Sacrifice, Love’s Sweet Incense

Today again, dearest brothers and sisters in Christ, I marvel at holiness. No, it’s not just holiness that I marvel at today, but sacrifice and the love that begets it.
From my childhood, I have read the lives of the saints, holy men and women of courage, whose lives and personal struggles in their own journey of faith, have been exemplary for other Christians. Not that they were perfect men and women, but that they saw their imperfections, admitted them, and offered them to our Lord, struggling every single day of their lives to overcome them. In this struggle, their heroic virtues stood out, their closeness to our Lord, their life of intense prayer, and the number of people whose lives they touched while on earth.

But, what has become a matter of deep thought for me in recent times is their sacrifice. You may not understand how I feel when I speak of this. But, in sincerity, this has caused me to marvel greatly. Many saints sacrificed their time for our Lord and for others, many sacrificed their wealth, many sacrificed life’s pleasures. But the sacrifice that intrigues me more is the sacrifice of their lives. I don’t know about you, but I have experienced the death of a loved one, someone you are very close to, someone you’ve quarreled with, dined with, laughed with etc, and from time to time the memories flash back, and I grieve. I wonder, where is my friend now, what is he going through now, is he conscious of wherever he is, does he remember me? Etc. these thoughts scare me, that though I sometimes think about my own death, I still wonder even greater, what would make someone personally and without force, like a lamb, decide to die, for what he believes, for Christ. This is not just remarkable, it is heroic.
Not to talk of the conditions in which these people die? Today the Church celebrates the life and martyrdom of 8 great saints: St, Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf and companions, eight North American Martyrs. I’ll give you a brief on two of these saints:
St. John de Brebeuf- John was born on March 25, 1593. He became a Jesuit priest and lived with the Huron natives near lake Huron in Canada. When Iroquois won a war against Huron, he was captured by Iroquois for his Christian faith and for preaching, and tortured him to death by fastening him to stakes along with St. Gabriel Lalemont by scalping, mock baptism by using boiling water, fire and necklaces of red hot hatchets and also by mutilation on March 16, 1649.

St. Antoine Daniel- Antoine was born on March 27, 1601. His offense was that he took up a cross and walked in front of the advancing Iroquois. The Iroquois fired at him and his body was rung into a burning chapel on July 4, 1648.

Dearest friends, thinking of the great sacrifices these men made for Christ and for the faith they have in him, I do not fail to realize that these were young boys like me, with dreams and aspirations, they probably grew up like any other young boy or girl, with friends, with admirers, with people they aspired to be like, in a world where there were a lot of other things to do. And after thinking about this, I realize that what else would have moved them to make huge sacrifices other than love. these men had a deep sense of love for the one who they believed and had supernatural hope that the promises which was made to them will be fulfilled.

This is exactly what love, especially the love of God, does to us.

It transforms us, like St. Paul of the Cross says, into the one loved. It sparks up in us a desire to be with the one we love. And so, that desire raises the mind’s eye with all its desires and aspirations higher and above the ephemeral to the one with whom one has fallen in love. Such that one is ready to give up everything to be with the one he loves. This is essentially the nature of love which is why I feel at this point, the reason why when some martyrs die, they do so, looking up to the heavens, looking at the one for whom they are giving up everything. And we know from the first martyr Stephen what it is they see, the bliss which they might have already started enjoying. The love which moves deep within these men and women, burns inside, like a fire, giving off the smoke of sacrifice, the seasoning, and proof of that Love.  Our Lord also says in the gospels, that there is no greater love than this, than a man who lays up his life for his friends. That is the kind of love our lord has shown us, and that is also the kind of love that we are expected to show to one another, to our friend in school, our colleague at the workplace, the poor man begging by the roadside, and indeed anybody that comes our way. Oh! What fulfillment I feel deep inside, once I have given up something, just to put a smile on the face of another, and what fulfillment I can fathom, once I do this in its heroic extent.

From the examples of these men and women, I am able also to deeply understand and even feel, a little, the value Our Lord placed on us, that he gave his life for us. And not just that he gave his life for us on the cross, but that he decided to do so, from the very moment of his being born into the world, from the very moment of his conception. As Fulton Sheen says, Our Lord Jesus Christ, among other peculiarities, is the only man born of woman, who came into this world to die. We all came with hopes of being successful at one thing or another, but one man came in, with hopes of being successful at dying for you and for me. The power of love, the love of our God.

Do I forget Charles Lwanga and companions at this point, especially the 13 year old Kizito, who stood up and encouraged the others, to die for their faith and love of God, and who also strolled down to his death, with gay, at a very young age. Nor do I forget those seven sons and their mother of 2Macchabees 7? Who were killed one by one from first to the last, because of their faith in God, and the last born facing his death, turned around and encouraged his mother. They are later hailed in Heb11:35. I can’t also forget St. Maria Goretti, who died at 12 for rejecting illicit sexual pleasure, something so many of us today do shamefully, but at ease.

These souls have left us a legacy, and in heaven they are there with our Lord, urging us on. Like a race, they have reached the finished line, and with their crowns they look down at us, with eyes wide open, and with shouts of encouragement and upliftment, as we race along the same paths, their only hope being that we make it to the end, that we fight the good fight, and that we remain there with them. You might wonder how this is so, since they have everything, but do not forget that for a soul to be in heaven, it’s very essence is love, for a soul to be with God, it has been entirely transformed into, not only a carrier of love, but love itself, and that love, so great like that of the source of it, who himself is love, is like him too great to be contained within, that it searches for expression, and duly finds it by his own grace, in the needy souls and hearts of those of us still in battle.

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Author: Chibuzor F. Ogamba

Chibuzor F. Ogamba is a Nigerian Medical Student, Writer, Poet, Blogger, Public Speaker and Catholic Apologist

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