Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Student's Question about Sacrifice 

A student asked the following question about sacrifice, and the connection between Christ's activity and our own.

So I find it funny how God works sometimes. Just yesterday I was praying about the importance of sacrifice. Rarely do I sacrifice or give up something that I enjoy for the greater glory. Today you mentioned how we are imperfect people and our small sacrifices cannot come close to the ultimate sacrifice that is pleasing to God and that is Jesus's death on the cross. I firmly understand that and believe that. Where I am confused is in the point of our sacrifice. If God is not satisfied in our sacrifice, than why do it? I was praying about setting up a yearly calendar where every 2 weeks I make a sacrifice such as giving up sweets or soda...why should I do this if it is not pleasing to God?

My reply:

It is not that God is not pleased with our sacrifice, but that our sacrifice in and of itself is not sufficient to please Him. It is not that we cannot perform good acts – we can, should and must. But there is a difference between a good act and a good act. This is the distinction between natural and supernatural virtue we discussed in class. Given that God created us with natural powers and abilities (a mind and a will, e.g.) we can use those powers and abilities to perform acts which are, in and of themselves, good – refraining from excessive indulgence in food and drink (moderation), making wise decisions about how we spend our money (prudence), etc. But two observations: (a) in actual fact, we rarely perform them at all, and when we do, they are often done in a half-hearted, begrudging, and morally ambivalent way, often with a mélange of mixed motives; and (b) even if we did perform them (a) continuously, perpetually, and without fail, and (b) with wholehearted and unflagging zeal, they still would not satisfy the demands of God, which are the demands of justice (justice = everyone gets what He deserves). What, then, does God deserve? He deserves far more than this collection of natural virtues. He demands what are properly superhuman virtues – that we accept as true everything He tells us, even those things which don’t make a lot of sense, like the Trinity (faith), that we trust Him to guide us to an eternal happiness we cannot imagine (hope), and that we be willing to sacrifice everything that we want and have for the sake of benefiting others (charity/love). These are things which require powers and abilities which we by nature do not have. They require supernatural assistance, or grace, and this grace can only come from the perfect act of Christ, who offered to God (on Calvary) exactly what God had always demanded of the human race, which is simply what God deserves of us, and which He had never until that time received. But note this: Christ’s activity is not a substitute for our own, as though we could sit back and do nothing, confident that God would accept His activity in lieu of our own failure. No, His activity enriches, empowers and enables our own activity, so that we can do what we could not do before. That is, now that Christ’s grace has been communicated to us through the Holy Spirit, in and through the sacraments of the Church, we can now (a) perform natural acts of virtue with greater frequency and (b) with greater zeal than before, and also (c) perform those supernatural acts of faith, hope and charity which were impossible to us before, and thus . . . please God. So, to come full circle, does the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice imply that there is no meaning to your own sacrifice? No, just the opposite. The efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice is precisely what gives meaning to your own sacrifice. For when you perform these acts of sacrifice, it will be Him acting in and through you.

Hope that helps.

# posted by Jamie : 11:25 AM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

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