Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
24th Sunday: Sacrificial Love
The first reading for today is taken from the second part of the Book of Isaiah, sometimes referred to as Second Isaiah. I want to point out part of the passage:
The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore, I have not been confounded; therefore, I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.
Second Isaiah is written for people in exile. The People of Israel suffered because they had been taken away from their homeland by the Babylonians. Yet, they knew that this was God's punishment for their turning to pagan ways. This second part of Isaiah is the Book of Consolation. The prophet says that a day will come when the sins of the people will be expiated and God will lead them back home. Today's reading is the third Song of the Suffering Servant. A prophet shall come who will willing take upon himself the guilt of the people so that he can suffer for them. He is not a masochist. He does not want to suffer, but he does want to sacrifice himself out of love for God and his people.
This same thought is carried in the second part of today's gospel. Jesus, just proclaimed by Peter to be the Messiah, announces that he is ready to sacrifice himself for God's people. He loves deep enough to sacrifice.
This concept is completely against the mind set of Jesus's world, as well as our world. A little sacrifice might be acceptable, but total sacrifice seems unreasonable. That was the reason why Peter protested. And that is also the reason why Jesus tells him that he is giving the argument of the people of the world. He calls him Satan. Peter is doing the work of the devil, the tempter.
A mindset that is basically self-centered cannot understand sacrifice. It also cannot understand love. The person whose concept of love is as a means of his or her fulfilling needs cannot understand that real love demands sacrifice. In fact, the deeper the love, the greater the sacrifice. The shallower the love, the more insignificant the sacrifice.
Couples whose marriages have grown so that they can say that they are far more in love now than when they first married, recognize that they each sacrifice more now than when they were first married. They understand each other better because they are willing to accept each other more than ever before. The lady in our parish whose life revolves around taken care of her sick husband, loves him more now than on their honeymoon. The man in the parish who supports his wife when she is having a bad day, or week, is loving her. On the opposite side, the guy looking to pick up a girl for the evening knows nothing of love. The girl who views a guy as a means to an end will see the end of her ability to enter into a real marriage.
Consider the sacrifices that you make for your children. There is nothing that you would not do for them no matter what it costs you. That includes setting your faces like flint, like the Servant of the first reading, and putting up with your children’s complaints and even their anger when you decide that something happening in other homes will not happen in yours. For example, you say to your children, “I don’t care what happens in other places, here there will be no phones when we are eating and all devices will be in the kitchen and plugged in for the night by 8:00 pm. If you need them after that for homework, you can do your homework on the kitchen table.” You have that rule to protect the children from pornography and from midnight texting. But it results in your children saying, “Everybody else can do this.” or you say, “We are a family that puts Christ first. We worship on Sundays and receive communion. If something happens that forces us to miss Sunday morning Mass, then we go to Church Saturday or Sunday night. This is what we do because this is who we are. We are Catholic.” And your children respond, “Nobody else has to do what we have to do.” But you refuse to back down because you love your children more than yourself and are willing to risk dealing with your own upset at your children’s reactions than neglect raising them to be strong Catholics. Your faces are set like flint.
A word to those of you who are senior, senior citizens and to those who are suffering from a chronic and perhaps terminal condition. We are all going to die, but you are getting better at this than the rest of us. Keep your eye on the goal. Don’t give up the race in the last sprint. The devil tries to convince us to give up our faith when all is going wrong in our physical lives. We have to keep our faces set like flint and grow stronger in faith every day we have left in this world.
Christ's love for us was unrestricted. He would do anything for us. He would make any sacrifice for us. Peter couldn't understand. He protested because he wanted to put a limit on the Lord's sacrifice, and thus on his love. He thought in the way of the world. It would take time for Peter to learn the demands of Christianity, the demands of true love. He would be among the first of many martyrs who would be witnesses to love.
None of us want to suffer. If we did there would be something wrong with us. But if we really love, then we are willing to accept suffering, and deny ourselves so that our love might grow deeper. Acknowledging that this is completely opposed to the mindset of a self-centered society, we ask God to give us all the ability to love and love well. We ask our Lord to give us the courage to live with sacrificial love, to help us courageously live the Gospel.