“Don’t sacrifice for your children—you will only resent them for it!” So a boss told me, decades ago. If she’s right, what does that say about the priesthood of Christ and his sacrifice? Surrendering what we’re reluctant to give, we’re likely to resent the beneficiaries of our “sacrifice.” But I think she had a distorted (yet common) view of sacrifice.
For the past five weeks, we’ve discussed spiritual warfare, in particular, Satan’s strategies (1, 2, 3) and God’s holy weapons (4 and 5). Sacrifice is God’s ultimate weapon. Many folks think that “sacrifice” means something like this: “Take something you really like and kill it.” If that’s how we view sacrifice, then we surely open the door to resentment, which is a great toxin of the soul. The roots of the word sacrifice are, “to make holy” or “to do the holy thing.” How is something made holy? By making a gift of it on the altar—offering something precious to God so that God can make use of it with a power and graciousness beyond our imagining.
Sacrificial giving is the highest form of freedom, yielding the highest form of gift. There is no self-seeking, no “strings attached” in sacrificial giving. That offering of what’s precious, in a spirit of unselfishness and trust, is why Satan hates sacrifice. Sacrifice is contrary to the work of Satan, who’s motto is: “Me first! Me! Always first!” Hands and heart, spread wide open upon the altar of sacrifice, are the fullest sign of rejecting Satan.
The sacrifice of Christ the Priest upon the altar of the cross is God’s most potent weapon against Satan. Thus Satan hates the Mass and the Eucharist above all else. That sacrifice of Calvary made present again upon our altars is the supreme instrument of our freedom from sin, and is our path to heaven. Knowing that, Satan trivializes the deadliness of our sin, so that in turn we will trivialize our need for the Sacrifice of the Mass.
I insist on the absolute necessity of Christ crucified because I know my sin. My sin! Not just my quirks, faults, foibles and failings. Not just my mistakes, indiscretions or peccadillos. My sin.
I know my sin—how it looks and stinks and burns. I know my sin is cunning even as it is irrational; I know my sin is deliberate even as it is feral. I know that my sin whispers to me like a lover and shouts at me like a jailer. I know that I choose and use my sin even as it seduces and uses me. I know that my sin has caused me to slap the face of the Holy God and yell, “My will be done!” I know that my sin has driven me from my Father’s house and caused me to live as if I were an orphan. I know that my sin, which I cling to even as I find it repulsive—I know that my sin is woven into my heart and mind and will like a cancer. I know that apart from the shed Blood of Jesus flushed through my body and soul—unless I consume the fruits of his sacrifice offered on the cross at Calvary—apart from that amazing grace—then my sin will finally consume me.
We can’t invite Satan into our lives and then expect him to behave. We can’t reason with our sin. Our sin will never be satisfied with being a junior partner or even an equal partner in our lives. No! Our sin wants power over every last bit of us! The poison of evil found in any fallen human heart cannot be negotiated with, cannot be persuaded even by the most earnest dialogue, and cannot be cured by human good intentions alone.
Those who know the merciful and healing embrace of our crucified and risen Lord, those who know that they have been ransomed and purified by innocent blood—those persons will surely, rightly, stubbornly and gladly exalt the priesthood of Christ. They know that Christ who is both priest and victim is God’s ultimate weapon against Satan. Our privilege at Mass is to be present again at Calvary, where the horror of the cross yielded our salvation and our hope of glory. How shall we respond worthily?
Preparing to celebrate Christmas, let’s remember that Mary’s child was born to live as a prophet, to die as a priest, and to reign forever as king. Let’s remember that our Heavenly Father’s sacrifice for us was his only-begotten Son. Between now and New Year’s Day, let’s make a plan to order our lives in gratitude for that sacrifice. Anything less from us would be an appalling injustice.
Next week, I will offer a reflection on the Feast of the Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.