My Sacrifice

One of Creed’s best known songs shares the title to my article. Many people say this is a prayer song, not surprising since lead singer and songwriter, Scott Stapp, a troubled man, is a Christian.  The lyricist is actually talking to his younger self, reflecting on life experiences that form his person, and how all those bad times helped him persevere.

I chose the title because we are approaching the season of Lent.  As children in Catholic school during the 1960’s we were basically taught that during Lent you had to sacrifice something you loved.  In children’s terms that meant candy, cookies, or a favorite toy.  While we are still encouraged to abstain, emphasis should also be placed on taking on more, such as penance and prayer.  We should be preparing ourselves for Easter by attending Stations of the Cross, Mass, a weekly holy hour, personal prayer, and of course making a good confession.

Lenten practices have been with us since the earliest of times, becoming more regular around the time that Christianity was legalized in 313 AD.  What does Lent mean?  It means “Springtide” and is also the word for “March” the month in which most of Lent falls.  We leave the darkness of winter for the renewal of life that spring brings.  Trees, flowers, and plants that once lie dormant burst with life once again. Jesus died on the Cross and rose from the dead.

Do you remember as a child attending Stations of the Cross with your class or with your family?  Or visiting neighborhood churches on Holy Thursday?  Do you recall how mysterious the dark churches were and the statues covered up in purple cloth?  Good Friday, always a day off school, was spent in silence from Noon to 3PM before heading over to church.  Holy Saturday meant lots of baking and cooking and of course bringing the baskets of food to church to be blessed.  All we would think about was receiving our Easter baskets and indulging the next day!  Of course all this led up to Easter Sunday, which entailed dressing in your new clothes, going to church, which was once again filled with light, and then an early dinner at Grandma’s.

Most if not all of these church activities survive today.  However, there are less and less faithful attending.  If you ask any child today what Easter is all about they will tell you the Easter bunny, candy, and toys.  In fact, Easter has turned into a mini-Christmas.  The same way the culture has secularized Christmas it’s doing the same to Easter.

So why should we perform all these sacrifices?  Why fast, pray, and do penance?  Ask anyone who is getting ready for a big event in their life.  What do they do before the big day?  Prepare.  Ask any child what they do before a big test—study, eat well, and get plenty of sleep.  Or an athlete who is participating in a big game—practice, exercise, pray/meditate, eat well, and condition themselves.  The preparation can be grueling on the body but it’s needed for the soul.  You get the idea.  We need to get ready.  We need to put gas back in the tank for God.  And yes, the process can be quite draining but the reward is great.  Just think if the child or the athlete does not prepare.  What happens?  They fail.  We don’t want to fail.

If you’ve ever lived or vacationed in the southern states you’re acquainted with the Passion Play.  I attended an outdoor version in Arkansas.  Several Hispanic parishes take part in the Passion of Christ Via Crucis.  There are still a few in the Chicago area who walk the way of the Cross through busy Chicago streets.  The most well-known is in the Pilsen neighborhood.  All are amazing and if you’ve never seen one you should.  During each walk, even though hundreds of people are participating down busy city streets—you can hear a pin drop—except for the orders yelled out by the actors portraying the Roman soldiers.  For that moment, buses, cars, and all foot traffic stop and stare.

Before the movie, The Passion of the Christ, most people, including Christians, never realized the true torture and horror Jesus experienced leading up to and including the crucifixion.  Isaiah’s prophesy (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) of the suffering servant was fulfilled.  He endured it for us—for our sins.  Jesus was the Lamb of God.  It was the ultimate sacrifice.  Yet, we are not even willing to spend an hour with Him on a Sunday morning or give up a hamburger or a cookie for a few days.  A Stations of the Cross service lasts about 20 minutes—are you too busy or too tired?

A popular commercial for cold medicine shows either a woman or man popping their heads in what appears to be an office door and telling someone they need to take a sick day.  When they show who is in the room, you expect it to be their boss but it’s a very young child.  The announcer states moms or dads don’t take sick days.  Well neither does God.  We call out to Him in prayer or just expect Him to be with us in times of trouble.  What if He were too busy or too tired?

Almost all of us will partake in some festivities on Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Paczki Day, or Carnivale, whichever name you call it by, but know why we celebrate it.  It’s the last hurrah before Lent begins and it ends abruptly at midnight. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  A day when we recognize our inevitable death coupled with repentance.  Do you remember in the Old Testament when someone sinned they would dress in sackcloth and cover themselves in ashes?  It’s the same thing.  We are telling God we’re sorry for sinning against Him and promise to repent and never do it again.

The best thing about God is He’s our father.  Like all good parents we get a second chance.  In many cases, we get several chances.  You can always turn back to Him at any time and all will be forgiven.  In fact, Jesus states in Luke 15:7, “There will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who have no need to repent.”  How cool is that?


Right Here Waiting

For those of you not familiar with the 1989 Richard Marx tune, it tells the tale of a man waiting for his true love.  Whatever she does, wherever she goes, no matter how long, he’ll be right there waiting and preparing for her return.

Waiting actually has several meanings.  Most people associate it with sitting around until the something they’re waiting on happens.  Others associate it with customer service, as in a restaurant server.  In all cases the wait is actually preparing for that big something to occur.

Waiting, unfortunately, has become a lost art—thanks to technology.  We rarely have to wait for anything.  News is made and broadcast as soon as it happens.  Fast food establishments give us our fix “freaky fast”.  You can order just about anything online via your computer, laptop, tablet and even your phone and arrange overnight delivery.  Sometimes this is good but other times—not so good.  Remember when waiting was worth it?  We still catch glimpses of it every time Apple releases a new product.

One of my fondest memories was standing in line at the crack of dawn with my sisters and cousin outside the Field Museum to view the King Tut exhibit.  We were so excited and so were all the other thousands of folks who braved the weather.  The anticipation level was off the charts.  And then finally we were lead into the exhibit to see the stunning artifacts.  Was it worth the wait?  Of course.  Why else would I remember it so fondly?

Back in the day, when mom or grandma baked or cooked our favorites we couldn’t wait to eat it.  This was before supermarkets and microwaves—everything was made from scratch and the process could be long.  The aromas and expectations for biting into our favorite foods or desserts would drive us crazy.  It was always worth the wait.

Have you noticed how angry we have become when we have to wait a few minutes for anything?  We’ve all seen the YouTube videos of customers screaming obscenities or reacting violently when their Big Mac is slow in coming.  Not to mention ugly Black Friday sales where people would prefer to trample fellow human beings over a television all in the name of Christmas.

Patience is a virtue, but waiting and preparing can be gifts themselves.  We are now in the season of Advent.  Advent means coming. Who is coming?  Jesus is coming.  Jesus came as an innocent baby some 2000 odd years ago.  But sometimes we forget He’s coming again.  His apostles and followers believed He was coming soon after He left.  But He didn’t.  And we’ve been waiting and preparing ever since.

What do you do when you’re waiting for a very special visitor?  My guess is you clean your house thoroughly and of course prepare a feast fit for a king.  Isn’t that what we should be doing as we await Jesus’ return?  But we don’t know when He’s coming back.  That’s the point.  At least with human visitors we usually know when they’re coming.  But what happens when someone drops in unexpectedly?  Unless you’re Martha Stewart my guess is your house is a mess, the kids are screaming, and there is nothing warm and delicious in the oven.  Remember that old song, If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake?  That’s what happens when we are unprepared.

I’m fascinated by a growing group of people who call themselves “preppers”.  If you don’t know who they are, they’re a diverse group of self-reliant people who are preparing for all things great and small, such as a loss of a job right up to a natural disaster.  They stock up on food, water, extra clothing—waiting and preparing—just in case.  They should not be confused with hoarders, who buy massive quantities and keep them squirreled away for no particular reason.

Our country was founded and built on being prepared and self-reliant. It’s the true definition of real freedom.  Early Americans did not want to rely on a king or a big government to tell them what to do or take care of them.  They waited on God, prepared with their own hard work and if their neighbor ran into bad luck, they were equally prepared to help him or her out.

Some people attribute the return to self-reliance to The Church of Latter Day Saints or the Mormons.  If you ask a Mormon why their church leaders counsel them to keep a year supply of food, water etc. on hand they will tell you being self-reliant makes common sense.  They are not only prepared for anything, it allows them to help others as well.  I have a good friend who is Mormon.  Among other things, she always has plenty of pillows on hand at any given time.  Why?  She’s one of the first on the scene of natural or man-made disasters to deliver a pillow to a person who has lost everything.

My grandmother was not Mormon, but she was a product of the Depression.  Today she would be considered a prepper.  She never had one can of anything.  You could always find something edible growing at all times of the year.  Her generation was prepared for whatever life would throw at them.  If you dropped in on my grandmother without an invitation, it was never a problem.  She was always prepared.  An extra plate or five could easily be set at the table and there would still be extras left over.  Being prepared is a good thing.

Waiting and being prepared go hand-in-hand when holding a big event.  As I mentioned earlier, this is what Advent is all about.  We are waiting and preparing for Jesus’ return.  We don’t want to be caught unprepared in a dirty house with no provisions to set before the King.  Or even worse, not home to answer the knock at the door.

Father Robert Barron, in his Advent Reflections, says one of the best ways to get into the spirit of Advent is to read the Bible.  I agree.  You can’t fully understand Jesus as Lord and Savior without the backdrop, prophecies and history of the Old Testament.  This year, why not read a passage from the Old Testament each day of Advent?  You probably have a favorite biblical tale from your childhood.  Revisit it and read it as an adult.  Looking for excitement?  Read Genesis, Exodus or Samuel.  Feeling sorry for yourself?  Read Job.  Crave prayers and meditations?  Try the Psalms.  Looking for wisdom?  Read Proverbs or the Book of Wisdom.  Want to read about fascinating women?  Try the Book of Ruth or Esther.  If you’re a fan of so-called psychics and mediums, read Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.

I’m a collector of Advent calendars.  From a church with 25 little doors, a Christmas tree with 25 opening ornaments to a mouse that jumps from pocket to pocket—I love counting down the days to Christmas.  As a child I loved being the lucky one who got to the calendar first, peeled back the small door and ate the small piece of chocolate that waited there for me.   I no longer store hidden chocolates behind every Advent calendar door, but what I’ve discovered is there is something much better than chocolate behind each of the 25 days of Advent.