On Holy Thursday, I walked a 14 mile pilgrimage with 200 students from Santa Margarita Catholic High School to the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Depending on how you feel about walking and high schoolers this event might sound either incredible or like the worst idea ever. (It was a gift of an experience.)
I started reading Jesus: A Pilgrimage by Fr. James Martin, SJ the Lent of 2017 with the intention of finishing it by Easter 2017. Which did not happen. In God’s gracious timing, I found myself in the final portion of the book a few weeks ago during Holy Week. The final portion of the book corresponds to Jesus’ journey of the Last Supper, praying in Gethsemane, his suffering, death, and Resurrection.
Fr. Martin’s words on Jesus and the Last Supper spoke right into the pilgrimage, and have been windows for grace to flood into and illuminate less than glamorous moments of daily life.
If you think about Jesus at the Last Supper and then about the Eucharistic prayer at Mass, you will recognize the pattern of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.”” (Italics mine; Matt. 26: 26)
Fr. Martin reflects that while celebrating Mass one day, he realized that Jesus not only said, “This is my body” at the Last Supper, but over and over again during the course of his life. He made an offering of himself over and over again during his life. When he healed- this is my body, given for you. When he taught his disciples about the love of his Father- this is my body, given for you. When he was persecuted by authorities for pushing boundaries, revealing the mercy of the Father- this is my body, given for you. When he helped his mama, Mary around the house- this is my body, given for you. When he was present to his friends in conversation and work- this is my body, given for you.
Pondering how I could be an offering for another person became my prayer for the pilgrimage. Jesus take my joy this pilgrimage as an offering for this particular friend. Jesus take my weariness during this pilgrimage as an offering for my sibling. And Jesus, I don’t know how this works and what you do with my offering, but I trust that in some way unknowable to me, you are taking my offering and somehow grace is being given, being brought into the lives of the people I am praying for.
I’ve found that in offering particular actions or moments to Jesus, something happens within me. I am filled with a sense of freedom, and a sense of joy.
The other night, I was bathing Thomas at the end of a long day, and I felt myself slipping into the mental soundtrack of “I am so tired” on repeat. Instead, I began in my mind and heart, Jesus I offer this cup of water that I’m pouring over Thomas’ shoulders to you. And with every cup of water, I poured, every offering I made, I was filled with joy. Filled with the freedom of forgetting the self in service to another.
When we make offerings of ourselves, maybe it is Jesus who takes us, blesses us, helps us break the sinful habits that bind us, and then gives himself to us as we give ourselves to him.
It is not always easy to offer a moment, action, or thought to Jesus. In fact, more often than not, it is quite difficult. The saying, “Offer it up” seems trite and unhelpful when what you are trying to offer is challenging. For example- chronic illness, the grief of a death, the uncertainty of life’s path, the prisons of addiction and mental illness, loneliness.
Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta gives words to the heart of this matter: “We cannot be free unless we are able to surrender our will freely to the will of God.” The fruit of making an offering is freedom. Exchanging our selfishness, our own desires, our sinfulness, and our destructive tendencies for openness to God’s will. Openness to the will of the one who loves us into existence at every moment, the one who wills our good and our joy.
So perhaps it begins with lovingly giving a bath or preparing dinner; perhaps it begins with patience and presence in a conversation at work; perhaps it begins with loosening the grip on our schedules and our plans in order to make way for the loving will of God.
One moment at a time, let’s open ourselves to the true freedom of an offering.