We recoil from the word “sacrifice” because it seems to imply “giving up” things we can’t live without. But in fact, sacrifice is the lifeblood of love. How many times will a mother make the “sacrifice” to get up in the middle of the night in order to tend to her crying child? Sacrifice is a gift of love in response to a gift of love. Catholic mystic Caryll Houselander wrote: “A sacrifice is not, as so many people imagine, a mortification; it is not something that is meritorious according to its degree of unpleasantness. On the contrary, in real sacrifice, there is joy which surpasses all other joys, it is the crescendo and culmination of love.”
Sacrifice is what preserves what we love. Sacrifices are necessary in order to prevent what we love from corrupting or decaying (think of the sacrifices you make to keep your brand new car pristine). Sacrifice is the antithesis of indifference; it is the opposite of selfishness and self-seeking. Sacrifice is the conscious choice to refuse to be “the center of the universe” so that we can encounter something greater than ourselves … something that leads us to take hold of our true self. To pray is to make that sacrificial gift of self.
What motivates us to sacrifice is that we belong to Another. Through sacrifice we express our commitment to live for that Other. But even this handing over of ourselves is not an act of losing but one of gaining. For, as Cardinal Ratzinger observed, “sacrifice consists in becoming totally receptive towards God and letting ourselves be completely taken over by him.” By our sacrifices we open up ourselves and make a space into which flows as much of God’s love and grace as we can hold. It is sacrifice that boosts our capacity.“A sacrifice is an entry into a participation in what God already possesses” (Monsignor Robert Sokolowski).
The essence of human greatness is expending ourselves for something greater than ourselves. We experience fulfillment and completion by sacrificing ourselves for this Something More. Happiness comes through sacrifice. This is why the Mass is called a Sacrifice.
“Sacrifice is any action done so as to cling to God in a communion of holiness” (CCC 2099). Prayer is sacrifice when we beg for the conviction we bear about Jesus Christ to permeate every aspect of our life, everything that we love, so that we can love life more purely and so share in reality the way our Savior shows us.
Follow Fr. Cameron’s series on prayer here.
See some of the earlier pieces below: