Sacrifice: why and what for?

The presence of pain in people's lives is inevitable. A reality in the face of which we must ask ourselves whether it constitutes an obstacle or an opportunity for their happiness.

Alejandro Vázquez-Dodero-March 18, 2024-Reading time: 3 minutes

In our life there are inescapable evidences. One of them is the presence of pain, which, no matter how much we try to avoid it, sooner or later shows itself to us, and sometimes very defiantly. 

We can try to make it go away, and sometimes we succeed; but after a while it bursts back into our lives, as it did in the past or otherwise. Physical or moral pain, it is the same, always there, from our very birth to the last of our days.

And in the face of this evidence, what remedy do we have? Well, we will have to find the meaning of pain, or give it to him, scrutinizing its essence; because if it happens it is for something and for something, and more so for those who believe in the providence or action of God in the life of man, his favorite creature.

Indeed, in a display of realism, we must accept the presence of pain and, taking a step further, positively -optimistically- channel it towards a greater motive that goes beyond the mere confirmation of its existence in our lives.

Once again, it will be the ultimate sign of our dignity that will find meaning in pain: the capacity to love that characterizes us and distinguishes us from other creatures.

Sacrifice for love?

True love demands to go out of oneself, to give oneself, which is very often difficult. To truly love, one must forget oneself and open oneself to the other, something that normally requires effort. But that effort -sacrifice- not only does not sadden, but fills the spirit with joy, because it is putting love, at whatever price, before the selfishness of thinking of one's own well-being.

It is now when we must ask ourselves if when the appetence or the feeling disappears we must continue loving, with effort and sacrifice. Well, yes, and if not, let's check it. Only by sacrificing ourselves for those we love do we really love them.

Well, but what if the pain appears in itself, and not in relation to others? For example, an illness. Well, even in that case, accepting it as something wanted -allowed- by God, who loves me the most, and carrying it with good spirits and optimism, I will be loving, because I will be satisfying those around me during that time of pain.

Certainly, as we can see, the only way to decipher the mystery of pain and suffering is the way of love. A love that transforms nothingness, absurdity or contrariness into a full reality, into joyful affirmation or authentic life.

From the cross with lower case to the Cross with capital letter

Continuing with the above, but in the light of faith and through the eyes of Jesus, the mystery of pain becomes a sensible and most felicitous reality.

Once again, a paradox of our existence makes sense, like the life of God made Man who ends his days here below embracing pain like no one else and like never before in the sacrifice of the Cross, but which will culminate in the joy of the Resurrection. The Christian, whose life tends to identify with Christ, will go through his cross, but with hope in the joy of his resurrection -salvation of the soul- and this will make the pain bearable.

We collaborate with Jesus in his redemptive work, and we save the whole of humanity by contributing "our crosses or sacrifices", which most of the time are insignificant, but necessary to complete the work of man's salvation. Thus, something bad, pain, finds its meaning and becomes something good, a redemptive motive.

Therefore, facing pain and suffering not only strengthens our character, develops our affability and spirit of service, or the ability to dominate our instinctive reactions, but also makes us participate in the same redemptive mission of Jesus.

Is mortification or sacrifice, penance and expiation the same thing?

In the field of pain we sometimes come across terms that may seem synonymous, but in reality are not. They do all revolve around the sense we have argued above, but with nuances.


When we use the word "mortification or sacrifice" we refer to the action of overcoming ourselves, of surpassing ourselves in something, of depriving ourselves or renouncing it. It is an action aimed at dominating the passions or desires. Man thus grows and develops properly by controlling his instinctive movements and his affective life with his reason, orienting himself towards an ideal that is worth living. 

In fact, we see in our lives that no ideal becomes a reality without sacrifice. This is an elementary human experience, although from the Christian point of view it is lived in relation to the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. Through a continuous life of sacrifice we achieve this mastery of circumstances and we live more in charity with others, we strip ourselves of ourselves and give ourselves to our neighbor.


On the other hand, the term "penance" is part of the proclamation with which Jesus began his preaching. It implies a recognition of sin, which leads to a change in the heart, and consequently in one's life, and invites one to live humbly and with a sense of gratitude before divine forgiveness.


Finally, "expiation" refers to the object or raison d'être of the pain suffered by Christ on the Cross, which consists in forgiving all of humanity its sins and reopening the gates of Heaven, as a way of reconciling it with God.

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