I am pretty sure I will spend a good deal of time in Purgatory for the amount of food I have wasted. I don’t mind throwing away the dregs of an Easter basket or cheese doodles and processed cupcakes left over from the grandparents’ visit. These can hardly be considered food in the first place. What strikes at my conscience is the times I am forced to throw away a quarter pound of expired lunch meat that I forgot about or a half of a bag of browning broccoli from the warehouse club that I neglected to prepare in time. Then there are the hotdog or hamburger buns left from some event that mold before we have hotdogs again, or the worst- the dumping of the tupperware from the back of the fridge that is full of, now what was that?. During the gag-inducing fridge purge I always pray for mercy. I ask Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who would have gladly served my forgotten food in its better days, to intercede for those who go hungry around the world and in my own town. And to win me the grace of better meal planning and discipline so that next time I clean the fridge I don’t fill the trash can to overflowing.
No one buys food at the grocery store with the intention of tossing it, or prepares a meal with the intention of putting it in the back of the fridge for three months and then flushing it. But many of us do just that. I read a women’s magazine article that stated Americans typically toss 10% of the food they buy. The stat sickened me. Not only for the fact that someone went through the trouble of growing or raising that food, or the fact that someone is hungry right now for lack of food, but for the irony of the fact that I often stand in front of two products trying to compare cost per ounce to save a few bucks. What good is it to double my 25 cent coupon when I am throwing away 10 dollars worth of food in one cleaning spree? To waste food is just that: an all around waste.
If we are good at wasting valuable food, we are even better at wasting something more valuable yet: suffering. At this point you may be thinking, “Suffering? I thought she was going to say ‘time’, or ‘talent’ or even ‘last month’s rollerover minutes’. What good is suffering at all and how does one waste it?” I’m glad you asked!
If you’ve read my blog before you may have heard this before, but it bears repeating. Suffering is a deprivation of a good that one ought to have. It doesn’t have existence unto itself, much the same as cold is the absence of heat or darkeness the absence of light. We suffer when we do not have health or companionship or physical necessities. Note also that we only suffer the lack of things that are proper to us. I do not suffer for lack of wings, for example, since I ought not have them. Lop off my leg, however, and suffering will follow.
Bear with me for a moment, and let’s follow this line of thinking to the end. Think about the best good there is. That would be God, the source of Goodness itself. The worst suffering then, would be to be deprived of this, and for eternity. That is called hell. The means by which we go about bringing this worst suffering upon ourselves is called “dying in unrepentant grave sin”.
So if it wasn’t before, it’s clear what suffering is. And we all know that it touches every one of us in various ways at various times in our lives. But, how could it possibly be valuable? The answer is that on it’s own, it is not. There is nothing inherently wonderful about loneliness, hunger or pain. We detest and attempt to avoid it. This is part of our defense mechanism. But think about the minor, or even grave, sufferings you are willing to endure for a greater good. This is evident in everything from cleaning out a child’s cut to undergoing chemotherapy. If it’s necessary for the life or well being of those we love most, we will put up with just about anything.
This is what Jesus was thinking when He left heaven to live in suffering and poverty for 33 years only to have it all end by being subjected to the most humiliating and barbaric death on the books. It was necessary for those He loved most. You and me. He understood that the worst of all sufferings for you and for me (hell, remember), could only be prevented by His life, death and resurrection. By His death, Jesus offers the just penalty for sin, in its perfection. He also loves the Father, in His flesh, with perfect love that we in our fallen state could not attain. Jesus’ suffering had great worth, as it attained for us the best good– heaven!
This is where our suffering gets its merit. Jesus’ sacrifice is perfect, but in His mercy, He leaves it open for us to participate in “what is lacking” in His own suffering. There is room on that Cross for my deep losses and my daily irritations. These, offered in union with the Passion of Christ, can help bring about the mission that He came to accomplish: our sanctification. Wow.
Have you ever thought about why Mary was told at the Presentation that a sword would pierce her heart? Lucky for me my Mariology professor had. For 33 years, she was holding that phrase of Simeon’s in her heart. For 33 years pondering the untold suffering her son would endure. Why would God do that to her? To prepare her, for one. But for another, I think, because God knew she wouldn’t waste a moment of that suffering and He knew how much we would need the graces that she would merit for us.
But how much more like me and my fridge are we usually than like our Blessed Mother? How many conversions are still waiting to be won because we responded to a difficulty with despair or anger instead of offering it as a gift back to Jesus? Fr. Elbee in his book, I Believe in Love says, “In the apostolate, the price of souls is suffering, offered in love.” And sometimes it is the daily trials that we waste the most. I know in my own life, my deepest sorrows have been easier to offer up than the trial of finding that my husband and son have just eaten popcorn over my freshly vacuumed carpet, again.
So, in this most busy time of year, let’s try to see our sufferings as a treasure chest of grace waiting to be released into the world. And, for heaven’s sake, eat that meatloaf before it goes bad!