Still, when called to perform a sacrifice many find themselves stalling—irritated by the ask, tired and wishing for sleep. It has become a demand, rather than a gift, says Santa Clara University theology lecturer Eugene Schlesinger, the author of Sacrificing the Church: Mass, Mission, and Ecumenism.
“Sacrifice has fallen into disfavor because it has come to be seen as violence and oppression,” he says. “There are some sacrifices that are demanded by the powerful from the less powerful.”
Those demands transformed sacrifice into burden—medieval pannage, paying feudal lords to graze on common land, being forced to wait for equality, or requirements one do something contrary to their nature are examples. Those who sacrifice are victims, not willing givers.
“Insofar that sacrifice is something that is taken or demanded, we the victims of sacrifices are rendered passive,” Schlesinger says.
The 15th century origin of the English word “victim” comes from the Latin word victima for an animal killed in religious sacrifice. “If we think of ourselves as sacrifice, or victims, instead of thinking of ourselves as sacrificers, or givers, it is a perversion of the term.”
In the Christian, Catholic tradition, everything comes down to sacrifice, Schlesinger says. “All we have and all we are is from a gift from a Creator and it is given freely. And the proper response to a gift is a gift”—our own sacrifices for each other given out of love and joy.
Thus sacrifice is not a demand, it does not a victim make. Sacrifice done truly, as a gift, should be a liberation, an empowerment and, Schlesinger says, it is something humans are called to do. “A gift is not diminishment. I am not less because I give you something,” he says. “We live in so far as we give and give ourselves freely.”
In the most literal sense, sacrifice as a gift can lead one’s thoughts to presents tied up with ribbon.