This year, I took French lessons once a week. The teacher would come to our house, and was clearly happy to be giving lessons in person, a welcome change from teaching online! One day, during a practice conversation, she began asking me a series of routine questions: “Have you already tasted gratin dauphinoise?”; “Have you been to the top of the Eiffel Tower?”. At a certain point, trying to answer the trivial questions in a non-trivial way, I responded: “Yes, I have also participated in overnight pilgrimages.” Then I added: “Even if they were difficult, because it was very hard for me to walk at night!” Then my teacher, who defines herself as atheist, began to criticize religion, because it asks people to make sacrifices that, in her opinion, are absurd, since God doesn’t need them in order to love us.
A dialogue began between us. I wanted at least to tell her that even if she is strongly opposed to sacrifice, it is a part of the fabric of her own life: as a mother, for example, she has certainly made many sacrifices for her son, and surely has not even thought twice about many of them. During the course of that conversation, however, I recognized that she didn’t know that a sacrifice could have meaning, and that it might have value even if it wasn’t necessary, for example, if it was made for the survival of someone else, and even if it is not done in exchange for something in return.
Thinking back on our conversation, I began to desire that she and all people could have the experience that I have had of sacrifice. In fact, one of the greatest things I have discovered this year is that if I accept a sacrifice, whether big or small, out of love of Christ, out of a desire to share His cross by offering him my own, then the space for gladness opens in my life. One can live gladness even within pain. Sacrifice has allowed me to discover something about the heart of Christ, about His love and relationship with people, with me, something about the truth of reality, in which pain and joy can coexist, in which cross and resurrection are linked.
I was reminded of Chiara Corbella. Her husband said that one day, seeing her suffer, asked her: “But Chiara: is your yoke really sweet?” She replied: “Yes, Enrico, it really is sweet”.
Pictured are some of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo with a family, in Grenoble, France.