That’s a rather misunderstood and even intimidating term, and perhaps could be more clearly expressed some other way, but certainly not as concisely. Of course, Jesus Christ is the only Redeemer, and only his sufferings can take away the sin of the world. But there is still some “redeeming value” (if you will, in a less strictly theological sense) to offering our own sufferings in union with the Lord’s.
Many souls cannot be moved or converted by word or example, usually because they have chosen a path contrary to the Gospel, or because there is some other impediment not of their own making. The Lord wishes to save them too. But they can only be touched from within by the hidden dynamism of grace working through the spiritual connections within the Mystical Body of Christ. Thus one soul can influence and positively affect another, through the power of the Holy Spirit. It seems that God expects us to pray and offer sacrifices for the salvation of our brothers and sisters, and that He even waits for this before intervening in another’s life. This is because God is love and wants to teach us to love as He does, that is, sacrificially. “Offer spiritual sacrifices…” (1Peter 2:5). “Such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16). Loving is giving, offering oneself for the sake of another. Pope John Paul II said that it is only in the gift of ourselves that we discover ourselves and the meaning of our lives. Intercession, therefore, is a commitment of love, an offering of oneself for the good of others, especially for their eternal salvation.
The mystery of offering pain as loving intercession is expressed simply but powerfully by Michael O’Brien in A Cry of Stone: “She had loved him well, offering the hurting to Jesus who joined it to his own hurting and poured it like a cascade into Tchibi’s hurting so that he no longer hurt so much… Soon he would hurt only a little, and in time there would be no more hurt. Then he too would love, and the rivulets would spill into creeks, and creeks into rivers, and rivers into lakes that spilled into great rivers, and across the wide world all moving waters, all pure water, would pour into the sea which was Love. Yes.”
Another author said that Christ did not only offer Himself to the Father on behalf of mankind, but in union with mankind. The Lord does not save us without our co-operation. We make a difference. That is why St Paul could say: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and I fulfill in my own flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his body, the church” (Colossians 1:24). How could something be lacking in Jesus’ sufferings? Christ is the Head, but the Church is his body. We are members of Christ. If we do not offer ourselves to God in union with Him, bear our cross with Him, then something is lacking, for then there is a withered branch on the Vine. Nothing can diminish the efficacy or perfection of Christ’s sacrifice, but what is lacking is the full number of the saved, or the personal application of the fruits of redemption. The more members of Christ who join themselves to Him in self-offering to the Father, the more the Church is healed, purified, sanctified, and its members saved. St Paul said his sufferings were for the sake of the Church, so obviously he believed there was some benefit to be gained by the members of the Church through the offering of his own sufferings in union with Jesus. The power of love connects us in ways that we can scarcely imagine.
Dostoyevsky wrote the following: “Every day and whenever you can, repeat within yourself: ‘Lord, have mercy upon all who come before you today.’ For every hour and every moment thousands of people leave their life on this earth, and their souls come before the Lord—and so many of them part with the earth in isolation, unknown to anyone, in sadness and sorrow that no one will mourn for them, or even know whether they had lived or not. And so, perhaps from the other end of the earth, your prayer for his repose will rise up to the Lord, though you did not know him at all, nor he you. How moving it is for his soul, coming in fear before the Lord, to feel at that moment that someone is praying for him, too, that there is still a human being on earth who loves him. And God, too, will look upon you both with more mercy, for if even you so pitied him, how much more will he, who is infinitely more merciful and loving than you are. And God will forgive him for your sake.”
Suffering in this life is inevitable. Wherever love is required, sacrifices are required. We can help others open to the grace of God and find salvation if we join our prayers, labors, and sufferings to the Lord’s, by the hidden means of love in the Spirit. If even one soul finds its way to God through your offering, it is more than worth it.