In thinking about what I could add to the discussion of sacrifice, having come late to the party and drawing the last spot of the month, I turned to one of my favorite sources for information: the dictionary.
Quickly I found myself falling down an etymological rabbit hole that only an English Major (yes, that would be me!) could love. This isn’t a scholarly article and I wouldn’t want to bore you anyway, but my investigation did suggest a line of approach to the topic of sacrifice.
To simplify, the roots of the word “sacrifice” are a noun meaning “holy” and a verb meaning “to make.”
Now like many Catholic kids I “gave up” something every Lent, and depending on what it was I suffered to a greater or lesser degree (giving up reading was particularly difficult–and probably misguided). But was I ever really making anything holy? Was my Lenten discipline making me more holy? While I remember being told that we were supposed to give up something for Lent because Jesus gave up His life for us, I’m not sure anyone ever connected the dots for us to explain how it all worked. I don’t remember being told that we should “offer up” our sacrifice as a prayer or anything like that at all.
I’m willing to concede that at least those early attempts at sacrifice built good Catholic habits, but that’s as far as it really went for me despite my 16 years of Catholic education and my Theology minor. I set greater and greater challenges for myself (no eating between meals, fasting completely during the day EVERY Friday, no flesh–even fish!–most days for all of Lent), but these never rose to the level of sacrifice–Lent was just an endurance test. I wasn’t getting any holier.
Somehow I had never attained a more “grown up” understanding of what Lenten “sacrifices” were supposed to mean. Giving something up while probably complaining about it, or worse, feeling superior about it, but never PRAYING about it was not really a sacrifice. It wasn’t holy and it wasn’t doing anything to make me holy.
We toss the word sacrifice around a lot without really thinking about what it means. We tend to think of the good sacrifices as being the most painful ones when really they should be judged by the fruits they produce. This year, for the first time, maybe because most of the sacrifices chose me instead of me choosing them, I have found myself embracing them and praying about them. I have felt myself changing because of them. For the first time I feel like my sacrifices have spiritual significance. Perhaps it would be presumptuous and premature to suggest that I’m being made holy as a result, but for the first time it feels like a possibility.