Homily: 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
If I were to mention the word “sacrifice” in the context in which we are standing—that is here in a Church during a religious service—most of us would probably know what I was talking about. That’s because sacrifice, in a religious context, almost immediately calls forward images of the ritual sacrifices offered by ancient peoples: animals or other objects offered on an altar in homage to a god or gods. And this is true enough, for in a religious context this is the basic definition of a sacrifice. However, I think that there is a much broader definition of sacrifice—one that we encounter outside of the religious context—that allows us to understand sacrifice a little more directly and to see how sacrifice is actually something that we encounter regularly in our daily lives.
In a more general context, sacrifice is the surrender or destruction of something that is prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim. And if we think about it, I guess we could find that, in big and small ways, we do this almost every day. Families will give up vacations so as to save money for a new home or a college education for their children. Parents will sell the sports car in order to purchase a minivan as their families begin to grow. Some will refuse to take a new job because it would move them too far away from loved ones. Others, however, will even leave their native country in order to provide a better life for their families. Every couple of years, either in the winter or in the summer, this ideal of sacrifice is on display during the Olympics, where athletes from around the world who have sacrificed years of their lives in order to strive for greatness in a particular sport compete for one prize—an Olympic medal—that makes their sacrifices worthwhile. Without doubt, sacrifice is something familiar to us.
And that’s good, because sacrifice is a very important aspect of the Eucharist that we celebrate each and every week. The unique thing about the Eucharist considered as a sacrifice, however, is that while at the same time it is a sacrifice like those made by ancient peoples, in which an offering is immolated on an altar, it is also a sacrifice that never ends and is constantly being re-presented because of its most perfect and enduring nature. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read that: The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” (1367) And so, the sacrifice that we offer week after week is the one, eternal sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. It is the only perfect sacrifice. And so, uniting ourselves to it becomes the only way to make our lives an acceptable sacrifice to God. (cf. 2100)
The Church also teaches us that an outward sacrifice that is not an expression of an inward sacrifice of spirit is empty (2100). And Psalm 51 reminds us that “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a contrite spirit.” And so we have to ask ourselves: “When we come here each week, do we do it merely out of external duty or do we do it to offer something of ourselves to God?” If we are here only because we fear what God will do to us if we don’t show up, then I think that we are missing the point. Don’t get me wrong, we all need a reason to be here and if fear of punishment is all you have this week, well then that’s something. But the real fruit of our weekly sacrifice will only be found when we come here to unite our daily sacrifices of prayer and work to Christ’s eternal sacrifice. In other words, our sacrifice of prayer in this building will mean little to us individually unless we bring forward the sacrifices of our daily lives to be offered with Christ’s on this altar.
Sometimes, however, we can convince ourselves that our offerings don’t amount to much. This is not new. As we saw in our readings today, two persons were asked to place their meager offerings before a multitude of people: to sacrifice what they had for a greater purpose. To each of them, it didn’t look like much; but to God it was enough to multiply and satisfy. They couldn’t see this, however, until they were invited to make the offering. They thought their offering was barely enough to cover their own needs. What they found, however, was that, when offered to God, their small sacrifices served a much greater purpose. In other words: their sacrifice, united through the “man of God” to God’s sacrifice, was made abundantly fruitful.
And so this is our work: to daily acknowledge the connection between the sacrifices we make every day and the one, perfect, and abundant sacrifice that Christ offered on the cross; and then to bring those sacrifices here to be offered with Christ’s and lifted up to God in prayer and praise. Perhaps you can even find practical ways of doing this, like writing down your sacrifices during the week on small slips of paper and then dropping them into the collection basket next week. Then, as you watch as the basket is brought to the altar, you will be able see your sacrifices going up to be offered with the bread and wine that will become the Body and Blood of Christ, the true and perfect sacrifice. Whatever way you choose, find some way to recollect the small and big sacrifices that you will make this coming week so that you can offer them here and you will begin to find that your participation in this celebration will be much more fruitful. ///
You know, I think that we have a special opportunity in these coming weeks, as we hear more from these Eucharistic passages of John’s Gospel, to reflect on and renew our experience of this miraculous event and of its sacramental renewal here in the Mass. And so I encourage you to spend time reflecting on these Gospel passages each day of this week and the weeks following (yes, I said each day). In fact, we can begin right now in the silence that follows before we profess the Creed. Let these words soak into your heart and ask God for the faith to see the truth of what he has promised: that our sometimes meager sacrifices can be made abundantly fruitful when united to Christ’s one, perfect sacrifice.
My brothers and sisters, if you pay close attention to what follows, you’ll see that our prayers and actions are all pointed toward making that connection between the offerings of our lives and the life offered here on this altar. And so let us turn, now, to him and make an offering of ourselves acceptable to God our Almighty Father.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – July 29th, 2018