May 26, 2015 at 6:39 pm Leave a comment


Yesterday’s gospel speaks of the need to be detached if we want to find real happiness in life.  So how do we overcome our attachments?

Through the offering of sacrifices of communion, praise, thanksgiving and alms giving!  But not merely any kind of sacrifices, especially those that come from impure motives, as in the case of Peter, or from a sinful heart.  The truth is that many of us are willing to make sacrifices for self-gain.  We are ready to make sacrifices for a better career, more money and power.  But this is not the kind of sacrifice we are speaking about.  This sacrifice must spring from generosity of heart, for the love of God and others.  Hence, the bible underscores that the sacrifice we offer must be a virtuous sacrifice.

The practice of sacrifice is prevalent in most religions, including Catholicism.  The first reading from the Book of Sirach focuses on the theme of a virtuous sacrifice to be offered to God.  He exhorts us, “Do not appear empty-handed in the Lord’s presence; for all these things are due under the commandment.”  The responsorial psalm repeats and elaborates what a worthy and trustful sacrifice entails.

Why does God need us to make sacrifices?  Right from the outset, we must be clear that God does not need our sacrifice.  In truth God does not even need Jesus to sacrifice Himself on the cross in order to save us from sins.  Otherwise, God appears to be such a cruel Father who demands to be appeased by the blood of His own Son in order to forgive the sins of humanity.  This would be unthinkable and transforms the love of God into a vindictive and blood thirsty deity, not much different from the pagan gods and deities we read in some other religions.

In the first place, we must be clear that sacrifice is not for the sake of God but for the sake of humanity!  God does not need our sacrifices.  Listen to what the prophet wrote, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.”  (Hos 6:6)  Similarly, Christ’s sacrifice is not for the sake of God’s appeasement but for our sake so that seeing His sacrifice, we might know the heart of the Father’s love for us.  It is because of His love that He died for us; not because He died for us therefore the Father forgives us.  However, His death cannot save us without our also sharing Christ’s act of sacrifice to the Father.  Whilst it is true that Christ’s sacrifice is the perfect sacrifice for all of humanity, it does not render our participation in Christ’s sacrifice redundant.  What Christ has done for us objectively must now be appropriated subjectively.  St Paul in the same vein wrote, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”  (Col 1:24)

The next question we need to consider, therefore, is the nature of the sacrifices that we need to do so that we can truly say that we live out what we celebrate ritually in the sacrifice of the Mass.

Firstly, we need to bring ourselves.  This is the first step in offering a sacrifice.  The truth is that many offer sacrifices to God but without offering themselves.  They can give tithes to the Church and other offerings in kind, but they do not give themselves.  They give something not from the heart but something that is extraneous to them.  It is an extra or sometimes even unwanted things, and not truly something that comes from their hearts.  Hence, Sirach reminds us, “Honour the Lord with generosity. Do not stint the first fruits you bring. Add a smiling face to all your gifts, and be cheerful as you dedicate your tithes.”  It is not our things or even our money that the Lord wants, He wants our heart!  Not just our heart, but our mind and will as well!

Secondly, we must be conscious that we are called to offer a virtuous sacrifice.  Sirach wrote, “A virtuous man’s offering graces the altar, and its savour rises before the Most High. A virtuous man’s sacrifice is acceptable.  Its memorial will not be forgotten.”  But what is a virtuous sacrifice?  “Withdraw from wickedness and the Lord will be pleased, withdraw from injustice and you make atonement.”  Or hear the Lord speaking through the psalmist, “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you, for your burnt offerings are before me always.”

So what does God truly want from us?  He wants us to render Him praise and thanksgiving.  The psalmist says, “Offer to God praise as your sacrifice and fulfill your vows to the Most High. He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me; and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.”  In some translations, praise is translated as thanksgiving.  So praising and thanking Him is the kind of sacrifice the Lord wishes us to give Him.  We are to praise Him in worship, in songs and in prayers.  Not surprisingly, the Church in her official prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours begins the first hour of worship, called “Lauds”, which is “praise.”  In the evening the Church celebrates “Vespers” which is thanksgiving.  As for the Mass, it brings together both the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.  Interestingly, the renewal of the Church is seen especially in the charismatic renewal where millions of Catholics and Christians now praise God spontaneously in Songs of praise and through the gift of tongues.

But praising God is not just merely about words and songs.  It entails living a life of praise, which is a life of integrity.  “A man multiplies offerings by keeping the Law; he offers communion sacrifices by following the commandments.”  Yes, to sing praises and glory to God demands a corresponding lifestyle that glorifies Him.  Isn’t this what we pray when we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven”?  So doing God’s life, living a life of integrity, honesty and charity is demanded of those who seek to praise God.  In other words, praise God not just with our voice but with our being, and with our lives! Necessarily, offering sacrifices to God is expressed also concretely in a life of charity in words and also in deeds.  In this context, the invitation to give alms is in place.  In giving to God and to His people whom He loves, God is glorified in us. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.

What are the benefits or harvest that comes from a virtuous sacrifice?  In the first place, we recognize our absolute dependence on Him.  Only He alone is the Lord, our Refuge and Strength.  Everything we have comes from Him alone.  This awareness of God’s divine providence and His love and care for us should make us grateful for all that we have received from Him.  So offering sacrifices does not so much enrich God but enrich us.  It enables us to deepen our sense of gratitude for all that He has blessed us with.  If we render sacrifices to Him, it is out of gratitude and thanksgiving, rather than an action which makes God our debtor.

Indeed, we must be careful to avoid the imperfect motive of the apostles for they too initially conceived of sacrifice in terms of self-benefits.  St Peter asked Jesus, “What about us?” We have left everything and followed you.” Following Jesus was a means to glory and power.  Yes, Sirach warns us, “Offer him no bribe, he will not accept it.  God cannot be bribed or coerced into a situation where He becomes the debtor. Instead, God will grant us much more than we can give Him in return.  The reply of Jesus was that they will be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.”  God cannot be outdone in generosity.  We cannot imagine God to owe us anything.  Even our health, our money, our success, our life come from Him alone.  To think that we have earned them through sheer hard work and ingenuity from our human efforts alone is the greatest delusion!

And what is the greatest reward of all these?  Sacrifices ultimately effect union with God because of our communion with Him in mind and heart.  This is what it means when we say that God’s generosity cannot be outdone.  When we grow in generosity towards others, in humility before God and man, in trust and faith in His divine providence, in compassion for the poor, in forgiveness for the failings of our fellowmen, we become more and more like God.  By so doing we are identified with God and share in His life and love.  As a consequence, we are also identified with our fellowmen.  This explains why Jesus told Peter and the apostles that they will receive the reward of union with their family, which is actually the gift of communion.  Hence, the end of sacrifice is always communion.  Whether in the Old Testament sacrifices or the Mass, communion is brought about by partaking in the sacrifice itself.  So receiving communion seals our union with the Lord through the act of sacrifice.  That is what the Eucharistic prayer says, “May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit.” What greater gift can we receive than to be one with God in His love, compassion and life and with each other!

Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
© All Rights Reserved

Entry filed under: Events.

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