“Offer it up.” This three-word phrase was commonplace in my upbringing. A hardship comes along? Offer it up. You’re made to obey against your preference? Offer it up.
Behind these three words, there is actually a beautiful understanding of our connection to Christ and the salvific potential of suffering as Christians. In Lumen Gentium, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council teach:
For besides intimately linking them [i.e., the laity] to His [i.e., Christ’s] life and His mission, He also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. (LG 34)
In other words, the laity share in Christ’s priesthood, and by this sharing, they can offer up spiritual worship. The Fathers then go on to enumerate examples of what can be offered up:
For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (LG 34; 1 Peter 2:5)
These examples seem rather expected except for one: “physical and mental relaxation.” For all the times I was told to “offer it up,” it was never while I was relaxing. Of course, there is something very important to offering up “the hardships of life.” Such hardships are naturally unpleasant, and thus a sacrificial spirit can imbue them with meaning. Relaxation, by contrast, is naturally pleasant, and requires no more tinkering. But what are we to make of offering up relaxation?
At the foundation, there is gratitude. When life is pleasant, we can offer thanks to God who wondrously created us out of love. With the eyes of faith, we can appreciate moments of relaxation as coming from the hand of our loving Father.
Even more, God has offered us friendship through Jesus Christ. He shares his life with us, and desires that we share ours. What a strange friendship it would be if we only shared our agonizing moments! Rather, we can offer our relaxation to God by inviting him into these moments as our welcome guest.
These are points for meditation at the beginning of summer, as many people enjoy vacation getaways and family barbeques. We can offer these up by thanking the Lord and inviting him into these moments.
Lumen Gentium adds another important pair of sentences. The Fathers write: “Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, [the spiritual sacrifices of the laity] are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist” (LG 34). Thus, we offer our relaxation to God in the moment, as well as at Mass, in union with Christ’s self-offering in the Eucharist.
So, as you plan your next vacation, don’t forget to pack your Bible and your rosary, and make sure to find the Mass times at the local parish. And by all means, offer it up.