People make sacrifices every day. Sometimes the sacrifices are minor: a momentary suppression of desire. Sometimes the sacrifices take everything we have, even our own lives. We are born with wants and needs that sometimes exert a powerful control over our actions, and yet, we also exhibit this powerful capacity to ignore those wants and needs if we perceive a greater need or a greater good. Parents do this all the time. Parents go without sleep, without food and without many of the opportunities that they might otherwise have had, because they find in their children a love and a joy greater than their own desires. For the average parent, the desire to see your children safe and happy far outweighs your own individual needs. You have found something more precious than your own sleep or hunger.
Sacrifice isn’t just about losing something, it is about finding something. It is about finding something more precious to you than your own wants and needs. It is about finding something that you love so much, that you are willing to let go of everything else just to hold onto it. Sacrifice is a natural byproduct of loving deeply.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, who when he discovers the finest pearl in all the world, sells everything that he has in order to obtain it. In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul stated that he regarded everything else as loss in comparison with the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus. Both the merchant in Jesus’s parable and the Apostle Paul had to sacrifice much, but those sacrifices were nothing compared to what was found by each of them. It is much easier to let go of the things you like once you have found something that you truly love.
For us as Christians, the Kingdom of Heaven, living in relationship with our creator and our redeemer, is the finest pearl. It is the thing in our lives which should bring us such unrestrained joy, that we gladly sacrifice our lesser wants and needs just to possess it. The story of Christ is, in part, a story about how much God is willing to sacrifice in order to hold on to us. The story of Christians, on the other hand, is often about how much we are willing to sacrifice in order to hold onto him.
As we enter the holy season of Lent and as we contemplate making small sacrifices in our daily lives to draw us nearer to Christ, and a deeper understanding of his supreme sacrifice, let us bear in mind that at its root, sacrifice is an act of love. Sacrifice is not about punishment or penance; it is not about creating needless pain or suffering. Sacrifice is simply about finding one thing of supreme value and letting everything else go.
The Sacrifices of Lent
Lent is a time for growing deeper in our faith and in our relationship with Christ. It is a time for making intentional sacrifices: letting go of things that harm us, distract us, or on some level draw us further away from communion with God. Some of these sacrifices are very traditional: abstaining from flesh-meat on Fridays is an ancient Christian practice. While some people may try abstaining from things that would have been completely unknown to our ancestors (e.g., Television or Facebook). Either way, the point is that we do something to set this time apart to serve as a reminder to us that we should be focusing our thoughts and energies on our relationship with God and not allow ourselves to be distracted by all the busyness of everyday life. Take some time before Ash Wednesday and consider the ways in which you might observe Lent this year.
Here are some suggestions:
Prayer: Consider saying Morning or Evening Prayer as a regular part of your Lenten discipline. Join the Society of Mary on the 3rd Sunday of the month to recite the rosary, or perhaps say the rosary at home on your own.
Fasting: Abstain from meat on Fridays. Consider skipping one or two meals a week and using the money for buying food for those in need or some other good purpose. Try abstaining from a particular food which you may indulge in too often.
Almsgiving: Make regular donations to our food pantry collection. Consider cutting some of your expenses during Lent and giving the money to charity or directly to an individual in need.
Study: Try joining either our Sunday morning book discussion group or our Tuesday morning or Wednesday evening bible study groups. Considering reading the Bible at home, or try some other spiritually edifying book.
The sacrifices that we make during Lent are things that we do willingly as a sign of our love and devotion, not because we are told that we have to; therefore, the preceding list should be seen as recommendations for ways to begin a Holy Lent. Many will doubtless find ways to observe this holy season that are more reflective of their personal faith journey. May it be a blessed time to all, however it is observed.