Mary at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Washington DC

Reflections on a Queen

Mass on a Thursday evening? I was so excited, that I pushed the questioning thoughts out of my head. I was going to go to a weekday Mass!

When I lived in Pennsylvania, the daily Mass schedule was one that fit into my workday. Since moving to Virginia that has not been the case and I’ve missed being able to spend time with God, hearing His word and receiving Him more than just once a week. When I saw the announcement in the Flocknote of a  Thursday evening Mass for the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I was thrilled! I knew the attendance would be small, but I didn’t realize that a particular population of the parish was responsible for organizing the Mass. I must admit I felt a little out of place and a bit unprepared. Most attending were Indian or Asian and as families came into the church, they placed bunches of flowers on a table. I thought it was an odd place to put them and wished I had known about the tradition. While the Mass proceeded as usual, after the homily, the attention turned back to the flowers, which had been released from their wrappings in order to pick them up individually. Row by row, we processed down, took a flower and then processed over to the statue of the Virgin Mary where large vases were placed to receive the flower tribute. Even though there were plenty of flowers for everyone, I did have some reservations about participating since I didn’t bring any flowers. I hope they do this next year, so I can fully participate!

The feast of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is rather unique in the church. For most saints, we celebrate what would be their death day, as that is the day they pass from this life into eternity. So why is it important to celebrate Mary’s birthday? It’s really quite simple: it is through Mary that Jesus took on flesh and became human; through Mary’s humanity Jesus enters into our world. Since Mary conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, the only DNA that Jesus had was from her. It is most appropriate that we celebrate Mary’s birth so that in the fullness of time, Jesus was born into the world. 

Although the feast is more about Mary’s humanity, her role as the Mother of God is ever present, even in the Gospel reading for that Mass. Mary’s selflessness in allowing God’s will to be done through her makes her a model for us to strive towards. Her motherly concern extends through all time and to all children of God. Mary does have many titles, including Queen of Heaven and Earth. Her queenship is based on her powerful intercession on our behalf to Jesus. She always wants God’s will for us and will help us to seek a deeper relationship with God. I must admit I found it rather ironic when I heard the sad news that the passing of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom happened that same day. Perhaps the Queen of Heaven welcomed Queen Elizabeth to eternity? While her majesty was a pale comparison to the Blessed Virgin Mary, she did emulate some similar qualities, including making oneself a gift to others. She made a vow to serve the people of her country, and she did so until the very end. How much better would the world be if we all practiced a bit more of giving ourselves to others, rather than demanding what we want because we think it is our right to do so.

Celebrating Mary’s birthday is yet another reminder that she, too, is one of us — human. She understands the craziness of life, the joys and the sorrows. Let us thank God for her and ask her to help us be a bit more like her in being open to God’s will for us.

Mass worship

I came across a meditation suggesting to ponder “God requires Catholic Christians to assist at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.” I think what caught my eye was the word assist.

I was surprised by the use of assist rather than attend. Is there any difference between the two? When looking up these words in Merriam-Webster, the results of both their meanings and their roots were a bit unexpected. For me, assist is more of an action word; ready to spring into action when the lead needs support, which is one of the two definitions for the word. I would consider those that perform a specific liturgical function, like an altar server, choir member, and lector would be classified as assisting at Mass, but not the general congregation. Oddly enough, the second definition is, “to be present as a spectator,” which is a far cry from the attitude the Church is calling us to bring to Mass. The etymology of assist has a root which means “to be present near, stand near.“ This is a good definition for our actions at Mass, as we do stand near the presence of Jesus hidden in the mystery of the Eucharist. 

Attend would be the word I would choose for those who do not have a specific functional activity at a Mass. Usually I will say, “I need to go to Mass on Sunday morning,” which is one of the definitions of attend. Out of the several definitions for the word, I think I like “to be present with : accompany” as the one that most closely indicates what we do at Mass. We accompany the priest as he dives into the mystery of Jesus in both word and sacrament. Yet the root for the word means “to stretch.” While at first I thought how odd it was that the meaning has changed so much through the centuries, but perhaps originally, one was stretching themselves or their capabilities in order to be present to another person. In some ways, we too, stretch ourselves in order to go to Mass. 

Since words matter, I cracked open the Catechism of the Catholic Church to see how it conveyed the requirement for Mass and found this gem:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,” have a right and an obligation by reason of their Baptism.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1141

This describes way more than attending and assisting at Mass. This is a call to worship God with “all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30) It also includes that we have not only an obligation, but our Baptism provides us the right in that full participation. For a country that loves its rights, this spiritual right is far more rewarding than any secular one. Once we are baptized, no one can take that right from us; it is only when we turn away from God that we forgo that right. God is always calling us back to communion with Him, ready to bestow His mercy to those who repent and turn towards Him. 

I may go to Mass, but I do choose to participate in the responses and singing. While it’s hard not to slip into Mass being a routine activity that we check off on our list of requirements, we are given the opportunity each week to bring our full selves to God. Our beauty and our flaws we present to God, as well as our attention and distractions. While coming and sitting in a pew for Mass may be a first step for some, it is not the level of participation to which we are called. Perhaps the next Mass we attend, we can try to go a bit deeper in giving worship, that is our full selves, to the Triune God who created us to be more than we ourselves could ever imagine.

Banquet invitation

Last Friday’s Gospel told the parable of The Ten Virgins and Sunday’s the parable of The Banquet Attendees. While both parables are common in Jesus’ teachings, understanding them is not often as simple as their obvious stories. 

The parable of the virgins with their lamps awaiting the bridegroom (Matt 25:1-13) often has the reader declaring “unfair!” For a God who teaches us to love one another and multiplies bread and fish to feed thousands, why couldn’t the women have shared a little oil with those who failed to bring extra for their lamps? It feels like a curveball is being thrown at us with their refusal and their direction to the others to buy it from the merchants in a time when there wasn’t a 24-hour convenience store. But the oil is not just fuel for lamps, it is a correlation between the ladies and the relationship they have with the Bridegroom, Jesus. For each time a lady said yes to whatever Jesus asked of her — the good deeds, the forgiveness of others, the times of sacrifice — they became the fuel for the lamp she uses waiting for Jesus to come. She can’t give it away since it is her devotion to God that provides it. Yet even when one is familiar with the general meaning of the parable, there is always more to investigate each time it is read.

The story of the attendees who jostled each other to get the best seat at the banquet (Lk 14:1, 7-14) doesn’t seem like much of a parable. Its literal meaning is easily understandable…  maybe even too easy? According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of parable is “a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle.” The roots of the word reach back to the Greek translation that has “comparison” as a stem. So what is this parable comparing itself to? We can get lost in the example of humility the story conveys, that it’s hard to see any other narrative. Yet the key to this parable is in plain sight: a wedding banquet.

Just as in the parable of the ten virgins deals with a bridegroom, the one about the attendees at a banquet is also about a wedding. And this isn’t just anyone’s wedding, it is the marriage of heaven and earth; with Jesus as the bridegroom and the Church as the bride. The comparison that Jesus is making is that in the spiritual life prestige is worthless and humility shines. All the honor we gain, all the recognition that we so diligently work for during our life on earth, does not bring us closer to God  but rather it pushes us further away. God will be asking us to take a lower seat, while He invites those who have worked humbly on earth to be closer to Him. 

I can understand the parable of those jostling for a better seat, but being an introvert usually has me seeking a table in the back so that I can observe all that is going on at a function. In social situations it can look like I am a humble person, but humility is not just in the most obvious search for honor. Humility includes not comparing oneself to a person or making judgements about another. Humility is also about doing the right thing because it is the right thing, not because you will be lauded for it. Humility is about sharing the blessings you have received with others because you know God has bestowed them on you; so that you can be His eyes, His ears, His hands, and His smile when you share His love with others. 

Jesus and Mary are two excellent role models for humility. Humility, like faith, is not a once and done thing; it is the fruit of seeking a relationship with God. Let us always reach out for their assistance as we journey onwards towards the heavenly banquet God has prepared for us. 

Catholic Girl Journey

Unique salvation

In this past Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 13:22-30), Jesus was asked, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” It’s an interesting question that doesn’t get answered. But perhaps it is a question that can’t be answered. 

Other Christian denominations ask, “Are you saved?” as a tactic to start their evangelization. The basis for this question is to find out if a person has accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and if so, they have all confidence that they will be saved and have a place in heaven. This predicates that salvation is based on one, single act at a point in a person’s life. The issue with this assumption is that one may reduce life down to one moment in time, but  how can one select which moment upon which they should be judged? The question of who will be saved (or how many) is really irrelevant since it seeks to be the judge or the measure of salvation. We want to compare ourselves against others, and as long as we align on the side of being saved, we can wag our fingers at others and laugh at their misfortune. 

Jesus’ answer to the question in the Gospel is not an exact count of salvation, but rather how to approach the journey of salvation. We know we do not earn salvation; it is only through Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection that the door of salvation has been opened. He has created a path for us. But what does that path look like? Some will look at the Ten Commandments and say that is the measure of salvation. Others will use the precepts of the Catholic Church as a checklist of what needs to be accomplished in order to be saved. But salvation cannot be reduced to a checklist. It’s not a report card upon which you are graded. 

“He answered them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.’” Strive is a verb denoting action that has etymological roots to that of “fight” as in “battle.” Does this mean we need to fight God in order to gain entrance to heaven? No, we don’t need to fight God, we need to fight ourselves: our pride, our wanting to pass judgment on others, and our desire to be god of all we encounter. We are not strong enough if we try to do this by ourselves (which is a form of pride) but instead only when we humble ourselves to let God lead us and to be the person God calls us to be. Our salvation is a summary of our life journey. Yes, there will be times we will fail, but there will also be times when we succeed. It is not a single moment in time, but rather a continual yes to God, turning towards God and seeking Him and His will for us. This life journey will transform us, if only we open ourselves up to Him. 

Every person is called to follow Jesus. Every person has the possibility to be saved. By having a relationship with Jesus, we can discern what He is calling us to do. Our salvation is unique to us because we are all called to serve Jesus differently. The commandments, the precepts, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are all guides to help us find our role in God’s plan of salvation. A life spent following Jesus is a life of action, of doing, of being. And after a lifetime of action and battling ourselves, we humble ourselves once more to leave it to God’s merciful judgment to determine if we will receive the everlasting gift of salvation. So the real question is not “will I be saved?” but rather “Jesus, how can I participate in your salvific will for me?”

Mass adventure

I thought I was prepared; I had looked at Google maps and planned out the route. Looking at the satellite version and realizing it would leave me where I could not get to the parking lot, I knew where to turn and what to expect. What I didn’t count on was attending Mass while in the Northern Neck of Virginia was going to be an adventure.

While taking a three-day weaving class in Heathsville, I decided to stay closer to the location rather than drive an hour-and-a-half back and forth from my home. Classes were from 9 to 4, so that gave me an hour to get to the 5 o’clock mass at the church for the Saturday night vigil, which Google indicated was 20 minutes away. Perfect! Or so I thought! By the time I wrapped up what I was doing and drove to the location, I arrived about 25 minutes before the scheduled Mass to an empty parking lot. I started worrying that perhaps there wouldn’t be Mass that evening. So I looked online but  there wasn’t any notification of cancellation, and any other churches were 30 minutes to an hour away. There was a vehicle that came and parked for a few minutes, then took off again. I began to think I was at  the wrong location, maybe the church was further down and I hadn’t given Google enough time to get me there? As I began to drive, I tried to engage Google maps and again select the same church. When it started giving me directions, I realized it was taking me in a big circle! (As this is a rural area, one does need to journey for a bit just to get back to where one started.) Just before Google was about to turn me down the same road for a second time, I noticed the gleaming new sign for the church I was looking for! It was dramatically up a winding road and there were plenty of cars in the parking lot!

I was a bit stressed at this point; rather than being early, I was now 5 minutes late. I tried to walk quickly to the main doors in the front, but when I tried to enter them they were locked! Apparently they don’t use those heavy doors on a regular basis, preferring to use the side doors that lead out to the parking lots. I cautiously entered from the side door and quickly took a seat in the back. I was just very thankful that I had made it! I was here, and now I could focus on Jesus, as the priest proclaimed the Gospel. However the adventure was going to continue. I was very surprised when the priest faced the altar with his back towards the congregation for the entire Liturgy of the Eucharist, and perhaps even more so when he continued in English. I know this posture is much more common for a Latin Mass. Then at communion, a kneeler was brought forth and placed in the center of the aisle. Since I was in the back I could see that the first few people knelt down to receive. Did everyone need to receive while kneeling? Did we have to receive on the tongue? As the line crept up, I realized that it was up to the individual; some knelt and received on the tongue, while others stood and received in the hand. This seemed to accommodate everyone’s devotion. And lastly, I was pleasantly surprised when at the end of Mass, the priest led the people in reciting the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. 

Going to Mass while on vacation can be an adventure, no matter how well prepared we are. Even if we locate  the building without issue, some of the local customs can throw us off. I have had adventures in Italy, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as a few different states in the U.S. What is wonderful about the Catholic Mass is that it is the same no matter where you go. The songs may be different and each parish may bring  its own unique charisms, but just like Abraham, allowing God to lead us is an adventure. If we let Him, He always leads us closer to Himself.

Milk and honey

From a  billion-dollar lottery to the parable of the rich man in the Gospel, wealth was definitely the hot topic this past week. While attending a Catholic training conference over the weekend, even one of the speakers commented about God’s promise of “a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:8) Throw in the popular quote from Ecclesiastes about “all things are vanity” from Sunday’s first reading, and all references seem rather confusing. (Ecc 1:2)

During the RCIA training (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), the speaker referred to the land of milk and honey promised in the Old Testament as an indicator of how wildly God is in love with us. I started to think about what milk and honey could represent. Whole milk has a richness to it, coating the glass that contains it, and honey is sweet without being overly sweet. The taste of honey can reflect the location and pollen  from the flowers the bees used to make it and milk would have been primarily from sheep and goats in Old Testament times and locations. If the land was flowing with milk, then the amount of those animals grazing there  would have had to have been massive. Also, the weather would have had to be the right combination of both rain and sun so that there would be enough grass on which the animals could feed and enough flowers to bloom for the bees. With the right weather, both the animals and the bees could thrive. It all comes down, however, to trusting God. If we believe that He will provide for us, even when things look bleak, God will give us what we need, when we need it. 

I was very tempted to play the lottery last week. I know my chances to win, especially if I only bought one ticket, would be miniscule, but it only takes one to win. With such a large jackpot, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to win, as that amount was just way too much. So how much is enough? If I wanted to retire today, I don’t know how much money I would need, especially with the soaring cost of everything. Would one million dollars be enough, or would I need a hundred million? And while retiring today would relieve me of the stress and drama of my current work situation, something else would ultimately come along to replace it. This is true, unless I put my total trust in God. We can learn from the various stories of the Saints, that a carefree life is one lived by doing God’s will, even amongst the hardships and difficulties that it brings. 

Perhaps winning enough to pay off my house and my car, and make the home improvements I want to make would be worth buying a ticket. For example, I want new windows (and there’s a lot of them!), but I don’t yet need them. However, do I trust that God will help me make good financial decisions so that when I do need to replace them, I will have the funds to do it? God gave us a model of work and rest to follow in the story of creation. He wants us to live life to the fullest and be the best version of ourselves. He wants us to work at improving ourselves and our fallen world. Our anxieties about money come from a need to control our circumstances and our future, to take what we want in the attempt to satisfy ourselves. Yet the Gospel reading reminds us that we can only control our response to what we receive. Most of us know the joy and satisfaction of a job well done. God wants us to experience that, balanced with rest and leisure, all while sharing an intimate relationship with Him in everything we do.

In sending Jesus, God has spared nothing to show us how much He loves us. His “crazy love” wants to shower us with the blessings of rich milk and sweet honey when we put our trust in Him. If we work for Him and with Him, He will provide. In the times when we are distracted by the world around us, God’s Word will remind us what is truly important: a life spent in love with Him.   

At home at church

I am blessed to live between two Catholic churches. I have a choice in where I attend Mass each week. For the summer, the parish where I am registered has almost the same schedule as the other, so it really doesn’t matter where I go, since the procrastinator in me has to get ready for the same time. 

This past Sunday I attended the Our Lady of Lordes, which is “the other church.” In the past year, the parish has seen the installation of a new pastor who has made some modifications. The biggest difference I see is moving the tabernacle from the chapel to behind the altar. It may not seem like much, but I realized how much more it feels like home to me. When I go to Mass, I’m not there to see others, I’m there to see Jesus, and to spend time with Him. Yes, this is all done in communion with the rest of the congregation, but the focal point is God. All of the churches I’ve ever belonged to had the tabernacle by the altar, not in a separate chapel. When I attend St. Mike’s, the parish where I’m registered, I try to sit in a very strategic spot so that I can see the tabernacle from my seat. I don’t think I realized how important having the tabernacle in the worship area was to me until I realized how comfortable — and comforted — I felt kneeling before it. 

I understand that the Church (with a capital C) is all the people and the church (in lowercase c) is just a building. Going to Mass we are gathering as the Church. The building we are gathering in is set aside as a sacred place, where the sacraments — the milestones of our faith journey — will be celebrated. While the church is supposed to direct our thoughts and actions towards God, not every church will appeal to every member of the congregation. Some churches may be too fancy for some, others will be too plain and dull. Some will have odd configurations, while others could feel more cave-like. Some parishioners may love the building and find the clergy a challenge, and others the reverse is true. Some may have a choice of where to go, others feel blessed when they are able to celebrate the Mass when a priest is able to visit their village. While the reality of what happens in the building is much more important than the building itself, the building can, and should, try to elevate the congregation to a closer relationship with God. 

What can one do when faced with a church that doesn’t feel like home? Rejoice! Yes, rejoice that you have been given the opportunity to seek God without tactile comfort. It’s these types of challenges that help strengthen our faith in Him. Perhaps He is calling you to a deeper participation in the Mass or in the parish community. It’s very easy to get lazy in our regular routine, yet when we go outside of our comfort zone, the blessings He provides far outweigh any hardship we perceive. Perhaps He is calling us to see beauty in a different way. Maybe by opening our hearts and asking God to help us see His handiwork in what surrounds us, we will be able to appreciate the uniqueness of the church. Like all things in the spiritual realm, it’s not a once and done thing; it’s a journey we undertake with both times of joy and times of struggle.

Better one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.
Better the threshold of the house of my God
than a home in the tents of the wicked.

Psalm 84:11

Practicing charity in small matters

I was able to laugh at a video that came up on Facebook, but then again, as someone who always returns a shopping cart to the designated area, I may not have been the target for the video. Sponsored by BBC Scotland’s The Social, The Trolley Theory is a comedic illustration of doing the right thing for society.

In the United Kingdom, the term trolley is used for what Americans would call a shopping cart. In a very succinct presentation, The Trolley Theory uses the simple act of returning the trolley as a representation of what makes a good or bad member of society. It is “the apex example of what is right and what is so very wrong with free will.” This line got me thinking and I started to wonder about those who don’t return the trolley or cart to the corral. Would they find this video amusing as I did? Or would they be offended? Would they even care or would they shrug it off as some other person’s problem? 

What is wrong with free will, is that we are all free to make choices that affect others, while thinking that it has no effect on anyone but ourselves. Yet, it is in this “wrong” that others have the ability to step up and do more than what our “responsibility” is. Continuing with the example of a shopping cart, the store that I now frequent has two cart sizes. I love using the small one, as I don’t get much and it’s more easily maneuvered throughout the store. In the various parking lot corrals for the carts, there is supposed to be one lane for small carts and one for the big ones.  When the situation presents itself, I will align a cart or two in addition to the one I’m returning. It really doesn’t take much effort to do it, and I hope that by aligning the carts, others who are returning theirs will keep the alignment. I don’t have to do it, but then again — as the video points out — I don’t have to return the trolley either. 

The counterpoint to argue against the trolley theory is that returning the trolley is really a selfish act. What happens when no one returns the trolley/cart? The parking lot becomes a minefield of potentially moving self-autonomous weapons, ready to ding the side of your car or worse to roll into the path of your vehicle as you try to enter or leave the parking lot. During busy times at the grocery store, it’s hard enough to watch for pedestrians and other vehicles. Adding abandoned carts with the potential to move on their own from the slightest stirring of a breeze is a hazard that can be avoided by properly returning the cart. It may be selfish for me to want to reduce the number of moving possibilities as I navigate through the parking lot, but my selfish act is not just helping me, but others too. However, can an action be selfish if it benefits more than just the person committing it? 

You may be thinking, “A whole blog post about shopping carts? What does it all matter?” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” (Lk 16:10) It doesn’t matter if it’s money, time, speech, or shopping carts, little details matter. Even so, we shouldn’t use these items to be judgemental to others, but rather look and choose the opportunities that benefit others. If the circumstances allow your options to go beyond what you would normally do, then do it. These “small matters” give us the chance to practice charity towards others. And by practicing, we can increase the love we have for others and reflect the love that Jesus has for us.

“Wash the plate not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.” 

Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Doubt strengthens faith

I’m sure it’s possible for someone to go through their faith journey without ever doubting anything of what they believe or what they are called to do. However, I think that those who do doubt can travel through that and come out with their faith strengthened. 

Last Sunday at Mass Fr. Goertz mentioned that July 3rd, when not on a Sunday, is the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear his name? Doubting Thomas. In our sound-byte world, poor Thomas will forever be known with that moniker. Father even pointed out that Thomas, because he was absent for Jesus’ first appearance, had left the Church even before there was a Church to leave. Yet it was through the brotherhood bonds of the Apostles, that they would not leave him to wander away. So the next time Jesus came into the presence of the Apostles, Thomas was able to see and believe. I find it interesting in the Gospel that Thomas, during his unbelief, says he won’t believe until he can probe the nail and lance marks, and while Jesus invites him to do so, the text doesn’t mention anything except Thomas proclaiming Jesus as “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28) 

Doubt can have many levels. One level could be the entirety of the divine itself. Another could be a particular tenant of the faith. While another could be our response to either the faith or the practice of it. A Google search of “saints who doubted” comes back with about 72 million results, with that much commentary on the subject, we are in good company. According to Merriam-Webster, doubt is “to call into question the truth of ; to be uncertain.” When we dive deeper into understanding our faith and its practices, we do need to form questions and search for answers. If our hearts are open to the truth God reveals to us, we can emerge from our doubt strengthened and renewed in our faith. 

What causes doubt? Here again there are a multitude of possibilities. The divine is beyond our complete understanding, and we call some of the doctrines “mysteries” for good reason. For example the Trinity can only be explained by analogy, and since we are not divine, we cannot truly comprehend the relationship that makes up the Triune God. Another is the example of the culture that surrounds us. We see non-believers (or perhaps those that have fallen away) being successful and seemingly happy with their choices in life. We need to remember that since we do not know their faith journey, what looks like happiness to us, may be a mask of doubt or indifference. While most would like to pretend otherwise, another cause of doubt is Satan. He is the accuser, and he does a supernatural job against our mere mortal capabilities. There have been times when either in adoration or when receiving the Eucharist, it’s been hard for me to sense the presence of Jesus. During these moments, I need to lean on the faith that I have, my relationship with God, and make the choice to believe and ask God to help me in my doubt. 

Most of us have times when we want to probe the nail and lance marks of the risen Jesus. And there will be circumstances when we need to be okay with not being in control of what we can know and understand. If we genuinely seek to strengthen our relationship with God, let us offer our doubts up to Him with confidence that He will be as gentle with us as He was with Thomas.  

“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

John 20:29

Meaning of sacrifice

While anyone can look up a definition of the word ‘sacrifice,’ what does the word mean to you? How would you classify it; does it have a connotation that is positive, negative, or neutral? Have you ever given any thought to the word? 

In ancient times, sacrifice was a habitual act. Various religions used it as a way to communicate with their deity. For the Israelites, it was a sacrifice of grains, first fruits, and livestock. Other religions demanded infants and children. These were times when most struggled to get enough to keep them and their family going throughout the year. To give up any food, especially the best, took courage and faith. We will never be able to begin to understand what it took for parents to give up their children in the cultures that required it. In eras when children did not always survive into adulthood, was it considered a blessing that they were sacrificed for what the family believed to be a higher purpose? In ancient times, sacrifice hurt and most people, if not all, were affected by it in some way.

In modern times, if you mention the word sacrifice, someone may think you are talking about a particular play in baseball — the sacrifice fly ball. Another may think of it in terms of time; perhaps parents have to sacrifice their weekend to shuttle their kids to different activities. Others may think of it in terms of money or material things, but many times it’s more about sacrificing a luxury than something that is truly essential. (No, the cup of coffee from Starbucks is not essential; a habit perhaps, maybe an addiction, but it is not a requirement for life.) For people in lower economic brackets, they may need to make choices between modern day necessities like electricity, water, food, and medicine, but these choices are not necessarily sacrifices, as they are not freely choosing to give up any or all of those elements. Rather they are choosing what’s most important to their life, given the funds that they have. 

Sacrifice is a word that is used in our modern language. Sometimes it is confused with choice, or perhaps misused instead of it. In using it as such, the connotation softens the word, so that the harsh starkness of giving up something that is critical to life, or even life itself, no longer resonates. As Catholics, we hear about the ‘sacrifice of the Mass’ and perhaps we have even used that phrase ourselves. Yet each week we go to Mass, as the words of consecration are spoken, do we realize that what is taking place is Jesus giving Himself up on the cross on Calvary? While the Mass is the ‘unbloodied sacrifice’ it is nonetheless re-presenting the ultimate sacrifice of a life for a life – namely Jesus’ life for ours. Jesus freely gives His life to atone for what we never will be able to do: to make full reparation for the sins we commit. And He did it because He loves us. He did it even knowing that people turned away from Him. He did it so that we can hope in His mercy. He did it so that we can become the best version of ourselves in spite of our sinful predisposition. 

Jesus is both God and man, and so His death hurt. Not just His family and followers at the time, but for everyone who believes in Him. We should allow ourselves to feel hurt by His death. In participating in His death, we can better appreciate the resurrection, His ascension, and the descent of the Holy Spirit. Being affected by these events, we can immerse ourselves in the life of Jesus, sacrificing ourselves to become His representation in our little corner of the world. 

“…Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh. I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given Himself up for me.”

Gal 2:20