Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Offering, Abandonment, and Trust

I thought I would say a word or two about offering this evening.

I wrote a chapter in my book Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy (see  entitled "Offering is Not Easy." It was about the difficulty, or more precisely my difficulty, of "offering up" sufferings to God. People who know me, or my book, or this blog, know that I suffer from Chronic Lyme disease as well as various psychiatric problems that may be associated with or exacerbated by it. I read a few things today that provoked me to recognize that--although I have learned a little about offering since I wrote the book--I still have a long road before me.

What have I learned? I think I am more aware of the degree to which trust and abandonment are at the center of offering our suffering to God in union with the Cross of Christ. These things are attitudes of the heart that are not always the focus of consciousness during the actual experience of suffering. They are habits to be cultivated, with dogged persistence, by perseverance in prayer, accountability to other trusted persons, and by the sacraments. These develop consistent dispositions of abandonment and trust, which are more important than any subjective spiritual experience of consolation or security.

One realizes this especially in mental suffering. Unlike physical suffering, which can be in some way "objectified" by the mind, psychological suffering cuts right through the mind, so that the person enduring it often is not consciously aware that their pain is "really" pain--there is the deluded perception of worthlessness, distorted sources of anxiety, and the powerful appearance that what is in one's mind is under one's control. The result is that one attributes the failure to have psychological control to one's own lack of character. It is easy to conclude that one has nothing worthy to offer to God in any of this, while one is going through it.

But abandonment and trust are real things. They grow by being lived, and (mysteriously) by enduring the stripping away of obstacles to them. There is one thing I know: living a life of abandonment to God and trust in God entails walking the path God has given us: prayer, the sacraments, the perspective of others through whom He shows us His mercy. Stay with these things. In mental sufferings, there is sometimes a hidden voice that whispers, "Don't try to be close to God, you hypocrite. Distance yourself from Him. You are not worthy." When you hear that voice, you pray the name of Jesus and you call on St. Michael.

I want to mention one "practice" in particular: the morning offering. It can take various forms, but its essence is to begin the day (as much as possible, "literally," i.e. when you first wake up) with a prayer in which you acknowledge and assent in freedom to the reality that Jesus Christ is the source, the "substance," and the fulfillment of everything that you do and everything that happens to you in the day.

Some twenty years ago, I was at one of those unforgettable gatherings with the great Msgr. Luigi Giussani, and the topic of discussion was something that sounds rather deep -- the "decision for existence." I asked Fr. Giussani how I could make the "decision for existence" in my daily life, and his response was not a philosophical discourse, but something surprisingly simple. He said, "when you wake up every morning, say the Angelus."

And so I have, for the past twenty years. The Angelus itself is a kind of "morning offering" (meditate on the prayer, or--in this season--on the Regina Coeli), although I usually follow it with the morning offering prayer to the Sacred Heart and a few other prayers. I wouldn't do any of this if I did not have at least the beginnings of trust in God, and the desire to be united to Him in Christ Crucified.

And through the years, it has worked its way into my awareness during the day, in moments of trial, and even in the midst of psychological turmoil.

Prayer. Absolutely essential. No matter how you feel.

When I say "Never Give Up" I mean this: Never Give Up on God!