In the last post, we defined lenten fasting in the broad sense of anything that we give up for part or all of the holy season. This could be certain types of food, favorite entertainment, or even recreational shopping. We even suggested “mini-fasts” of simply delaying some pleasurable thing for five or ten minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour before finally indulging. It all counts as denying our desires, strengthening our wills and uniting ourselves to the suffering Christ.

But there’s more! This 40 day slog of Giving Stuff Up will mean so much more to you if –to borrow a phrase from bad internet ads–use this one weird trick.

Offer it up.

It’s a common Catholic phrase. “Offer it up,” is what Mom, or Grandma, or maybe a Catholic school teacher would tell us when we skinned a knee or had to go to the dentist, or simply learned that we were not going to get out way about something. Unfortunately, many of us don’t know what that really means. To many, it’s just a Catholic version of “Tough luck–deal with it.”  And that’s wrong.

To offer up our suffering is to turn our pain–small or great–into a kind of prayer. And that applies just as much to the unwanted suffering that comes our way as to the voluntary suffering that we take on by lenten fasting. To “offer up” suffering means to make the intention of uniting our pain  to the sufferings of Christ, in order to join Him in the work of saving humankind. He allows us the tremendous privilege of making these  small, imperfect offerings alongside of His perfect, infinite offering. Because we are members of His Mystical Body, the Church, our suffering becomes His suffering, and His becomes ours.

So how do you you “offer it up”? It’s easy. Whenever you notice that your lenten sacrifices are making you feel hungry, or irritated, or inconvenienced in any way, just say, “Lord, I offer this to you, for [add some intention, such as the conversion of someone who has left the Church, in reparation for my own  past sins,  or for the souls in purgatory, for an unborn baby in danger of abortion, for someone’s healing from physical or mental illness, etc.]

Or lean by heart the offering prayer taught to the children of Fatima by the Blessed Mother: “Oh my Jesus, I offer this up for the love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

And remember, you don’t have to take on all sorts of extra penances just to have something to “offer up”. Everything unpleasant that happens– from a stubbed toe to an overdue bill notice to a cancer diagnosis–can be become an offering to God to repair the damage done by sin and to convert souls to Christ.