A History of Sacrifices (a memorial)

“Someday after mastering the wind, the waves, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energy of Love, and then for the second time in history we will have discovered Fire.”
– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Monsignor Luigi Giussani, who was the founder of the ecclesial movement Community and Liberation, wrote: “To recognize the presence of another is always the beginning of a history of sacrifices – always. When a mother gives birth to a baby, it’s the beginning of a history of sacrifices; when a boy marries a girl, it’s the beginning of a history of sacrifices. But this is like the dawn of an ever more intensely laden day when man recognizes God made man as present, present in his life….”

We don’t like the word sacrifice. Yet nothing happens without some measure of sacrifice. When we become aware of the ultimate Presence, it changes our lives and demands a litany of sacrifices as we struggle to give up attachments, habits and fears which diminish the Presence in our lives.

We are all bundles of need. To engage with another is to come face-to-face with his or her need, which requires a decision: do I help or do I walk away? Almost nine months ago, I became aware of the presence of a homeless woman in Haiti, an artist without paint or canvas. To help Ecarlatte over those months has required a major sacrifice, as I had to part with money that I actually needed for my own survival. But her presence in my life has blessed me more than money ever could. Two strangers who saw each other…and saw God in each other.

In his book, Mystical Passion, William McNamara, a Trappist monk, wrote: “Capacity for love is perhaps the only indispensable natural foundation for holiness. I must possess the power and impetus, the wings of the soul, to forget myself for another’s sake, to prize another more than myself, to face fear and pain for another, and to risk my life. Friendship with God depends on this.”

Friendship with Christ requires us to be filled with compassion for those for whom suffering from lack of basic necessities, such as clean water, has become a way of life. To grow in compassion requires sacrifice…and real love – love for God and another. It is love which will move us to action on behalf of the poor and it is love which will give us the courage to make the necessary sacrifices and not to be overcome by fear.

Today (12/2/11) marks the 31st anniversary of the death of four American churchwomen who made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in a remote cow pasture in El Salvador. Two of the women, Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline Sister, and Jean Donovan, a young lay missionary from Cleveland who worked in refugee camps, had returned to El Salvador after attending a retreat in Nicaragua. They were met at the airport by two Maryknoll Sisters, Maura Clarke and Ita Ford. On the evening of December 2, 1980, along the road from the airport, their car was stopped at a military roadblock. They were forced from the car and taken to a remote spot along a side road were they were brutally beaten, executed and buried in a shallow grave. The woman knew how dangerous it was for them to be in El Salvador at that time. Nine months earlier Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down at the altar while saying Mass. The night before her murder, Ita Ford had said, “One who is committed to the poor must risk the same fate as the poor. And in El Salvador we know what the fate of poor signifies: to disappear, to be tortured, to be captive, and to be found dead.” The four women were shot in the head at close range by the military death squad; two of the women were raped. Believing fully in the Church’s preferential option for the poor, these four martyrs had chosen to live their lives in solidarity with the oppressed…and they sacrificed everything for those who had nothing. This is Gospel love.

The four women had fallen in love…with Christ and with the poor. And because of that love, they were able to give of themselves, totally and without reservation.

St. Anselm longed to see God. He fervently prayed: “I seek your face; your face Lord, I desire.” I think the four women had learned, through love, to see the face of Christ in the face of the poor. This was the great grace they received. It is the grace for which I pray. Whenever you see someone suffering, you are looking at Christ.

The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed: “I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe, plans to give you a future of hope. When you look for me, you will find me: when you seek me with all your heart.” In the poor, Maura, Ita, Dorothy and Jean experienced the Presence of God…and they knew fear no longer. In liberating others, they had liberated themselves. In their death, they came to know the fullness of life.

Love often takes us by surprise, a surprise that is expressed by the notion of falling in love. When we fall, we lose control. When we fall in love, whether with God or another, we become vulnerable and lose our sense of separateness. In love, we fall into wonder and awareness, joy and anguish. We all want love, but we also fear the cost of love, the price of being awake to a deeper reality. Love takes work. Love is not a commodity whose cost can be measured. Many ignore the bliss of love in order to avoid the pain of love, preferring the false safety of their own finely crafted inner world of isolation. But the heart longs for what the heart longs for: love…no matter the cost, no matter the hurt. We were made by Love and for love. Slowly, the distinction between the Beloved and the lover dissolves and Presence becomes communion. In Love, the poor are my brothers and sisters, along with all of creation. In Love we know the fullness of life which transcends even our physical death.

“So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”
-Thomas Merton


1 Response to “A History of Sacrifices (a memorial)”

  1. 1 squiznit December 2, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    well written and very interesting
    good post look forward to more like this

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