Sometimes when you make a sacrifice, God says “no thanks.”
I’m not talking about how Jesus said the Pharisees were making sacrifices rather than living lives of charity and mercy. I mean when we, with our whole heart, offer a sacrifice to God, and God says, “But that’s not a sacrifice I want you to make.”
I’ll give you one funny example and one serious.
The funny example (as so many laughable examples do) comes from my life.
One of the local grocery stores stinks. I mean this literally: the parking lot stinks of manure, and during the summer, it’s a rather special trip from your car into the store.
Well, one day about a month ago, as I pulled into the lot and got the first whiff of the beautiful breeze through the car windows, I offered it up to God as a penance. It isn’t much, but I offer the horrendous smell for the salvation of souls, starting with my own.
Halfway between the car and the store, the smell went away. And when I came out of the store, it was gone. Totally gone. I walked to the car, loaded it, drove away — and no more stench. Sometimes you offer it up, and God takes it away.
Now for the serious example, the way real saints do it.
Mary knew of her cousin Elizabeth’s desire to have a child. Elizabeth had grown old waiting for the blessing of a baby that had never come, and this must have caused her pain. At that time, children were considered a blessing from God, and as I understand, there was some social scorn attached to infertility as well.
Mary had probably prayed for Elizabeth to have a child (this isn’t a far reach) but moreover, I would bet Mary heard the things said about Elizabeth and ached for her in her heart. This same woman who was so concerned about the wine at Cana couldn’t have been untouched by Elizabeth’s longing for a child, no matter how brave a face Elizabeth put on it. In other words, Mary saw and understood Elizabeth’s suffering.
The tradition of the Church is that Mary had taken a vow of virginity prior to her betrothal to Joseph, otherwise Gabriel’s announcement that she’d have a baby would have been met with the understanding that she’d get married and have a baby in the usual way.
Put it together:
– Mary understood the pain of infertility
– Mary vowed perpetual virginity
– Mary had sacrificed to God her chance to have children
In other words, even after seeing secondhand the social stigma that would be attached to being childless, Mary had opted for a childless future because she was sacrificing to God the best she had to offer. She wasn’t just sacrificing sex. Mary was giving up children. These dreams are most precious to me, and I’m offering them to you.
And God, in His wisdom, said, “Thanks, but no thanks. You can still have a child.”
In fact, God the Father not only made her the mother of His Son, but also made her the mother of His Church, and years later, Jesus says that no one gives up mother or children or wealth for the Kingdom of God not to receive it back again in multiples.
The next time you pray the Joyful Mysteries, when you reach the Visitation, think about how Mary ran to Elizabeth and the subtext of two women who had thought they’d die childless, suddenly both bearing the blessing of a child they never expected.