Father John J. Lombardi
"Lord, when you created me, you gave me myself. When You died for me, You gave me back myself. Given and
re-given, I owe You twice over."- Prayer of St Bernard
The essence of religion is sacrifice. The essence of sacrifice is selfless giving to God. The fruit of
this freedom is eternal life. Jesus Christ counseled this way: "If anyone wants to be my follower he must deny himself,
pick up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Lk 9:23) .
It's Lent and a good time to contemplate and practice such things. But today, in our world, sacrifice is
out and self-affirmation is in. It's not popular to promote or practice "the Way of the Cross". Some may view such things as
"spiritual fossils from the past". Others may see them as contrary to love and the Jesus' comforting care.
This is not so for the saints and holy people. Sacrifice, informed and inflamed by Love, is beautiful,
liberating and essential to spiritual growth and union with God.
Carl Jung, the psychologist, once said: "It is only thru the mystery of self-sacrifice that a man may
find himself anew."
With a "modernist influence" upon religion today, some may describe Catholics thus: "All's they talk
about is sin and sacrifice." Orthodox Catholics may respond: "No. We talk about these realties-as the Bible and others before us
have, so we may embrace the opposite of them: Union with God-we can never separate the two. St Peter says: ". you may share in
the divine nature after escaping the corruption of evil which is in the world" (II Pt. 1:14). For the saints, "escaping" means
sacrifice, and this means, variously put: "no pain, no gain". The Cross leads to the Resurrection. No Cross, no glory. Celestial
Paradise follows purification.
Sacrifice means offering or "forfeiting" something to God-something costly--for a higher purpose. Mother
Teresa often said: "Love until it hurts." Translation: we usually love with self-interest, with impure motives. Selfless love is
rare; but the saints achieved it: St Paul said "I will show a you a higher way. Love never fails" (I Cor. 13). We need to take
the "little stepping stones" and make the "baby-step choices" of seemingly puny sacrifices-to build up toward the bigger
sacrifices and courageous mind which can impel us, like the saints-and Jesus Himself-to offer God our whole lives. The Blessed
Virgin Mary certainly sacrificed her entire life to and for God, and in so doing, shows us ultimate discipleship: "Let it be
done unto me according to Your will" (Lk 1:46)
Last week was the feast of St. Perpetua, a Roman noblewoman who, because of her Catholic Faith, was
caught and executed by Roman soldiers and sword. But Perpetua's heroic virtue led her to unite heroically with the sacrifice
with Jesus. So, instead of hastening her death as most of us would, she allowed her executioner to kill her in slow manner, so
as to become "oned with Christ" in His Passion. The account describes it as an ecstasy amidst death.
What is the saint, and this account, teaching us? That the sacrifice of our most precious things-our
very self and life-when done in, and thru and for Jesus (if He allows it), can make us "stand outside of" a previous enslaving
self (the meaning of the word ecstasy), and free us into new life, into eternity. St Paul said: "We know that our old self was
crucified with Him so that our sinful body might be done away with" (Rm. 6:6).
St Thomas More, married man, father, chancellor of England, made many "small sacrifices" in his daily
life: he arose at 3am to pray for hours; attended daily Mass and frequented confession; he loved his Church and priests; read
the Bible and saintly literature-and was a faithful family man. When he rightly denied King Henry an illegitimate divorce he was
imprisoned and eventually beheaded. He said: "I die the King's servant, but God's first." He made this ultimate sacrifice
precisely because he already made daily, loving ones. Do you have sacred desire for spiritual ecstasy --to become a freed soul--
by dying to self, thru sacrificing, relinquishing everything to God, so He may be more in you? Sacrifices are like a "sacred
key" which open the door to holiness and truer imitation of Christ. Sacrifices-when done lovingly and nobly--are hard, but so
powerful-don't reject them-embrace them like Saint Perpetua! St Thomas More shows us that self-denial is like a spiritual
enhancing stimulus which prunes away the corruption of our lives to spiritually accelerate us toward higher, purer planes of
Perhaps today, sacrifice may imply giving up chocolate, or beer and tv. For some, these may be
sacrifices. But, aren't they more like ways to begin a life of sacrifice, by foregoing the "extras" in life- comforts and
pleasures--rather than an advanced life of forfeiting what is most essential, fundamental and central to us?
Jacinta, Lucia and Francisco, small children and visionaries of Our Lady at Fatima, made heroic
sacrifices-giving up water, food, sleep, affections, privacy, while embracing mortifications like eating raw plants, drinking
still water and sleeping in rugged quarters. Why--to become masochistic warriors, spiritual egotists? No. Because they loved the
Virgin, wanted to make reparation for sinners, and imitate Jesus more. They wanted to grow in the spiritual life. This is the
"fast track" toward regeneration-all the saints portray and promote this. St John Vianney said: "I have had crosses in
plenty-more than I could carry, almost. I set myself to ask for the love of crosses-then I was happy."
The saints knew there was a 'science to the spiritual life" (as a matter of fact-some of these truths,
often rejected by modernist Catholicism and Christianity, are so infused in mankind's blood they are universal in all
religions). They sacrificed basic needs and requirements of life, which most often included food (by fasting), sleep (by vigils
or early rising) , love and affection (denying self), time (tithing it away to others)-giving these up until it costs something.
The sacrifice shows God we love Him, by embracing suffering and purification, thereby giving Him a more pristine, enlightened,
soul to work with.
So, this Lent, Why sacrifice?
- To better know the Sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross-giving up the most precious gift-life itself.
When we do any sacrifice, we may taste, at least a little, His Passion, and thereby form deeper and more loving affections
- We can build upon small sacrifices, and incremental self-denial, to be freed for larger and more
loving ones. The saints show us that Love and sacrifice are not contradictory, but complementary.
- Making sacrifices-like the saints-help us long for Heaven, and Bliss, which are the unending
happiness spiritually implanted in our souls, where no corruption may interfere.
- Practice becoming a " nobody" -and thereby heed St. Paul's words: "If anyone thinks himself
something when he is nothing, he is deluding himself" (-Gal 6:3). Sacrifice time and possessions thru charity-give away
until it hurts, to gain the freedom of spiritual poverty. ..Sacrifice willingly by accepting crosses-like "sacred sandpaper"
and "spiritual scalpels" they will detach layers of false self to reveal your soul and configure you to Christ. In
contemplation sacrifice to God generous time thru intense devotion by silent adoration. He will clean you in a way you
cannot: "And all of us, with faces unveiled, gazing upon the glory of the Lord, are being , are being transformed into the
same image, from glory to glory" (II Cor. 3:18). Look, here's the simple spiritual equation: lose yourself (Lk. 9:24) by
sacrifices, so "God may be all in all" (I Cor. 15:28). When we practice sacrifices like the saints, after a while it will
not even seem like a cross, but rather become rapturous resolutions of be ecstatic love.
What sacrifices will you make? Remember what St Therese said: even the smallest sacrifice, done with
great love, is a great gift to God. Consider some other activities this Holy Season:
- Give up TV, radio, pleasure reading. Begin your day with prayer. St Francis DeSales recommends one
half-hour a day for laypersons: pray a psalm, sit in silence before a crucifix, read the Book of Job or memorize Psalm 23.
Pray the Rosary: forfeit your time for God.
- Speak less and listen more-both with God and others. Count yourself last in meals, praise and
attention. Keep a custody of the eyes: don't look at-and get enamored by everything, especially extraneous things and
seductive attractions. Serve a poor, sick or dying person: don't expect thanks or praise. Reconcile with someone-your
husband or wife, children or parents, a friend or neighbor-go out of your way to do it, humbly.
- Read about the heroic sacrifices and love of the saints-imitate them (in your own way) as they
imitated Christ. Count your blessings each night and thank God for them; examine your faults and really amend them. Give
away riches and luxuries-to the poor, and be freed. Go to daily Mass as much possible, make a confession really soon; learn
about the Divine Mercy devotion, study the Ten Commandments and how you fare regarding them
- Carry a crucifix in your pocket and frequently "refer" to it-touch and nestle it in your hand to
re-embrace the Lord Jesus' Crucifixion-His great Love for you. Prayer: "Most Blessed Trinity, Lead me from sin, To Your
Satan and repentance -these two realties in the Gospel today are "spiritually un-correct" today.
However, do you recall the saying-- "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely"? The Bible teaches that anything good
can go bad, and anything great can get evil. The highest angel-Lucifer- chose to rebel against God. Remember: corruption can
happen anywhere, anytime. Today we see the serious corruption of two essential realities: Marriage and Religion. The Pope has
compassionately challenged a "culture of divorce" -wherein illegitimate divorce is hurtful to children, and sometimes even
fueled by the legal profession and others. He has also warned us about changing the essentials of our Faith in trying to
modernize or become more worldly. How? For instance : "All are sinners"( Rm 3:23) is replaced by the "I'm o.k.- you're-o.k"
mentality. Hell and Purgatory are replaced by "suffering is only on earth." Personal conversion and penance is replaced by God's
unconditional love of me without justice. The Highest angel chose evil-the best went worst. When we, ourselves, become bad, we
need strong medicine: repentance. This means a hard, loving, focused, and continual turning of the "inner steering wheel" of the
soul toward God, and away from evil and lukewarmenss. The Devil attacked Jesus, so: "Watch out, your adversary, the Devil is on
the prowl looking for someone to devour' (I Pt 5:8) .
Saint Michael, the Archangel, Defend Us in Battle be our protection against the wickedness and snares of
the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God cast into hell
Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen."
Poem: "The truest wisdom, that to which we can aspire/ Is to be joined with God, to be with love on
fire." +Agnelus Silesius
other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi