Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Sacrifice and Love

Father John J. Lombardi

Saintly Sacrifices are choices of Love, chosen amidst our muddled, human life, which point to AnOther-a supernatural Reality and Presence, Christ, Who made the Ultimate Choice and Sacrifice. C.S. Lewis-Christian convert and apologist (which means "explainer of faith") once suggested that we are called to be "Little Christs-human representations of Jesus, imitating His Divine Love and Sacrifice.

Recently, after meeting with a couple of ladies, I felt their story taught me richly about "Little Christs" in ways I had hardly ever known, and their story about sacrifice alone was almost worth becoming ordained a priest and getting assigned to Mary's Grotto. As I looked at the Polaroid-like pictures of the lady they spoke about-a mother and wife-I thought I was looking at a saint. I didn't see a halo but I detected a spiritual aura.

It was a rainy Tuesday morning when I met the ladies, and I was a bit tired and kinda forgetful of the names and subject matter of the appointment. I was a little rushed, too, as I, thinking, and treadmill consciousness-like: Okay, let's get to business to move on to other necessities. I was little prepared for what I was about to hear. God knew, but I did not..

Mother and daughter came to speak about their grandchildren and nieces and nephews. They were concerned for their faith formation. That was their primary reason for counsel. But then they explained the background reasons. It turns out, a couple years ago, Mom said, her daughter Karen was sick-and pregnant with twins. She, with her husband, had four children already. Problem: doctors counseled Karen and husband to have an abortion and thereby "clear the way for medical treatment". All solved--right? But: Karen was a devout Catholic. She prayed the Rosary frequently, once lived in a convent, attended Mass often, was tenaciously ethical, and, Mom said: "Her Catholic Religion was the most important thing in her life…and we want to honor that". That's why they came-to honor Karen and help her children.

Well, in a.d. 2003 Karen was pregnant, refused invasive medical treatment (including abortion) and gave birth to twins. A month later, she died-on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Fatima. I was stunned as I began to think of Karen's sacrifice, her love, her imitation of Jesus: Truth is costly and somehow liberating. Her six children and husband are all still living. I thought: this saintly person lived right near the Grotto. Another saint was St Gianna Molla, who exemplified a similar story and death, lived in Italy and was recently canonized a saint by Pope John Paul II. But that's Italy, and that's a few years ago-the saints seem, sometimes, so far away-distant. Karen's story is "right here and right now." Alive-in a kinda' "backyard holiness".

I was almost as impressed by the way the ladies told this profound story as I was by its background. They related it all so calmly and peacefully. But, when you think about it, when you have Faith - you have peace, even amidst the storms-and you know that God is providential-a providing-Father, even when we cannot detect it. And, also, they-Mom and daughter, were there for another reason, not for themselves, but to help the children and family, and honor Karen and her faith-wishes.

Before leaving they gave me a funeral-holy card with Karen's name, and birth and death dates on it, and humbly asked me to pray for their intentions. Once again, I was touched by their innocence and purity of heart in asking for my prayers.

Most of us will never have to make such a monumental, difficult decision, and yet, inspired by Karen and the martyrs, "I can do all things thru Christ Who strengthens us". And yet mesmerized by such heroes and sacrificial actions, we can get blinded to the holiness and sacrifices God calls us to under our noses. Huh? We may sometimes think-I'm waiting for That Big Decision and want to rise to the occasion-and we keep looking and, meanwhile, we lose "minor battles" along the way --stealing papers clips, gossiping, telling white lies. Hello! God is giving us, frequently-and fortunately-- "little battles" and decisive moments to decide for Him and His Way, or the world's, as we travel thru this life. By our faulty idea (a fallible mental construct within) we block out the present propitious moment of truth (mundane, though important choices) and thereby neglect or reject the building up of an ethical and moral foundation for choice-making and character. Karen made the Big Decision probably because she made lots of smaller ones along the way-going to Mass, saying the Rosary, loving her children by "seeing" their souls; meditating upon Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross; thinking about the Virgin Mary's heroic virtues and embracing tough ethical choices even when they hurt-just like Jesus.

Lessons (as if they need to be made explicit):

At Mass-the readings that day were profoundly synchronized with this sacrificial story-Sirach mentioned how the sacrifices of the just will be remembered; and the Gospel story about losing home, mother and father, children, for sake of Gospel and heroically serving others will be rewarded hugely… in Heaven…So, remember: frequenting Mass can help you to have the mindset of Christ and His Sacrifice.

Children-came to Mass that day from St John Regional School, Frederick. After telling story of Karen's sacrifice you could have heard a spiritual pin drop. I asked them to pray for gifts, like Karen's: 1)Insight into Truth; 2)Sense of Sacrifice; and 3) her Love-of God and for her children's faith. Here was a real, earthly person choosing, in a most dramatic way, the First and greatest Commandant-love God and neighbor. It all comes from love, since God Himself is Love (I Jn. 4:16 ). Do you seek, tap into and extend that Love from God-the-Trinity to others?

Saintly Sister: After our conversation, Karen's sister said, so sincerely--"I think my sister's a saint." You couldn't pay a higher compliment about a person. Sure, you could say-I love your smile or You dress well, or I love your car (as I recently heard in a gas station from one patron to another). But, who says about a friend or relative-He or she is a saint. Yes: let's work for that complement, not for ego-gratification but for the Glory of God-that we realize what St Ireneaeus said: "The Glory of God is man fully alive."

God Provides: That's a gigantically important saying-since, after we've traveled through this world, and thru many different places of living and choice-making, all the while wondering about God's actual Love for us in those particular situations, hopefully, we finally and fully realize--He does provide. Perhaps not in the way you or I think He should, or expect, but He does give to us what we need.

Ask for, work with Grace: You can't do it-holiness and Heaven-- alone. Karen didn't-- she relied on God as "inner spiritual fuel"-and family and friends. The Holy Spirit is the "Inner Master" of the spiritual life so ask Him for gifts and fruits to help you make, embrace and carry thru with difficult choices and decisions.

How To Respond…Preserve your distinctive Catholic Faith. Embrace the Sacraments! Live heroically! Protect your family and children-the Evil is out to destroy the family. It's that simple. Name and maim the enemies: pornography, abortion, contraception, same sex unions, the culture of divorce and culture of death, busybodyistic-materialism, new designs and definitions of the family. These are the biggest forces trying to overcome the Catholic-Christian family. They' re big, consistent forces, but we can unite-if we know the problem-and the solution -Christ and his Plan and the Sacraments. Like Karen, pray for Insight, Sacrifice and Love.

We need "Little Christ's"-- heroes imitating our Lord and His Sacrifice-for the salvation of souls! Now, "Just do it!"

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi