Sacrifice is one of those words we sometimes shiver when we hear. It sounds so unpleasant, being asked to sacrifice something.

And if we think of sacrifice merely as giving up something, it is unpleasant. It is also a bit hard to understand. Why is sacrifice good?

Sacrifice becomes a lot easier to understand, and to accept, if we think about what we are sacrificing for. Kenneth Stevenson, in Eucharist and Offering, defines sacrifice as “the destruction or surrender of something valued or desired for the sake of something having a higher or more pressing claim.” In other words, sacrifice means giving up the lesser good for the greater good.

I find it particularly helpful to recall this definition when I’m dealing with a temptation to do something that I really want to do that by any objective standard is a good, but which would stretch my capacity to meet my other obligations. I could do it, but at some cost either to my health, my family or other things I’ve already committed to. To think, not in terms of merely giving up my ability to do what I want to do, but in terms of giving up one good for another, superior, good is a help.

Or, to use my friend Aidan’s words, “Sacrifice is not only a death. It is a death that brings life.”