Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Give you my heart

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the March 1, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky In Mexico City, only a few hundred feet from the cathedral church, there silently stands a squat black stone. Atop the ruins of an ancient pyramid, it displays a mere three feet in height, two feet in width and a mere six inches in depth. Its perception is much like a small, inscriptionless grave marker. This stone marks no grave – but it does mark a place of death. Unearthed just a few decades ago, this ominous-looking stone played a significant role in the human sacrifices of the ancient people who used to worship at the pyramid. On that very stone, human beings were stretched to the four winds as a priest cut out their hearts and the crowd below reveled in the pulsating blood.

Strange to us. This horrible reminder of past events chills one’s bones. You can read on the tourists’ faces a prayer of thanksgiving that we Christians do not need to relate to a God who is so bloodthirsty. It was at such sites where Christians and so-called pagan cultures clashed and fought for dominance. The conquerors of Mexico destroyed the rites of human sacrifice and established their own manner of religious celebration. Despite some of the very questionable means they used to assert the dominance of Christianity, they succeeded to some degree in connecting the natural desire to appease the gods with the worship of the One True God who has manifested himself in Jesus of Nazareth.

Today, vast parts of Central America remain Christian, even significantly Catholic. Nevertheless, as evidenced to a watchful eye, there still remains a curious blend of pagan worship and Christian belief. Even wholesome Christian doctrine is tainted by a yet pagan understanding of God. This strange mixture of pagan and Christian belief systems is not necessarily restricted to Central America. It can sometimes be noted in the spiritual lives and practices of people in general. (I often find hints of it in myself.)

The manifestation of this curious blend seems to surface especially during Lent. How many times have we heard (or said) in the last few days, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Thanks be to God, no one responds: “My mother-in-law’s heart” – but the response still belies a certain effort at appeasing God. Can we not easily imagine piles of candy, cigarettes, desserts, television sets and bottles of booze stacked around a cold black stone of sacrifice? In our spirituality, we often are focused on “giving up” something for Lent. Certainly, there is nothing wrong in itself with penitential practices and self-denial as part of our preparation for Easter. But why do we do these things? And why do we encourage them in our children?

If this “why” is not matched to a response that reflects the life-giving love of the One whom Jesus addressed as “Father,” then we run the danger of being no better off in our worship and sacrifice than the ancient people who groped in the darkness, appeasing their hungry gods. Our God does not need our things. During Lent we Christians rightfully concentrate on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Is there any difference here from a sacrifice on a slab of stone? There certainly is! God does not demand the gift of his Son’s bleeding heart to make him happy or to force him to withhold his anger against a sinful world.

It is Jesus’ faithfulness to the way of his heavenly Father which is manifest in his torturous death on the cross. Regardless of what his enemies may want to pull from his body, Jesus freely gives of himself: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The sacrifice of Jesus is not the blood spilling from his body, but the gift of his self to God, trusting that his life would be instrumental in the salvation of the world. It is this sacrifice of self for humankind which was the focal point of the Christian faith brought to the Americas by missionaries long ago.

Lent is a time to deepen our personal imitations of the sacrifice of Christ – not that of ancient peoples. God demands no thing from us, but seeks lovingly and patiently the gift of ourselves. Whatever we have decided to “give up” for Lent must be united with this sense of sacrifice of self – or our sacrifices are but fodder for pagan gods who have no power to save.

The God who beckons us asks for the gift of our hearts, yes, but not the kind of heart that bleeds – rather, the kind of heart that loves.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)

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