarnation is a revelation of HOW God the Son loves God the Father from all eternity.  The fullest expression of this love is the Cross.  The Cross is not something incidental to who God the Son is, it is ESSENTIAL.  That is the nature of the Sonship of Christ.  Because of Sin we do not love God the Father that way.  God the Son became man and adopted our humanity so that humanity COULD love God that way.  In Jesus humanity loves God the Father perfectly.  Thing is--this love does not begin and end with Jesus it is shared with us.  We are given the life of the Son and thus we have the power to love the Father the way we are supposed to.  Through the Incarnation Jesus brought the love of God to where it was not due to Sin: humanity.  Through Jesus Incarnation man restores what man destroyed.  God in Jesus turned the problem (humanity) into the solution (Redemption.)  

God gives a rather interesting command in the Gospel of John 13:34-35: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Love one another as I have loved you Jesus says.  Ask yourself the question "How did Jesus love us?"  Answer? "With a love that is REDEMPTIVE."  In order to follow the command we must now love people not just with a human love, but a GODLY love--and that love is redemptive.  In entering the family of God through Baptism we are given the power to do this because the merits of Christ are infused into our being.  That God wants us to love one another is NOT new.  The Jewish people of the Old Testament knew that much.  What is new is loving each other as God has loved us--that is with a REDEMPTIVE love.

The fullest act of love Jesus showed us is SUFFERING and DYING for the beloved-OFFERING UP THAT SUFFERING AND DEATH for the ones loved so that they might live.  In essence therefore the phrase "offer it up" means "Unite your suffering to that of Christ for the redemption of souls."

When human suffering is not united to Christ--it is worthless and destructive.  United with the suffering of Christ it becomes redemptive.  

This leads me to my next point: Jesus did not suffer and die so we don't have to, he suffered and died to turn the consequences of sin on their head and make them REDEMPTIVE.  Jesus suffered and died so that OUR suffering and death when united to his suffering and death can be REDEMPTIVE.  Hence "offer it up."

Read the book of Revelation and notice 5:6: "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth."

Who is the lamb?  Jesus.  The lamb is presented as slain in defeat yet risen in glory.  In other words--the death and resurrection of Jesus are one and the same reality--two sides of the same coin.  In the Resurrection the sacrifice is perfected--that is glorified.  That is why the wounds remain even in the glorified resurrected body of Jesus.

When we offer up our sufferings and unite them with that of Christ our lives through Christ are being poured out for the salvation of the world because through Christ we love the Father as Christ loves the Father--by pouring out our lives like a libation.  We are fulfilling the command to "Love one another as I have loved you."   

Think of it this way: When someone says "Offer it up" think "John 13:34: 'Love on another as I have loved you.'"  Offer it up is from my view another way of phrasing Jesus command in the Gospel of John.  




---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Since Christ's redemption is eternal does that mean his suffering is eternal. Since he still has the wounds in his hands do they still hurt?

Answer
Christ suffers vicariously through his Body which is the Church on earth.  Christ dies every time Christians are put to death because of his name.  Christ suffers every time a Christian suffers.

The suffering however is not what is eternal. There will come a time when the world is re-created and suffering and death no longer exist.  

What IS eternal is the outpouring of the life of Christ to God the Father as an expression of his love.  The cross is simply the fullest revelation in the created sphere of what the outpouring of life is and what it means to love.  

The cross isn't just Christ suffering, it is Christ outpouring his life to God the Father. The cross therefore is so much bigger than just Christ suffering and dying and redirecting the wrath of an angry God.  The wounds of Christ reveal that it is through this outpouring (letting go and handing yourselves over to God) leads to life and glorification.  

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Father Dave Bechtel

Expertise

I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.

Experience

I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Education/Credentials
Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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