How do we know what love really is when the word is used so casually and its meaning is often distorted and misunderstood?
As always, we must look to God for the truth…
When we see Jesus on the cross, we witness the greatest demonstration of love that will ever take place. When we look at Christ crucified, we discover the true meaning of love: sacrifice.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
The Lord illustrated His words with His actions and went even further… Jesus gave His life for the entire human race, not just His friends! Some are asked to be martyrs and give up their lives for Christ; however, most of us are not called to “lay down” our lives in the same way as the Christian martyrs.
What does this mean for the rest of us? How do we demonstrate great love in our ordinary lives?
We are expected to “lay down” our lives by sacrificing for those we love; and this isn’t easy for everyone to accept.
While the world encourages us to be self-centered and selfish, we must strive to be Christ-centered and selfless. While the world prompts us to indulge and satiate our every desire, we must practice fasting and abstinence. While the world tells us to fight for what we want no matter what the cost, we must aim to treat others with dignity and compassion.
As I mentioned in a previous post, it may seem like living this way would result in the loss of who we are and what we have. Again, that’s a lie.
Here’s the truth: it is in giving that we receive. When we offer ourselves to God and others, we experience joy—not resentment or deprivation. We grow spiritually and become more like Christ who gave up everything for us, right down to His last drop of blood.
Christians are called to sacrifice throughout the year, not only during Lent. There isn’t a specific formula or just one way to sacrifice for others. These actions can be painful or difficult for us; they aren’t meant to be comfortable or easy!
We must remember that we’re never on our own. God gives us the graces necessary to carry out our offerings; and He uses them for our good and for the good of others.
When we serve the people in our lives, these relationships become more authentic and meaningful than if we were to focus exclusively on serving ourselves.
Here are examples of sacrifices you can offer up to God for your loved ones:
- Give up an activity you enjoy one day each week (e.g. using social media, watching TV, listening to music in the car, shopping)
- Limit your cell phone use for a specified period of time
- Skip a meal on Fridays or another day
- Give up a snack you enjoy one day each week
- Abstain from meat on Fridays
- Donate to a meaningful charity or cause
- Attend Mass on a weekday
- Light a candle in the church
- Pray a Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Novena, or another prayer
- Participate in an activity they enjoy and do it with a smile
- Spend quality time with them that you would normally spend on yourself
- Do something that makes them feel appreciated (e.g. write a kind note, make a gift, cook a meal, do their laundry, wash their car)
Each of our actions will be different. What I consider to be a sacrifice may not be the same for someone else. For some, abstaining from something is harder than doing something. For others, the opposite is true.
Do whatever feels like a challenge for you. Start with one or two actions and see how it goes.
You may be able to see fruits of your actions right away; but if you don’t, don’t be discouraged!
God knows our hearts and sees our efforts. He will provide spiritual goods and graces that may not be visible to us. What’s most important is that we make a genuine effort to continuously give ourselves to one another.
Here are suggestions to help along the way:
- Ask the Lord and the Blessed Mother for guidance and strength
- Tell the Lord your intentions
- Think about the person you’re sacrificing for while fasting or carrying out the action
- Think about someone in your life who has demonstrated love for you by their selfless acts and model your actions after theirs
- Continue to remind yourself of Jesus’ sacrifice for you, as well as the Father’s sacrifice of His Son for you
- Keep a crucifix in a visible place or multiple places in your home. Look at it often and meditate on the crucifixion. If you carry Rosary beads, you can look at that crucifix at any time
“There is no place for selfishness and no place for fear! Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice.” ~ St. John Paul II