One of my favourite stories about St. Thérèse of Lisieux goes like this: one day the Little Flower was happily munching on a cream cake. She was then confronted by a fellow nun, who admonished her for doing something so frivolous and indulgent: “if you were a saint, you wouldn’t be enjoying that!” (Apparently food shaming was a thing in the 19th century as well. Who knew?)
Thérèse, however, refused to be chagrined. “I am offering it up to God!” she cried, before continuing to eat her cake. You go, girl.
Thérèse’s theology wasn’t quite as far out as one might think. As Catholics, ‘offer it up to God’ has become an almost canned answer we give to anyone who is experiencing pain or difficulties in this life. If we’re not careful, we end up not only minimising what the person is going through but also creating the false impression that God is pleased by it, which is absolutely not the case. God is good and delights in all that is good, true and beautiful. Therefore, only good things should be offered up to Him. He’s no happier with our stomach bug, sciatica, financial troubles or disappointments than we are. What we offer up, then, is not the unpleasant event or feeling but our willingness to endure it, as Christ endured His cross, for the redemption of souls. Doing so is an act of selfless love, and this is something God can delight in.
If only good things should be offered up to God, then, is it so far-fetched to believe that one can offer up the childlike joy and delight that comes with eating a cream cake? Even under the Old Covenant, there was a precedent for eating some of the animals that were sacrificed to God (have a look at Leviticus 6 if you can stomach it). The Hebrew word for sacrifice is korban, which has its roots in le-karev – to come close. The ritual of sacrificing an animal and eating it in God’s presence was about coming into Communion with God – a ritual we now repeat every time we offer and eat our Paschal Lamb, Christ. By doing so, we share a meal with our Creator, an image in Scripture which is used to denote the intimate fellowship He desires to have with us (see Revelation 3: 20).
Understanding this, there may be no limits concerning what we can offer up to God, whether it’s the smell of freshly-baked bread, the feeling of grass under our bare feet in summer, the love we share and the fun we have with our spouse, relatives or friends. God loves His children and wants us to be happy, but He’s not content to stand back and watch from a distance. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit precisely so that we could experience the joy of a life shared with Him and that He could experience the joy of a life shared with us. He wants to walk in nature with you and take delight in the look on your face as you stop to admire the flowers and trees. He wants to laugh with you, play games with you, make dinner with you, read books and watch movies (clean ones! 😉 ) with you. He wants to splash in puddles with you and listen to the rain falling on the roof, watch over you at night and sing over you as you wake up in the morning. All of life's good gifts, then, provide us with the opportunity to have Communion with God.
I like to think that Jesus of Nazareth was a man who knew and understood this. Close your eyes, if you will, and ask the Holy Spirit to take you to the Wedding at Cana. What do you see? Is Jesus sitting, sour-faced and disapproving, in a corner as He waits for the wine to run out? No. Jesus hasn’t even noticed, because He’s far too busy dancing, singing and having fun with His family and friends. Providing wine is the responsibility of the Bridegroom. It’s not Jesus’ wedding yet and therefore not His problem. Yet provide the wine He does, and it’s the best they’ve ever tasted. Our God is not stingy. He does all things well.
Like Thérèse, Jesus was criticised by those who didn’t yet understand that sanctity lies not in rejecting God’s good gifts, but merely in the correct ordering of them (Matthew 11: 19).
With that in mind, perhaps the most spiritual thing any of us can do this afternoon is eat some cake.
by Lucy Stothard