“Take It On”

The phrase “offer it up” has been around for a long time. Properly understood, it’s a powerful way of turning “trash” into spiritual treasure, cooperating with God in His mission to make all things work together for good (Romans 8:28) and to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). To “offer it up,” is to unite my sufferings with Jesus’ sufferings on the Cross, especially in the Mass, which is a participation in Jesus’ eternal sacrifice–the only sacrifice with supernatural saving power. By uniting my sufferings to Jesus’ I participate in the release of grace into the world, in the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of souls. That’s powerful! And it gives my suffering meaning and purpose.

Without disparaging any of that, my reading and pondering our identity as members of the Body of Christ (see I Corinthians 12, among others) has suggested an additional perspective.

In the Passion, Jesus’ Body suffered. His back was scourged, His shoulder bore the weight of the cross, His hands and feet were pierced, His Heart was thrust through. As a member of Jesus’ Body, I can expect to share His suffering. Perhaps today I’m His shoulder, weighed down by a heavy burden. Or maybe I’m His hand, pierced and bleeding. Whatever the case, if I am to remain in union with Him I need to “take it on”.

When we suffer, there’s a sense in which we’re like Simon of Cyrene, forced to pick up a cross. We can do so unwillingly, or we can choose to “take it on.”

There is a natural human response to want to absorb the suffering of one we love. “Oh, if only I could take that suffering for you.” Jesus fulfills that longing. He doesn’t leave us as helpless spectators on the outside looking in. No, we can’t substitute for Christ. But we can unite with Him. We can suffer in Him and with Him as members of His Body in communion with Him.

The sense in which we “offer it up” is the sense in which we realize that it’s not our suffering, but His. The sense in which we “take it on” is the sense in which we take our place as members of the Body of Christ in His Passion.

This ties in directly with the distinction between
a “replacement sacrifice” versus a “representative sacrifice”:

The history of man and his religion
is the story of his efforts to reunite himself with the divine.
To bring about this reunion, man offers a gift to the gods,
but in the end realizes that nothing less
than the gift of himself will suffice.
And insofar as man is not usually willing
to offer his complete self to the deity,
he searches to find a gift, an offering,
a sacrifice that “represents” himself.
A true representative gift
is one in which the giver is in some way present in his gift;
in this way the gift truly represents man
in his attempt to give himself to God.
Not all gifts, however, can be classified in this way,
for in some gifts man is not present in the offering.
These gifts are called by Cardinal Ratzinger
“replacement gifts,”
where the offerer is not present in his gift,
even though on the surface he believes himself to be
(Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p36).
The distinction, then, is this:
the “representative sacrifice”
truly symbolizes man’s genuine and heartfelt desire
to give himself over, to unite himself to God,
to divinize himself:  in a word, to “sacrifice.”
The “replacement sacrifice,” on the contrary,
is a mere empty sign or gesture
of man’s supposed desire for reunion;
the replacement sacrifice is a replacement of man,
and “worship with replacement
turns out to be a replacement for worship.
Somehow the real thing is missing”
(Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p36).
It is these latter sacrifices
that the prophets seek to correct.
-Christopher Carstens & Douglas Martis,
Mystical Body, Mystical Voice:
Encountering Christ
in the Words of the Mass, p21

When we “take on” suffering as members of the Body of Christ,
we are present in our sacrifice,
in our offering to God.
It brings us into communion with Him,
the union with the divine for which we were created.
It fulfills our destiny.

In addition, it builds up the Body of Christ.
We are not only united to the Head (Jesus–see Ephesians 5:23), but to all the other members as well, throughout time and eternity. When we “take it on,” we never suffer alone, nor are the effects of our suffering limited to ourselves. A “great cloud of witnesses” cheers us on (see Hebrews 12:1).

In my own sufferings (small and not so small),
I’m learning to both “offer it up”, and “take it on.”

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