Saturday, July 28, 2012

Settling, sacrificing and cereal

I was watching an ad for Special K tonight, and it got me thinking about sacrifice. As Catholics, we talk a lot about sacrifice. After all, Jesus' sacrifice on the cross is what brought us salvation, and we recall this during Mass in the Eucharistic Celebration. For this reason, we are also called to personal sacrifice in the name of our faith. That can mean different things to different people. For example, a Lenten sacrifice might be as simple as forgoing chocolate for 40 days, and recalling Jesus' sacrifice when faced with a desire for chocolate; or as complex as not driving for 40 days and recalling Jesus' sacrifice while walking, biking or taking public transit. At the other end of the spectrum, the sacrifice of the martyrs was death. We aren't just called to sacrifice during Lent, either. We can offer up our suffering as a sacrifice, abstain from certain behaviors as a sacrifice, and, certainly, deny ourself something we're craving to sacrifice.

I can sense your confusion. Yes, Catholicism has everything to do with sacrifice (and the sun rises in the east and the sky is blue). But what's the connection with Special K? Well, in order for something to be a sacrifice, we have to miss it when it's gone, feel that something is truly lacking. If you eat chocolate every single day and really love it, giving it up for Lent would be reasonable because you would feel something was lacking. However, if you only eat chocolate every once in a while, it wouldn't be much of a sacrifice.

Here's the connection. The commercial for Special K suggests a substitution. The woman depicted in the ad is sitting on the couch, while the narrator describes her craving for chocolate. She smiles as she gets up and pours herself a bowl of chocolate-flavored Special K, because now she's fulfilled her need for chocolate. Settle for the cereal, the commercial continues, and you can even lose weight! I've eaten Special K before, and it's fine as a cereal. Tastes pretty good, actually. It's not chocolate, though. Now, I realize that most people are not eating chocolate-flavored cereal on a regular basis as a substitute for the real thing. Diet foods, however, are often touted as "indulgences" that can stand in for what you're craving. To follow this logic, you could have a peanut butter-chocolate granola bar and skip the peanut butter-chocolate ice cream. The beauty of this approach, the diet companies rave, is not having to sacrifice the tastes you crave. But is this really such a good thing? Is sacrifice inherently bad?

Sacrifice, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing. Note: I did not say it is fun, or comfortable, or easy. Jesus died for us, for our sins, though, so the least we can do is to offer up our own sacrifice in His name. Our culture is so full of ways to keep from sacrificing that it's easy to get the wrong perspective. We'll settle for bland, tasteless, artificial-everything "foods" to try to convince ourselves that we're eating rich, indulgent fare. We're willing to settle for innumerable side effects and even risk cancer (from hormonal contraceptives) to avoid having to sacrifice sex. We settle for quick Facebook wall posts to avoid sacrificing too much of our time catching up with an old friend by letter or phone. We're so focused on avoiding sacrifice, we fail to see it for what it really is: a truly beautiful way to recall what Jesus did for us. So the next time you're sitting on the couch, craving chocolate, either have a piece or don't. If you're always settling, you'll never really be able to sacrifice - and that would be a shame indeed.

"And so, I beg you, brothers, by the mercy of God, that you offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, with the subservience of your mind.2 And do not choose to be conformed to this age, but instead choose to be reformed in the newness of your mind, so that you may demonstrate what is the will of God: what is good, and what is well-pleasing, and what is perfect." Romans 12:1-2


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  3. great post girl!

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  4. Not to completely ignore the (very wise, thoughtful) point you were making, but have you ever tried that chocolate Special K? It is revolting, and no sane person would trade good chocolate for whatever chalky "chocolate-flavored" bits are in that cereal.

    Doesn't that further drive home your point, though? When we try to substitute something in our lives rather than making a legitimate sacrifice and offering it up, don't we often end up with (spiritually speaking) fake chocolate stuck in our teeth?

    1. I haven't actually tried the chocolate kind, that I remember anyway. I agree completely! There are so many things that society expects or suggests that are really poor substitutes for something we are called to sacrifice.