Mothers Don't Sacrifice
There are a number of words I would banish from pulpit discourse. "Surrender" is one of them; so is "rapture." I can also do without the phrases "Jesus Christ personal Lord and Savior" and "peace with justice." Nor am I very fond of the current favorite word to express certainty, "Absolutely." But the word that really troubles me on Mother's Day is "sacrifice."
No Mom worth her azaleas ever thinks she is sacrificing for her children. Sacrifice is a thought that the outside observer, considering the multitude of Mom's other options, applies to her. Oh, on occasion even wise mothers can be heard to lament (by way of getting her offspring to do what she thinks they should), "And after all I've done for you." My own mother, better than whom the world has yet to see, was capable of trying to straighten out my ornery impulses with, "You'll be sorry when I'm gone." But never once did I catch from her anything resembling a sigh of regret for her own missed opportunities because of me.
I live up close and personal with a couple of mothers. They would do anything for their little ones, most of whom are no longer little. There's no distance they won't drive, no dollar they won't spend, no indignity they won't suffer, no effort they will not exert, and no personal pleasure they won't forego for the sake of their children. And, here's the truly astounding part of it, they do it with gladness, as if it were a privilege. Motherhood, as they apparently see it, is a mission, not a duty. Don't dare speak to them about their "sacrifices."
Come to think about it, most of the self-giving heroes and heroines eschew the thought of sacrifice.
I went rummaging through the New Testament to see in what context and by whom the word "sacrifice" is used. The Old Testament concept of ritual sacrifice in the temple lies behind every usage. Nowhere does Jesus apply the word to his cross. In his own eyes he takes the cross as a high and holy mission leading to a new dispensation of peace and love for the whole world. It is the Apostle Paul who, among his several metaphors for the crucifixion, writes of sacrifice. And the Letter to the Hebrews (which informs the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic understanding of the Mass) reinterprets the temple sacrifice with Jesus as both the chief high priest and the sacrificial lamb.
Martyrdom, you see, is highly overrated and meagerly graced with haloes. Besides, it's very offputting... especially to those of us on whom the blessings of such sacrifices are presumed to fall.
Did St Francis of Assisi for a moment regret, this son of a rich mercantile businessman, that in his wanderings for Christ he was clothed in burlap not fine silk? He would have told you, I suspect, that he gave so little to gain so much, the whole world, in fact, from the birds that flew to his fingertips to the children who followed in his wake.
The soldiers returning from Gulf War II recuperating from their wounds, do they think of themselves as heroes, counting their loss and nobly speaking, like Nathan Hale, that their only regret is that they have but one life to give for their country. Nah, they tell us they were just doing their duty. Like that memorable line from the movie "Patton": that no soldier should want to give up his life for his country, but that he should try to make his enemy give up his life for his country. We may speak of sacrifice on Memorial Days, and that's appropriate. Sacrifice is a fine thought in the second and third person; but it doesn't belong in the first.
And mothers, true mothers, good mothers, real mothers, never do it (except on those very rare occasions when they too, like the rest of us, are filled with self-pity), speak of their motherliness as sacrifice. They know, almost as a biological intuition, that the more one gives the more one gets. So, preacher and pundit, on the second Sunday in May, please forego any sentiments about motherly sacrifice. She already knows the open secret of human salvation: the self-giving that leads to a far larger (how about abundant?) life.