Our Participation in the Work of Salvation

When I was growing up, if something bad happened and I cried or moped, the Sisters in my grade school would say three words. No, not "get over it," but, "offer it up."  The origin of this practice can be found in the first reading at Mass today (Colossians 1:24-2:3).

St. Paul called himself "a minister in accordance with God's stewardship." He is minister of the Gospel which had been given to him to build up the Church. He was minister of "the mystery of God." What is that mystery?

God is Love. This Love is not so much a noun as a verb, not so much a feeling as action. St. Ignatius wrote that love shows itself better in deeds than in words. It is active. The very nature of God is active love. God has revealed Himself as a Trinity, a Communion of Divine Persons.

This great mystery of the Christian faith--that God is Love, that God is a Trinity of Persons, Three and One--includes humanity.  It is the nature of love to share. God, as it were, goes out of Himself to share existence and life and love with other beings which He has created.  God pours Himself into creation. God loves and in loving desires a return of love that resembles the love between the Father and the Son.  It is to this mystery that Paul has dedicated his life.

Just as the Three Persons of the Trinity are three and one, so God desires union with all creation. God wants to bring all into one. This is the great mystery which Paul writes about elsewhere: "that God may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Our union with God begins at Baptism and is strengthened with each Eucharist.  Through Baptism we are joined to the Body of Christ and in the Eucharist Jesus unites His flesh and blood with ours. This is the mystery Paul writes about in our first reading: "this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you...."

Now we can understand the meaning of the first verses of today's reading: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the affliction of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church...."  Nothing was lacking in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It was sufficient to save the world. But many in the world have not heard this good news and many have rejected it. The world has not accepted the salvation that Christ won for us on the cross.

But we are one with Christ. He is the Head and we are Body. We now play a role in the ongoing salvation of the world, in helping the world to accept the salvation Christ won for us.  The one thing lacking in the sufferings of Christ is our own participation in them. What the Head has done the Body must also do. This doesn't mean we have to go out looking for suffering. It will come our way at one time or another. When it comes we have a choice: to complain and grow bitter or to turn that suffering into a powerful prayer and act of love by uniting it to the cross of Jesus. 

What motivates us to do this, to offer up our suffering? The same thing that motivated St. Paul. In 2 Corinthians 5:14 Paul writes that "the love of Christ impels us." The knowledge of the love of Jesus urges us on; it motivates us to join Him in the work of salvation. One with Jesus, we share His love for those for whom He suffered, died, and rose. 

The love that was within His Heart motivated Jesus to act without delay. In today's Gospel (Luke 6:6-11) there is a story of how Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the sabbath.  In a similar story, a synagogue official complained: "There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day" (Luke 13:14). But Jesus can't wait to heal the afflicted. His love urges Him to act sooner rather than later. 

I'm reminded of what Blessed Antonio Rosmini wrote as a young priest in his personal Rules of Conduct: "To never refuse charitable services toward one's neighbor when divine Providence would offer and present them to me." 

I'm reminded as well of the saint whom we honor today, Peter Claver. The love of Christ urged him to not delay in responding to the needs of the African slaves as they arrived at the port of Cartagena in Colombia. Another Jesuit saint, a brother, St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, taught him about prayer and the love of God. This knowledge motivated Peter to become a missionary, but not in a way he imagined. Inspired by the example of another Jesuit who served the slaves, he gave his life for them. He made a vow to be a slave of the African slaves forever. As the slave ships arrived he ventured into their holds to care for the sick saying that they must first be shown the love of God before they were told of it. 

And so too for us. The love of Christ urges us on as well. It motivates us to lose no opportunity that comes our way to offer up our suffering for the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of all.