That Hard Word to Say and to Live

“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.’ He turned and said to Peter,’Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.'” Matthew, 16

thThere’s a word that Americans have either forgotten about, ignored or just plain denied. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say the word.

It’s SSSSSac…See, I can’t even say it. How about a game of Charades – it’s three syllables and starts with “S.” I can’t do the “ear thing,” sounds like” because it’s a word that stands on its own merit.

Guess it yet? It’s sacrifice. There, I got it out. Now it’s out there. Now it cannot be forgotten, ignored or denied. Jesus made sure of that.

And actually, other family and friends make us sure of that as well.

—“Can you help me out this Saturday, you’re the only guy I know with a truck?” Do you then give your Saturday Brewer game tickets to someone else? (Wouldn’t that make it two sacrifices?)

—You see your mom’s phone number on your cell phone and wonder if you’ll burn in hell for letting it ring out while you run out to your favorite restaurant, uninterrupted.

—Your boss says she needs you for another hour, but it’s already 6:00.

You can think of your own examples as quickly as I wrote those down. That’s why it’s such a dirty word in a country that values self-reliance, independence at all costs and “that special person” you think you are. I read several statements from Hurricane Harvey folks saying, “This is supposed to happen somewhere else, not here.” Where is that “someplace else?”

Sacrifice. Jesus showed us how it’s properly done and how many others witness for us sacrifice before and after Jesus.

“I don’t envy parents, I admire them. I have two cats and it’s a cinch at night.”

I don’t envy parents, I admire them. I have two cats, and it’s a cinch at night. Clean the poop and change the water. I’m done. Exhausted, I return to the movie I’m watching. Your daughter finally wants to learn how to tie her shoes, but it’s while the Packers are winning. Do you wait for halftime, a commercial? Or do you take the sucker’s way out and put it on pause?

Sacrifice for you means turning the TV off and your complete attention is focused on this youngster’s task – an achievement to be added to her lifetime of achievements.

The important words here are not only sacrifice but one of two words that follow it: “for” or “to.” Because you see if it’s a sacrifice “to” someone or something, then the attention remains on you. (Very American of you, by the way.) However, if the sacrifice is followed by “for” then you’ve place the attention where Jesus placed it – on the person begin helped, served or assisted.

“Get behind me Satan!”

I love the flight attendant’s announcement if there’s a lack of oxygen on the airplane. “Place the mask on yourself first, then assist the next person.” (“And, if you have two children, please choose the smart child first!”) A sacrifice “for” something or someone is a learned behavior, it is the gift of faith opened and served up for another. If the sacrifice is “to” then it has a hidden agenda; there’s something in it for you. That’s when Jesus tells us what he told to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!”

As a mother might quilt you after college by saying, “I’ve sacrificed a lot to get you to where you are.” Then you can smile back at her because she’s given you a “to” sacrifice. If nothing is ever said, but you both know what mom provided and what you’ve received then the word after sacrifice becomes “for,” because it was given out of love, duty and devotion. (Also good American words that we don’t hear enough of.)

The folks in Houston learned quickly the difference between “to” and “for” sacrifice in their terrible struggle (Hurrican Harvey) to stay living this past week. Our hearts and prayers go out to all of them. I’m confident that the “for” far outweighed the “to” in their heroic sacrifices.

Go ahead, take your mom’s phone call, it’s not the end of the world, and she may even have good news to tell you instead of the bad news you’re anticipating. Use your truck, it’s a gift to be shared with a friend who’s too cheap to call “Two Guys and a Truck.” Work that extra hour, it may both a “to” and a“for” sacrifice for your career.

Jesus could have done a “to” on us about sacrifice, but that would not have brought us here today for prayer. Jesus chose a “for” sacrifice to show us that it’s not about you and it’s not about me – it’s about us – traveling this journey of life together.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on

“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). Six books on the Catholic church and U.S. culture are available on
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