With the Easter season upon us, some of us find the transition from Lenten penances to Easter jubilation uneasy in the spiritual life. In my experience, I finally get my penances down pat when suddenly Easter is upon me and I find myself thinking, "Ok, now what?" For me, penances are an anchor to my spiritual life, but they just don't have quite the same meaning at Easter time. How do I focus my spiritual energies during seasons of celebration?
We can find an answer in the Morning Offering: "Oh Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my...joys." My joys? What does it mean to offer Him my joys? Offering penances, sufferings, acts of self-denial or almsgiving I understand. These practices are tangible. They are also difficult and hard sought—a substantial gift to offer Our Lord. Sufferings and mortifications have such power when offered in union with Christ's Suffering on the Cross. But offering my joys? What does this mean?
I came to one understanding of the joys we receive and their place in the spiritual life while reflecting on the tragedies in our world and in our lives. On this particular occasion, I had just learned of yet another grievous occurrence in the world and once again I was paralyzed mentally, emotionally, and spiritually by the violence and evil involved. I wondered how I could possibly go on living a normal life when so many others in the world were experiencing such horrific injustice and violence. I knew that such news should change people, should move us deeply, but what could I do? I prayed, "God, what can I do? Please, what can I do?"
There are many different things that can and must be done and each of us are called to respond in different ways according to our vocations and stages in our lives; however, in that moment I suddenly received a very particular inspiration, as if from the Lord: Give Me your joy, your wholeness, your tender disposition. For I am so tortured and broken in each and every one of those millions who are abused and slaughtered both in your homeland and abroad. Give Me the joys of your family life, for I am so broken in the families—the fathers, mothers, children—destroyed by senseless violence. At that moment I saw that mystically joined to Christ on the cross was all the sufferings every human being would ever experience. For the first time, I, who always thought the only meritorious offering was one that was hard to give, realized the incredible value of offering Jesus not just our sufferings and mortifications, but also our holy joys—the joys we receive for trying to live a virtuous life. By offering your joys, you are offering Him your life of virtue. It is an oblation of tender love for Our Lord. The ease with which we offer our joys reminds us that everything we offer first came from Him. We have nothing, but for the Lord. For this reason, offering our joys is also a prayer of thanksgiving.
For the Palm Sunday Mass of the Lord's Passion, I was visiting Holy Spirit Parish in Fountain Valley, California. Fr. Daniel Wilder provided an apt reflection. As have many saints including St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Teresa of Avila, Fr. Wilder encouraged us to use all of the faculties of our souls in our prayers and offerings to God, including our imaginations. So I ask you, dear reader, to do the same as I relate an approximation of Fr. Wilder's reflection:
Imagine Jesus on the cross. Feel yourself there—the sounds, the dark clouds, the cold air.
Now place a ladder up toward the cross and climb up very close to Jesus.
Lay your head upon His Shoulder. As you embrace Him, feel the Sweat and Blood penetrate your own clothes, sense His trembling Body and cold Skin, feel His Cheek against your own.
Whisper into His Ear, "I love You, my Jesus."
Then, as He labors to turn His Precious Head to look at you, gaze into His swollen Eyes and pour out to Him all your trials and sufferings. Hear what He would say to you.
Then, with thanksgiving, tell Him of all your joys—the little holy joys you received this day as well as the deeper joys of your life and your vocation. Offer Him the very sources of true joy in your life: the joy of being unconditionally loved by God, the joy of God dwelling within, the joy received from trusting in God and from doing good, and the joy received from prayer—from communication and communion with God (Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Called to Be Holy). Again, hear what He would say to you.
May our offerings console You, oh Lord, and may the merits of our lives of virtue alleviate the sufferings of those in whom You reside, "these least brothers" of Yours (Mt 25:40).
Comments, Questions, Suggestions:
Contact me at Serviam.M@gmail.com
Dolan, Timothy. Called to Be Holy. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 2005.
"Meet our Priests and Deacons." Holy Spirit Catholic Church. 2016. Web. Accessed 30 March 2016.