Stephen Yusko
Stephen Yusko

In life we often hear the word sacrifice and think of examples from our own lives. Lent is a time where sacrifice is highlighted. But why does one sacrifice?

As I contemplate sacrifice and its meaning, I am reminded of a young family I noticed one Sunday morning during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. 

During the Offertory, I noticed the family of four standing several feet in front of me. The mother was tenderly carrying her 3-month-old, who was asleep upon her chest. The father, standing close to his wife, was absorbed in prayer.

Occasionally, the father would glance lovingly at his wife, his baby and little 3-year-old daughter, who was standing in between them. His 3-year-old daughter was holding her mother’s hand, while darting her head this way and that, as she bounced from heel to toe.

While initially this scene appeared ordinary to me, following the Sanctus, I observed this curious and overstimulated 3-year-old do the most simple, yet profound thing. She noticed her father was no longer standing, but was now kneeling. So she let go of her mother’s hand and unloosened her sweater which hung about her neck, unfolded it into the air – like one would do with a picnic blanket – and let it fall on the ground. Then she clumsily knelt upon it, folded her hands and glanced up at her father to ensure that she was doing exactly what he was doing. And although, every so often, she would become distracted by various things that attract the mind of a 3-year-old, she would always remember her father, look at him with love, respect and admiration and try again to imitate him.  

Does the example of this 3-year-old not encapsulate the Christian life, and the end for which all sacrifices are made? The Christian, in order to take those first few steps with Christ, must let go of what is comfortable, safe and good. Just as this child made the courageous decision to let go of her mother’s hand. 

The Christian must use what talents and material goods God has bestowed upon him or her as means to the end, rather than covet them as the end to itself. Much like how this little girl used her sweater as a means to move closer to her father. As this little one looked to her father as the model and sought to imitate him, the Christian in like manner, must look to Jesus and conform his or her life to Christ’s. Only then can the Christian perfectly imitate the Father, for Christ is His perfect image. This is why the Christian sacrifices; not for vanity, nor for pride. Neither for gifts, nor to prove ourselves worthy of God’s love. But quite simply: to love Him who first loved us. To become holy as he is holy and perfect as he is perfect. To become another Christ.  

If we clumsily do this or occasionally become distracted by the various things that attract the mind of a spiritual 3-year-old, we should not become discouraged, but rather remember our Father, look to Him with trust and love, and try again; for God loves each clumsy little step taken out of love for Him.  

Thus lies the paradoxical strength of the Christian; a strength, which St. Paul reminds us, springs forth from our weakness. To walk along the holy road of sacrifice and suffering, paved by Jesus Christ, takes a knowledge of one’s own weakness. 

This truth has been one of the most painful, yet invaluable lessons that I have learned since entering seminary. One’s own strength is not only insufficient and unnecessary for the Christian life but is often a hindrance. The only thing necessary to transform the bitter thorn of sacrifice into the sweet fruit of love is a childlike trust in God, and the love of God and neighbor.   

Christ’s own sacrifice on the cross is proof of this. What is its consequence? The Resurrection, the redemption of man, and the capitulation of satan’s kingdom. Therefore, this Lent, I offer my sacrifices with Christ, to the Father, that Christ may shine through my weaknesses and conquer the evil which lingers within and without. Form me anew into the man I was born to be: another Christ.