We get mixed messages about the value of sacrifice. Often it has a negative connotation, because it is seen as deprivation, a one-way street with no reward. On the other hand, sacrificing for your child is not only socially admirable, but we seem to be hard-wired to make all sorts of sacrifices for the sake of our children. Martyrdom is such an easy trap to fall into as parents, as spouses, as employees. But a sacrifice that leaves us less-than is not really a sacrifice, and here’s where the Eucharist can help us understand our own lives better.
All theistic religions have this notion of sacrifice. It seems to be a universal impulse when humans encounter the divine. For years, the Eucharist for me was a sign of my desire to have this encounter, to have this relationship that I heard people speak of. Recently, in my limited experience with divine encounters, my eyes were opened to my smallness and God’s goodness. I knew immediately that I was already both a beloved daughter who delighted, and a mere infant with many lessons to learn. At these times, I would feel a need to respond somehow. I needed the Eucharist to help me articulate and participate in some sort of response. The phrase “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” delighted me. In this sense sacrifice was something that was leaving me “more-than”, rather than less.
What can this teach me about human relationships? Some relationships are comfortable, some are challenging, some are distant, but each is an opportunity to respond in love, and thus encounter the holy in each person (and ourselves). Through love, I can see the value of others, and I can marvel at their mysteries. Through love, encounters can help both of us become more of our true selves, rather than less. In this sense, every response of love, whether that be for family, friend, or enemy, is a true sacrifice, one that leaves feelings of gratitude instead of resentment. Even if I’m not “feeling” the love, true sacrifice, performed intentionally, can be a sign of this desire for relationship, or a desire to love better.
Not that I, or any of us are perfect. Not that we won’t still grumble or complain once in a while about chauffeuring kids, freezing limbs at the soccer game, or denying ourselves a much desired “necessity”, but this orientation toward love, can lessen such feelings, and leave us feeling richer than before: rich in gratitude and joy.
And let us not forget the sacrifice of love that Jesus made, offering his whole self for us. I once heard someone say of the Eucharist, “We must celebrate sometime and somewhere what God is doing all the time, everywhere.” If you would like to further consider this idea of sacrifice, and how it is contained and expressed in our liturgy, I would recommend checking out my earlier post about the Eucharist: https://stphilipsatrium.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/eucharistthe-eternal-celebration/