Yet, many of us have at one time or other been guilty of this. Archbishop William Goh explains why and what you should be doing.
Many of us have the wrong notion of offering sacrifices to God. This pagan understanding still prevails in our relationship with God. We think that God can be appeased with lambs and animals, etc. This false notion also creeps into our understanding of mortification and penance. We do penance to earn God’s blessings when they are meant to dispose us to receiving His blessings. The mortifications we do are not the cause of God’s blessings and do not please God, but it is for our sake, so that we can be receptive to the blessings He wants to bestow upon us.
The prophet makes it clear that He is not pleased with such external sacrifices. In fact, He is disgusted with them because they were offered by people whose hearts were far from Him. “What are your endless sacrifices to me? says the Lord. “Bring me your worthless offerings no more, the smoke of them fills me with disgust.”
What God desires is intimacy and union with us. He desires love, not sacrifices. When we do wrong things and hurt our fellowmen, He is wounded because of His love for them. And He feels sad for us because we are destroying ourselves. Hence the prophet warns us, “When you stretch out your hands I turn my eyes away. You may multiply your prayers, I shall not listen. Your hands are covered with blood, wash, make yourselves clean.” Again, the call to justice is paramount to the Lord, more so than all our sacrifices. “Take your wrong-doing out of my sight. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow.”
So, what is the real sacrifice? We are called to offer ourselves, our very lives, in union with Jesus for the salvation of humanity. In giving ourselves, we find ourselves. This is the key to life. The less we focus on ourselves in terms of needs, the more we will find life when we dissipate our energy in serving others. That is why Jesus said, “Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
What does this sacrifice of oneself involve?
Firstly, it means putting Him as the central focus in our lives. “Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me.” Moses told the people that they must love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and strength. This is the fundamental commandment and the key to life. (Dt 6:4-7). Once God is the focus of our lives, we will see everything in perspective.
Archbishop Goh: We are called to perform works of charity, seeing Jesus in the poor and in the suffering and hungry.
Secondly, it means to be separated from those people and things and activities that lead us away from His love. This is what holiness is all about. Very often, it is our friends and loved ones, especially our children, that lead us away from God! When we make them our gods and give them more focus, time and attention as if they are the centre of our lives, the more we become enslaved to them. Unless we learn to let go and put God as the priority in our lives, we cannot truly love our loved ones rightly and wisely. Ironically, it is our in-laws and our enemies that bring us closer to God!
Thirdly, it means carrying our cross patiently. Jesus said, “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me.” Every day, we must carry the cross of inconvenience, fatigue and suffering that comes from work and relationships patiently. By carrying the cross patiently and lovingly, we will be purified and grow in love and charity towards ourselves and others.
Fourthly, it calls for the work of compassion. It is not enough to be focused on God. We must also allow the worship of God to lead us to the service of humanity. We are called to perform works of charity, seeing Jesus in the poor and in the suffering and hungry. “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me. Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will have a prophet’s reward; and anyone who welcomes a holy man because he is a holy man will have a holy man’s reward.”
Fifthly, if possible we must speak about Him and proclaim His love to others. We read that “when Jesus had finished instructing His twelve disciples He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.” We too must move on in life. We must find opportunities to spread His love and His name. We just do what we can and the Lord will help us.
In this way, we are identified with Jesus in every way so much so that people see the Christ in us. Indeed, they will see us as Jesus. The greatest compliment is when someone says to us, “Here comes Jesus!” Let us be Jesus to each other so that we truly become identified with Him in thought, deeds and life.
(Note: The full version of this reflection was released on 16 July, 2018. Scripture references, unless noted, are from Scripture readings (Is 1:10-17; Mt 10:34-11:1)