An Unblemished Sacrifice

The idea of sacrifice has occurred to me again and again over the past few days. Although in many different contexts, sacrifice is something that really pervades the Christian life; we worship a God who was crucified—who sacrificed with ultimate selflessness for our good—and so how can we not be compelled to sacrifice as well? The scriptures are loaded with calls to sacrifice, especially from the mouth of Christ but also in the rest of the Old and New Testaments. With that in mind, we ought to question, “What is the truly Catholic view of sacrifice, and how can I offer mine more perfectly?”

The vague (and quite frankly ‘flowery’) answer would be to take our daily hardships and offer them up to the Lord. But what does that mean? We hear it all the time, but after a while, at least for me, a statement like that loses its flavor. Although it is very general and non-aggressive—and thereby very ‘politically correct’ and culturally acceptable—it doesn’t offer us much substance for prayer or thought either. In its place, I would suggest this reaction to the question of personal suffering and what we ought to do to offer our own lives more perfectly: we must die. And not only must we die, but we must die courageously and be willing to spill out our life for the greater glory of God. That, I think, is what it means to offer an acceptable sacrifice to the Father.

In the face of a society that despises sacrifice, though, how can we justify such ‘gutsy love’ for our God? We are trained to think that sacrifices requiring total self-offerings are worthless, since the human person is the climax of reality and we ought to live life savoring that truth, not surrendering it for the worship of a ‘higher being.’ In our culture’s view, sacrifice is only beneficial if the ultimate individual outcome is a lesser suffering for the one sacrificing. In other words, only if we are going to ‘come out better’ for ourselves on the other side is our sacrifice worth making.

Christian sacrifice is quite the opposite though. The fact is that we know through faith that God will reward us for an unblemished sacrifice with eternal life in heaven. However, the object of our sacrificing must never be to better our own position (i.e. to ‘feel good’ with God in heaven); instead, we must always offer sacrifice to the Lord with the sole intention of loving him more fully and participating in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, which was the cause of our salvation. Although the outcome of a pure sacrifice to the Father will ultimately result in our being rewarded, as he tells us in the scriptures, he nevertheless desires us to offer ourselves not because of that, but simply because we love him and desire to thank him for saving us from the depravity of our sins. After all, the joy of heaven will not be one of disconnected, self-centered ecstasy (like the pay-off of the worldly sacrifice, which by its definition is devoid of God-centeredness), but instead heaven’s joy is one of intimate communion between lover and beloved—between God and his children. We must not aim to use God for our own gratification, but rather must realize that the fulfillment of our humanity will only come as a result of his intense love for us, and the self-giving and eternal communion he desires so much to share with us.

We can offer up our daily hardships to the Lord. We can also die for him. Both speak of the same reality, but I personally find much greater meaning in the latter; only if we die with Christ may we also live and reign with him in Paradise.