The Mystery of Sacrifice

So many give their lives for justice, love, and truth


Faith Virtue

The need for sacrifice exists in every theater of nature. Life cannot exist and persist without some sacrifice of its components. Stars explode in supernovas to provide gaseous dust and minerals for newborn stars and their offspring in planetary systems. A forest’s fallen timbers donate their substance to newly sprouting trees.

Mother Nature offers bizarre examples of the same in the animal kingdom. Male tarantulas, willing or not, are cannibalized by their mates to enhance the vitality of newly conceived offspring. The female praying mantis decapitates its love-mate during their reproductive act. If that’s not weird enough, matriphagy occurs when the offspring of the spider Stegodyphus lineatus kill and consume their own mother, and thereby become stronger and healthier. Suicidal maternal care means the mother makes no attempt to escape. All that remains is her empty exoskeleton. Or, consider how an ant species seals its nest against an enemy attack by leaving a few suicidal volunteers outside to finish up. It’s all about the survival of the species — what’s good for the many, not for individuals.

Human parents will sacrifice to extremes, feeling totally emptied by day’s end. My stay-at-home mom worked from dawn to dusk in the endless routine of cooking, cleaning, nursing, chauffeuring, comforting, and counseling her four kids. My father worked 12-hour days just to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. Sick or not, rain or shine, he dragged himself to work and came home to warmed-up dinners, often eating alone as Mother dozed on the couch waiting for his return. My Catholic Italian grandparents on both sides sired ten kids. Those unheralded sacrifices by my ancestors allowed their many offspring to survive and thrive 100 years later.

Over 50 nations have a memorial like our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, for those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of their country. Both church and state honor their saints and forefathers who gave their lives in furthering the cause of freedom and justice, both material and spiritual. In the 1940s, Churchill said, “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be… in a thousand years men will still say, this was their finest hour.”

In a concentration camp during WWII, St. Maximillian Kolbe traded his life so a condemned fellow could live. One month before the war ended in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, who could have stayed in America, traveled to his flock in Germany, where he was hung for taking a stand against Hitler. His startling book The Cost of Discipleship explores what it requires in personal sacrifice to be a true Christian.

How do soldiers muster the will to nobly face death, or parents to devote their lives to their kids, or shepherds to die for their flocks? Humanity needs such deeds to survive.

Our spirits are drawn to the sacrificial mystery of Christ’s willingness to die for us. “I am the good shepherd… I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15).


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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