“Christian perfection consists in three things: praying heroically, working heroically, and suffering heroically.”
–St. Anthony Mary Claret
When I moved to New York City, I knew no one–ok, I knew one guy, but he was dating a jealous girlfriend who made sure I never saw him–so I was lonely a lot.
I remember singing the Ave Maria to myself as I wandered the city streets, to remind myself that even though no one was physically by my side, God, his Blessed Mother, and my Guardian Angel were always with me.
That still makes me laugh. Not because it’s crazy, but because it’s so trusting. Sometimes, I surprise myself.
At some point during this time, I must’ve been reading one of my favorite books: Purgatory: Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints by Fr. F.X. Schouppe, SJ, in which the author discusses a prayer called the Heroic Act of Charity for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. One day, when I must’ve been feeling really brave or blessed, I prayed it:
“O Holy and Adorable Trinity, desiring to co-operate in the deliverance of the souls in Purgatory, and to testify my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I cede and renounce in behalf of those holy souls all the satisfactory part of my works, and all the suffrages which may be given to me after my death, consigning them entirely into the hands of the most Blessed Virgin, that she may apply them according to her good pleasure to those souls of the faithful departed whom she desires to deliver from their sufferings. Deign, O my God, to accept and bless this offering which I make to Thee at this moment. Amen.”
This was some seventeen years ago. I still remember praying that prayer. In fact, I remembered it yesterday, when I was thinking about heroic suffering, and trying to find a way to explain to my husband how he should see the benefits of his suffering as opposed to the negatives, and how he might use his suffering for the help of others. (This is discussed beautifully in one of today’s guest posts).
But first, the prayer. What is it saying?
It’s saying that by praying this prayer, we are telling God that we want the credit for all of our “works of satisfaction” to be given to the Blessed Mother, who will then disburse them as she sees fit to those suffering souls in Purgatory who need them.
It’s like a spiritual donation. Instead of giving money, we’re giving up our sufferings and meritorious works. As Father Schouppe says:
It is an absolute donation in favor of the souls of all that we can give them; we offer to God in their behalf all the good we do, of what kind soever, either in thought, words or works, all that we suffer meritoriously during this life, without excepting anything that we may reasonably give them, and adding even those suffrages which we may receive for ourselves after death.
Pretty hefty, huh? Yeah, I was brave when I was young.
Of course, as hefty as this promise sounds, it’s not inflexible. According to Father Schouppe, we can still pray for whoever we want and we can revoke the promise any time. Also, he reminds us that:
The Heroic Act does not subject us to the direful consequences of having to undergo a long Purgatory ourselves; on the contrary, it allows us to rely with more assured confidence on the mercy of God in our regard….
I forgot that the prayer was revokable. Not that I’d want to revoke it, but, I don’t know, knowing that somehow makes making the sacrifice feel more doable. Like I have a choice. But that’s the kind of person that I am. I revel in challenges. Give me something hard to do and something heroic to do it for, and I shine. Not everyone is like that, though, and, truth be told, I’ve never been given anything truly difficult to handle.
Not like the 21 martyrs who were mercilessly killed because of their faith. Apparently, before they died, they said, “Jesus help me”.
I’ve never had to deal with something like that, thank God, and I pray I never do. But it makes me wonder… if I did, would I behave as heroically?
Earlier this week, I was speaking about this with a dear friend who has been enduring her own prolonged suffering, and she said something wise, as she always does.
Everybody’s cross can’t be the same… it’s the willingness to pick it up and move with it that matters.
That’s the key, isn’t it? To pick up the cross that we’ve been given and get going.
I’m amazed at how many of my friends have recently told me of their own sufferings. They’re all different–one friend’s mother is ill, for another friend it’s her husband, and yet another, his niece. God doesn’t give us all cancer or multiple sclerosis or ALS. He doesn’t give us all strokes or heart attacks. And, thank God, not all of us have to die by beheading. But as another one of my wise friends said to me as we discussed the meaning of life, the universe, and everything:
We’re ALL terminal.
We’re all dying. And let’s face it: we’re all suffering, too.
So what are we gonna do about it?
The thing I love about my faith is that it gives me something to do. It gives my life purpose. Every stupid little stinking thing that happens in my life could be one more reason why life sucks or it could be the opportunity for me to make a HEROIC ACT. I am the one who gets to decide which it’s going to be.
God, that makes me so happy. When I remember it.
One of my favorite saints, St Josemaria Escriva, wrote about what he called The Heroic Minute:
The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and… up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body.
—The Way, #206
What is so heroic about waking up in the morning?
Well, let’s all be honest: which of you jumps out of bed upon hearing that alarm or upon waking in the morning? I know I don’t. I linger in bed. Sometimes, I pray I never have to get out of it. I love my bed.
But how awesome is it to make that one act an act of sacrifice?
Last night, as I struggled to explain to my husband why he should see his current suffering as a gift, why he should see his pain and fear as a tool that he might employ in the salvation of others… I had to compare it to a superhero power.
This Lent, as you offer up your chocolate and sugar and baked goods and meat and time, remember that your offering is only the first step of the superpower that we all can make use of: Redemptive Suffering. By putting our pains and struggles in the hands of our loving God, and trusting that He will use them to change the hearts and minds of people around the world, we are also giving Him license to change our hearts and minds in the process, making us more loving, generous souls.
As far as I’m concerned, that is the real definition of dying with dignity.
Have a blessed Lent everyone. See you on the other side.