What’s the first thing that comes to mind when we hear the word sacrifice? For me, I think of a mom or a dad sacrificing themselves for their child, putting the needs of the children above their own, perhaps even going without a necessity. I think of how my husband lets the boys eat the leftover pizza he had saved for lunch without batting an eye. He gets annoyed for a moment but immediately turns around and says it is fine. I think of how I left my career to care for my sons or how my mom worked three jobs after my dad died. There is an immediate relation to suffering for someone - out of love - when I hear the word sacrifice, a voluntary giving-up of something of value… so that someone else might be allowed to rise up. This is the context in which I’ve always looked at Jesus on the Cross.
But today, I came upon some words from St. Augustine that challenged me to ponder deeper on the meaning of this word… sacrifice.
“A true sacrifice is anything that we do with the aim of being united to God in holy fellowship” …anything! The question to ask ourselves is, what are we aiming for? St. Augustine continues:
We can spend our lives sacrificing ourselves yet not making a sacrifice to God. Blood, sweat, and tears wasted, living for ourselves and for strange gods. Gods that can not speak and can not love, working endlessly just to end empty-handed. Sands of time run through our fingers as we keep running away from the One who never ceases to call out for us. Repent! Return! I am your God.
I’ve come to recognize a particular type of tiredness that comes upon me when I have been laboring for fruit that perishes rather than making an offering to God. A “burnt-out” feeling reminds me to return to the source. The grace of being left to my own resources is that I recognize and remember. I recognize this desolate place where I feel tired and helpless, and I remember where my strength comes from. Again and again, I find my strength renewed in the Sacraments, especially receiving Holy Communion. The beauty of this movement is that every step in the right direction is not just a sacrifice on my part, but since it is done “with the aim of being united to God in holy fellowship,” every step becomes a TRUE SACRIFICE. This act of self-compassion done to relieve the distress I feel in my heart is acceptable to God! The pain I feel becomes the means to turn back; it helps reorient my heart. Then every other act of compassion to myself or others continues to be “holy-doing,” “holy-making,”…a beautiful sacrifice.
Let us then find moments through our day when we stop and examine where is our aim. If whatever we are doing is not done with the ultimate goal of being more united to God, let us ask for the grace to pivot, to reorient and set our eyes on Jesus. Let us ask Our Lady, to bring us with her heart into the arms of God. Let us become a holy living sacrifice to God.