As we reach the halfway point this Lent, you’ve probably heard over and over again that good habits to practice during this season are prayer, fasting/mortification, and almsgiving. But how many times have we let that suggestion go in one ear and out the other, probably inadvertently? That’s probably because we haven’t contemplated the concrete ways that we can carry them out.
Recently on The Inner Life, guest host Patrick Conley welcomed Father Dave Heney onto the show to talk about the pillar of sacrifice and how we can embrace sacrifice in a more meaningful way.
To begin, Patrick started by simply asking Father what sacrifice is. What does it mean? Where does it come from? What significance does it have in our growth? Father Dave explained that the word sacrifice comes from the Latin words sacer and facere which together mean to make something holy. In other words, we are giving something up for a greater purpose; We are making it holy.
While sacrifice often has a negative connotation, the Catholic outlook on sacrifice is a positive one. We are embracing pain for the sake of holiness. Embracing pain and suffering with no greater purpose behind it is masochistic and sinful. “But if the sacrifice is for some larger purpose, then it’s holy.” Father Dave compared this to the concept in baseball known as sacrifice hitting. When a player hits a sacrifice fly or a sacrifice bunt, they are giving up their chance of getting on base to advance the runners already on base. He is doing something painful to increase his team’s chances of scoring. If he laid down a bunt for no other reason than to get out, that would be pointless.
Patrick referenced a passage from the Bible in which Jesus says that he desires mercy, not sacrifice. If we have established that sacrifice is a good thing in the eyes of the Church, how is that reconciled with Jesus’ request? Father Dave explained that when Jesus referred to sacrifice in that quote, he was referencing the highly-regulated rules of sacrificial offerings that were carried out as directed by Jewish authorities. Those offerings were not being carried out with meaning or with reverence, and sacrifice is intended to open our hearts to more faith, hope, and love. If it isn’t doing that, then we shouldn’t do it at all.
Therefore, when we make sacrifices this Lent, we should take an extra moment to reflect on our motives and intentions. Are we offering something up because the Church says we have to? Or are we doing it because it will be good for our spiritual and physical health, it will bring us closer to God, it will loosen the ties between us and our possessions, we can offer it up for some grand intention, and it will help us prepare for the death and resurrection of Christ?
We need to distance ourselves from engaging in mechanical practices, whether it be a sacrifice or an act of reverence. Why do we genuflect? Why do we make the sign of the cross or use holy water? Why do we fold our hands in prayer? If we don’t understand the intention behind our acts, that’s not an excuse to simply stop doing them altogether. In fact, the opposite is true. Now that we are aware of our missteps, we should make an effort to reflect on them and rectify our intentions. Our ignorance should beget improvement, not laziness.
Father Dave recalled one of his seminary professors saying, “If you are the same person at the end of Mass that you were at the beginning of Mass, then you haven’t been to Mass.” It’s the same way with Lent, sacrifice, prayer, and almsgiving. Religious practices executed upon compulsion are almost worthless to us and to Our Lord. It is up to us to ensure our actions have a positive effect on the world and those living in it.
Listen to the full segment below:
Tune in to The Inner Life weekdays at 11am CT