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A few hours before the Great Pre-Mass Shoe Hunt began, my friend texted me a prayer request. She and her family were going to make yet another attempt at reconciling with some estranged relatives, and she asked if I could keep her in my prayers.
“On it,” I texted back, followed by one of my absolutely favorite phrases I’ve picked up since my conversion: “I’ll offer up evening Mass with all the kids for you.”
“I’ll offer up X” is one of the jewels in the crown of Catholicism. In my pre-Catholic days, I had no language for the occurrence of suffering. There was no logic in it. If God was all good, and all loving, why did he let bad things happen? There was no benefit to suffering, and pointless suffering is the only kind that humans cannot bear.
So when I converted, and the concept of redemptive suffering – of joining our pain with that of Christ’s for the glory of God and the salvation of souls – was explained, it was like a secret level on a video game had been revealed. Now, if I only remembered, I could take anything – from the mundane aches and pains of daily life all the way to the heartbreak of staggering loss – and offer it up. I could give a point to my pain.
I live in the diocese of Hartford, Connecticut, which still observes Ascension Thursday on the traditional day. My husband had a rare evening off work, so I struck while the iron was hot and planned for us to fulfill our Holy Obligation by attending the vigil Mass on Wednesday night.
I don’t know about your family or your parish, but a vigil Mass means two things around here: 1. The kids will be simultaneously overtired and amped up so their behavior will verge on psychotic, and 2. All the cranky older people go to Vigil Mass. They attend that Mass, I suspect, in order to avoid insane, overtired children who do not generally go to Vigil Masses.
Still, it was either go to Vigil Mass as a family, or miss it altogether because, though I may be superwoman, not even I can singlehandedly wrestle all six kids by myself at church.
We went to Vigil Mass.
I kept thinking about my friend and her painful family reunion. I was going to offer up anything – anything – my kids threw at me during Mass for her intention. And with that thought firmly in mind, I smiled my way through the Gloria while the baby shoved first one finger, then her whole fist into my mouth. I kept a blissful gaze on the Cross while the five year old suddenly contracted narcolepsy and began leaning on me, then his siblings, then slowly melted down to the floor, where his younger brother began kicking him. Barefooted. Because his shoes had been shoved into a misalette. I offered it up. I offered up the heck out of it.
Then, when our quasi-potty trained three-year-old turned to me and yell-whispered, “I have to pee!” I embraced this further opportunity for mortification. I nodded at my oldest, who had been sending out quieter, more subtle “I have to pee” signals, and she took her brother to the bathroom. I smiled serenely at the elderly lady in the row in front of us, who had been disturbed by the four year old’s attempts to steal her umbrella, and turned to scowl her displeasure at my offspring.
I was an offering-it-up machine.
Then, during the Prayers of the Faithful, my son and daughter emerged from the bathroom. In an attempt to lead him back to his seat, my oldest appeared to be pulling the three year old in what she probably thought was an unobtrusive manner, but really just looked like she was roping a calf. The toddler, in protest, flopped on the floor and yelled, “I not pee in potty! I need to go back and pee in potty!”
This clear expression of his bodily needs was, of course, delivered during a moment of complete silence.
Floating on a cloud of offering-it-up glory, I calmly walked over to my thrashing child, picked him up, and took him to the bathroom. He calmed down and gave me to opportunity to offer up having pee splash all over my hand.
We returned to our pew, followed by roughly fifty pairs of irritated eyes, and I got to offer up a dozen more things ranging from one paper cut, two fingers smashed in the kneeler, and an intense debate about whether the visiting celebrant was a cardinal or a bishop, and if he was a cardinal, did I think he voted for Pope Francis?
After Mass, as my husband drove home along dusky roads, I texted my friend: “Probably banned from all future Masses at St. Cat’s. Children particularly awful. But I offered it up. In fact, I offered up so much that your family will have no choice but to reconcile. Yes, you guys will reconcile whether you want to or not, that’s how bad Mass was.”
Offering it up. Like a boss.