My journal entry a few months ago. Pardon its form, as it is a meandering reflection:
If I could find a way to see this straight
I’d run away
To some fortune that I, I should have found by now
And so I run now to the things they said could restore me
Restore life the way it should be. – Young the Giant, “Cough Syrup“
I love praying the Morning Offering every day. “O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you…”
But I have always wanted to pray a morning offering that included the vision of the lay vocation to consecrate the world to God and, as Vatican II said it, “prepare material for the celestial realm.” In other words, a morning offering that included in its scope the full dignity of the baptized whom Christ has empowered to lift up, with His priestly authority, the whole of the material creation, along with all of its human cultivators, into the Age to Come; into the new creation.
With our lives joined to Jesus’ saving sacrifice by faith, hope and love, we save not only souls, but those souls’ bodies and the whole material universe implicated in those bodies. Just as with Jesus, our bodies will rise again in the new creation, and the matter, energy and forces that constitute our bodies now will not be left behind. Passing through His death and resurrection, they will be taken up into the new creation built on Jesus’ risen body. As my moral theology prof once said it: “Jesus still ate fish sandwiches after he rose.” Or again, Bishop N.T. Wright:
Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. The resurrection, God’s recreation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last and be enhanced in God’s new world.
What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.
When I came back to the faith, the priest that received my sacramental confession taught me the marvelous pious phrase, “offer it up” as a way to spiritually channel my frustration with life’s difficulties. I remember asking him, “And where does it go when I offer it up? And what does God do with it?” He explained the beautiful teaching that God uses our crosses to do good for others, as in Colossians 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” But it was not until years later, when I was made privy to Vatican II’s vision of our lives as “preparing material for the celestial realm” that “offer it up” came to rock my world. It finally made sense for me of the 2-part plan of God: first earth, then heaven.
I’d always puzzled over why God didn’t just put humanity in the finished product of heaven, making us first go through this “valley of tears.” None of the responses I had heard — e.g. earth as Plan A, heaven as Plan B; earth as freedom’s “testing ground” — fully satisfied my puzzlement. Then one day … I received an insight that shed blinding light on everything (Acts 9:3). I remember very well the day I heard this simple medieval story in a public lecture by a philosopher:
There were two men hauling stones through a muddy medieval street. One was cursing and the other was singing. A traveler asked them what they were doing. The curser replied, “I’m trying to get this damned rock to roll through this damned mud!” The singer replied, “I’m building a cathedral.”
My God That’s it! We’re building a cathedral! The Age to Come is a magnificent cathedral, a new creation which God only wished to create with us. Jesus is God co-creating a new world with man. So all that we “offer up” with Jesus is entrusted into the new creation “which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4). “Kept in heaven for you” refers to the whole of humanity, as all the treasures we give God in our daily offering overflow back into this world and give others a foretaste of the Coming Age: “…no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4).
Our present struggle to bring healing, reconciliation, peace, generosity, justice, love or beauty into this world now, God passes through His Fire to make of our labors and sufferings imperishable gold and He renders it life-giving for all (1 Cor. 3:15). “For justice is undying” (Wisdom 1:15). All the “material” we daily gather and offer up — the material of the new creation we are co-fashioning with God — returns back into this creation now, as God so desires, and consecrates it.
This, it seems to me, is why in the Mass the bread and wine are consecrated only after we have sacrificially handed over to God, in the Offertory, all of our life’s treasures. In Communion we recive not only Christ the Head of the Church, but the whole Christ, Head and Body, who comes to us laden with all of the riches He has been given by men and women of all time. In heaven, I hope we will be able to see clearly just how insanely interconnected we are to all other things, how God has arranged creation so that no one of us can ever boast of needing no one, of rugged self-reliance or having “gone it alone” (1 Cor. 12!). I think of the stunned awe I’ll have when God reveals to us that those we may have despised in life were the very ones He used to carry us along (Luke 10:25-37!).
I just thought: Muriel [A dear friend of our family in my childhood] told me she offered to God her terrible sufferings for me, and I have always believed my return to the faith in 1987 was, by God’s good pleasure, born of the fruits of her self-offering. God seems to love to draw His most magnificent creations out of the ugliest elements (her heart disease) of this fallen world. The Tree of Life is the Cross! O paradox!
I also think Indulgences are really nothing more than that: the new creation’s overflowing treasury of merits, amassed by Jesus and all His saints, flooding back into this world and readying it (us) for the life of the resurrection.
God gives us the dignity, as His image and likeness in the world, of co-creating our eternal Home with Him. And that new world, as was the case with the resurrection of Jesus’ lifeless corpse, is “made out of” the material of our broken, bloodied, wounded, death-riddled world. God takes that messy material, the “bread and wine” produced by our lives, and transforms and transubstantiates it in the Mass. The Spirit transubstantiates it by passing it through the sacrifice of the God-Man. This love remakes all things new, since the energy that suffuses the new creation is that selfless love that hung on the Tree in the new Eden; in Golgotha’s Garden (John 19:41).
As Paul says in Romans 8:18ff, this cosmos is one great labor and delivery room in which humanity, with God (Emmanuel!), is daily conceiving, gestating and giving birth to a co-fashioned new heaven and new earth.
And in the Mass, all the “rolling stones” consecrated by my humble offering, joined to the offerings of all others’ present, are presented with the Gifts of bread-wine-alms and laid on the altar to be consumed by heaven’s Fire beneath the hands of the ordained minister. There it is transubstantiated into the substantially new immortal Kingdom where neither rust nor worm can destroy the treasures we have stored up; where the justice of God abides.
Just last week I offered at Mass, in particular, our family day of service at the Feed Jesus homeless shelter, followed by an afternoon of board games and pizza and playing music and laughing until midnight. And then I recalled that father-daughter dance in 2009, and offered that as well. Those days. O Lord, I never wish to die. May they be there waiting for me, for us, for all, and for you, O immortal lover of mankind.
So here’s what I wrote for my own devotion. It’s very simple, not as rich as the other, but that’s as I like my prayer. Simple.
at the dawn
of this new day
make of my life
a living sacrifice
acceptable to you.
May my life
be at each moment
your Fire cast out
into the world,
to the service
of your Kingdom.
Through my life,
joined to your Cross,
gather the good
and the wicked into
your merciful Heart.
Through my life,
joined to your Cross,
transfigure all creation
into that new creation
where, with the Father
and the Holy Spirit,
all the lost are found
and you are all in all.