If I had to think about 3 stereotypes that would tell anyone they are around Catholics, it’d be the rosary, making the sign of the Cross seemingly all the time, and telling someone to “offer it up” when something goes wrong. It’s also one of the least understood theological issues in popular Catholicism, or at least it took Fr Bartunek to explain it to me because nobody else until then could. In short, it’s a prayer that unites us with the suffering of Christ on the Cross. We do it intentionally whenever something we don’t want happens, no matter how small. Or should I say “they”, since I am really bad at doing this…
To be fair, I may not be as bad as I think…yes, I am bad at “offering it up”, but I’ve also been really intentional about embracing God’s will in my life even when my natural will doesn’t want it (which is like, all the time), and that’s a part of it. It’s about rebuilding the trust that original sin has broken, and I have big-time trust issues so it’s been a constant of my spiritual life that I need to grow in my knowledge of the Lord and therefore in my trust in Him. This week in Love Blog is becoming a theme…anyway, I associate in my mind those who offer it up with strength, which puts me by default in the opposite category.
I see so much strength in people who approach any difficulty as a blessing in the spirit of Philippians 4:13 (I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength), perhaps because it is the supernatural strength of the Lord that shines in them. I admire their ability to be like an infant, totally reliant on the goodness of God for everything that they do. It’s so countercultural not to want to be the boss of our lives, that I can’t help but seeing it as interior strength that they can just do so. The world may see weakness, but they have the strength to resist the temptations to doubts and self-reliance that want to drive a wedge between us and God.
This summer, I went to Scotland for my friend Helen’s confirmation and we both went to Carfin, where the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux started their Scottish tour. The beautifully carved box that took centre stage in the round chapel looked like it could have contained the relics of another saint who she must be close to, St Joan of Arc. I am always struck by St Thérèse’s pictures dressed as her in a play, I feel it takes me full circle: as a girl, I, too, wanted to do grandiose gestures and if not lead an army to save a country, an adventure and some power would have been nice. I would have never picked someone nicknamed “The Little Flower” as a role model. It would be years before I learnt the reality behind the nickname and loved St Thérèse as the sister I never had.
What kind of demure person walks up to the Pope and breaks the rules about speaking to him to ask him to let her enter the Carmel? She was very much the fiery spirit of a woman who could lead an army into battle if God had asked that of her. We share a birthday, so if there was any merit in astrology I could dismiss it as all 3 of us being standard stubborn Capricorns (St Joan of Arc was born 4 days after our shared date). I wonder if God gave the first week of January to His little pioneers after all, and it so happens that the mythology built around it picked up a shard of truth. We truly are all three alike.
I have a long way to go before I will see the raw marble into a statue, while they grasped the truth of God much earlier than I (who are still working on separating the internalised messages of my upbringing from the way I look at the Lord), but there are enough similarities for me to look up to them as the future I want, rather than dismiss the journey to sainthood as something for those who didn’t have what it takes to make it in the “real world” (and yes, if you are now thinking of St Ignatius of Loyola, so am I). The sterilised images of Our Lady, another strong woman, that are popular in religious art have never appealed to me. If I had seen femininity as just that I would find it really hard to embrace being a woman.
What these saints (and all the saints) have in common is that they offered it all up, the big things and the small ones. All their lives were an offering to God, where they emptied themselves in order to achieve a higher goal than they could have chosen for themselves. St Thérèse’s autobiography reports a number of occasions of daily annoyances in the convent which make her much more relatable than many spiritual works (looking at you, Thomas à Kempis). We often think of the need for strength in the big things, like illnesses and bereavement, but I think it takes as much strength to share your life with someone that annoys you and not only you don’t get annoyed, but you also find it in yourself to serve them with a joyful heart.
I’m like the baby who screams and wails when you hold her, but I know that if I just trust and stay still I can do things that my little body can’t achieve. I can walk miles in the arms of my Father, while I can crawl a little on my own. I know it intellectually, but it takes strength to let go of what has been a constant of my life for so long, and embrace something new and unknown.
Today’s blog post has been part of the Love Blog Challenge 2020 on the subject “Strength”. Find the rest of the series here