A mosaic depicts the death of Christ and the blood and water flowing from His side, as described in John’s Gospel. CNS file photoA mosaic depicts the death of Christ and the blood and water flowing from His side, as described in John’s Gospel. CNS file photo

SOME say that at heart, Christianity is counter-intuitive. Its message contrasts strikingly with the patterns usually proposed to us for living successfully and harvesting life’s riches.

After all, Christianity counts losses as gains, insists that selflessness paves the way to self-discovery and locates the seeds of new life in death.

Christianity also ranks love far above efficiency when it comes to fostering our surrounding world’s good functioning. And paradoxically, Christianity esteems sacrifice for its capacity to open channels along which this love can flow.

In the Christian view, sacrifice literally can be life-giving.

Thankfully, while this message about sacrifice may be counter-intuitive, it applies directly to the lives we lead. Most of us must at times sacrifice something we hold dear or make unplanned, taxing commitments that are sacrificial:
  • For some, sacrifice will mean forgiving someone and in the process surrendering feelings of hurt.
  • Others will sacrifice a plan made for their future that, time showed, was wrongly conceived.
  • Some will sacrifice preconceived notions of others that blocked understanding between them.
  • Yet others will sacrifice by taking steps to recover from addictions and give up negative habits for their own sake and for their families.
There is a sort of dying in these sacrifices, but a rising too. This is the mystery John’s Gospel has in mind when Jesus says:

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (12:24).

In his 2006 encyclical God Is Love, Pope Benedict XVI talked about the fruitful grain of wheat sowed into the ground and about a related statement in the Gospel of Luke, where it says that “whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it” (17:33).

Jesus is portraying “His own path, which leads through the cross to the resurrection: the path of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies and in this way bears much fruit,” Pope Benedict explained in the encyclical (No. 6).

He added that while Jesus is talking in these passages about Himself, He also is talking about His followers.

“Starting from the depths of His own sacrifice and of the love that reaches fulfilment therein, He also portrays in these words the essence of love and indeed of human life itself,” the pope said.

It seems, then, that a paradoxical, counter-intuitive life pattern was set for Christians. According to this pattern, our sacrifices, like His sacrifice, are life-giving.

Naturally, it can be tough to welcome the opportunities that come our way for pursuing fulfilment through selflessness and sacrifice. Sacrifices in ordinary life may involve responding positively to unwelcome developments – crosses we did not choose, challenges we barely understand.

Moreover, in employing the term “sacrifice”, people often mean an action that requires a generous commitment of their time and energy.

In a pastoral reflection on suffering, the bishops of New Zealand pointed to the relationship of sacrifice and love. The bishops noted how Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata linked “love with faith, which in order to be authentic has to be generous and giving”.

They quoted her saying: “True love causes pain. Jesus, in order to give us the proof of His love, died on the cross. A mother, in order to give birth to her baby, has to suffer. If you really love one another, you will not be able to avoid making sacrifices.” - By David Gibson, CNS

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