A visitor to Rome is impressed by the number of churches that are dedicated to various martyrs. For almost three centuries Roman emperors executed Christians across the Roman Empire even as far as France and Spain. One can say that the soil of the Eternal City is stained red by the blood of martyrs. We must point out that it is during those three hundred years that the Church grew dramatically from a little unknown Jewish sect to a powerful force. Such extraordinary growth inspired a Church Father, Tertullian, to declare: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.”
It has been so from the beginning. Our Savior is Jesus crucified. He came to lay down His life for us. The gospels repeatedly narrate how Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem where He would be executed. In His preaching the Master emphasized that it is in dying that we are born, that it is by losing our life that we will find it. The Gospel of
John offers an apt summary of Jesus’ mission: “There is no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends.” Sacrifice is at the heart of Christian faith and practice.
Yet our culture and our world recoil from any mention of sacrifice. We live in a self-indulgent society that insists on immediate gratification. Jordan Belfort, the real Wolf of Wall Street, admitted in an interview that his inability to delay gratification led him to many of his immoral and harmful decisions. In his motivational speeches to young people he encourages his listeners to learn to delay gratification. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and martyr, said: “In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things, the figure of Him Who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger.” Jesus still remains a stranger to many of our contemporaries because He demands sacrifice.
What is sacrifice? It is giving up something good that is really mine and totally legitimate for the sake of a greater good. Without such readiness to renounce there is no Christian faith, there is no moral living, and there is no true love.
To be a faithful Christian one has to sacrifice constantly. To live the Beatitudes in our everyday life requires courage to stand alone. When we stand for our beliefs such as our unyielding stand with regard to life issues, we are prone to invite ridicule. We are persecuted for our convictions and the Church will face more persecution in the coming years. To suffer for the sake of Jesus’ Name is the real mark of a Christian. When we believe in an after-life, in final judgment, we will be laughed at by people who live only for the moment. We bear patiently the present wrongs knowing that God will set all things right at the end of time.
There is no moral life without sacrifice. In order to remain true to ourselves, we cannot opt for the easy road. We cannot cut corners to get what we want. When people hurt us we cannot seek revenge. Our willingness to forgive someone will cost us pain, especially when the perpetrator is not repentant. Trying to be honest in all circumstances will not result in material prosperity and success. When the temptation to pleasure is strong, the capacity to say no will make us suffer. Cultivating discipline calls for renouncing the comfortable options and sticking with certain tasks with no immediate reward. These are the sacrifices we need to endure in order to live as a moral person.
Finally, true love calls for sacrifice. Someone has said, “When the authentic well-being of another takes precedence over your own, then the state of love exists.” We cannot claim that we love someone unless we are ready to forget ourselves and think of the other. To remain true to our marital or other vows calls for sacrifice. Having children and raising them demands many sacrifices. Ask parents of young children and they will tell you how much they have given up sleep and rest in order to take care of their young ones. Think of the sacrifice of the father or the mother who works at a job that is less than rewarding. They do it for the sake of their family. Raising teenagers is no walk in the park. True love is constantly dying to itself. There is no true love without sacrifice.
Without sacrifice we will lose all that is beautiful and meaningful. Without sacrifice there will be no authentic happiness. Malcolm Muggeridge, who wrote a great book about Mother Theresa, said: “I can say that I never knew what joy was like until I gave up pursuing happiness…”
May we all learn from the Lord Who sacrificed Himself for us on the cross and offers His own body and blood for our nourishment! Let us teach our children and young people this important lesson.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...