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?

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