22nd Sunday A
30th August 2020
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“too long a sacrifice ….” W.B. Yeats.
“Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart” observed the poet W.B. Yeats. Sacrifice of its nature is difficult humanly speaking. To surrender to and gift to another without condition or demand requires a decision in freedom. It can be done, it has been done and continues to be done by so many people. However, if people feel their sacrifice is not valued but taken for granted that can make a stone of our hearts – it moves us from generosity to bitterness / resentment and anger.
Maybe that is what is happening in our midst over these days. There is a lot of blame and recrimination going ‘round and it is ugly.
In the midst of it all there is an urgent call for vigilance and solidary. The response to this call can be motivated simply by self-interest – “I’ll mind myself and my own”. Or it can come from a deeper personal spiritual virtue within and among us – the capacity for self-giving love which is sacrifice by another name.
St. Paul writing to the Romans “think of God’s mercy … in a way that is worthy of thinking beings by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. …. Let your behaviour change according to your new mind”
In this invitation he is linking our thinking minds with the love of God in our hearts and with our new behaviour. This way of understanding our lives and the path that inspires and motivates change belongs to every corner of Christian living but right now it is especially powerful and necessary in Covid time.
What distinguishes these days is the shared threat and challenge that our behaviour can have on each other’s very mortality. In times of danger thinking minds are necessary. In times of great challenge sacrifice is called for – part out of obligation – for many but especially if made with generosity of heart is life saving and life giving.
My friends, one of the benefits of this time that we are going through is the way it has pushed us to look beneath the surface of our lives to explore and value the core elements that really matter in the long term – the work we do and its demand on us and our family, the relationships with family and friends, even the very way we find a balance between work and the other areas of life. In some ways our expectations had gone through the roof. So a new realism has dawned upon us.
On the level of society we are now living on an awful lot of borrowed money – which in time has to be paid back. So we can expect really testing times for many. Within families our care for parents and grandparents as they age will need much readjustment in our thinking and dare I say sacrifice too.
In our practice of faith in the past the acceptance of sacrifice, a self-giving in love was part and parcel of our faith understanding. That understanding has ebbed away from us to be replaced by self-discipline in the service of the achievement of personal goals. This current experience is pushing us to reach deeper into our understanding of and vision of life.
On that front there are so many signs and examples of sacrifice made for others – driven by an intuitive self-giving love for others at their point of need. And equally heartening is people’s appreciation of their sacrifice.
My friends, one of the strongest words of rebuke that come from Jesus is found in to-day’s Gospel when he sharply commands Peter “get behind me, Satan”! Imagine Peter’s shock – all he wished was that Jesus would not be harmed – in other words mind yourself, Lord. Only to be told “you are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s”.
“Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart” – note he says can, not does or will. We do not know how long we will be called on to continue to make sacrifices for one another – sacrifice offered in self-giving love is altogether different from the tyranny of obligation. The choice is ours.