I once received a card on the front of which showed a pawn in the center of a chess board. Behind it were its fellow pawns,
rooks, knights, bishops, the majestic queen and the noble king. Below the picture was, in large print, the word SACRIFICE. And below that word: “Your role may be thankless, but if you’re willing to give it your all, you just might bring success to those who outlast you.”
A central aspect of the Eucharist is that of sacrifice. Just as Moses and his people sacrificed animals in their rites of worship, so too in the New Testament we see Jesus as sacrificing himself for the salvation of the world. Our Lord ventures forth on the chess board of life and offers himself to save us from death and sin.
I don’t know if pawns have motives. After all, chess is just a game and all the pieces are inanimate objects. Yet if we have a paschal imagination, one that sees everything through the life, death and resurrection of the Lord, then we might impose upon the pawn the motive of love. That pawn loved his king and his queen.
Without doubt, the motive behind the Eucharist and the sacrifice of Jesus is that of love. Over and over again we are told that God is love and he sent his son into the world out of love. The Son has that same love and ventures forth to protect and redeem us.
The preface of the holy Eucharist captures well this understanding of sacrifice: “He (Jesus) is the true and eternal priest who established this unending sacrifice. He offered himself as a victim of our deliverance and taught us to make this offering in his memory. As we eat this body which he gave us, we grow in strength. As we drink his blood which he poured out for us, we are washed clean.”
We are to be eucharistic people, that is, a people willing to sacrifice ourselves for the well-being of others and for the sake of the kingdom. The saints are models for us here: the sacrifices of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, of Dorothy Day, of Blessed Damien of Molokai, of Isaac Jogues, of Philip Neri, of Thomas More. Pawns all! This band of witnesses has blazed the trail and invites us to follow.
But do we have the power to accept our vocation as pawns? Probably not. We need the gift of the Eucharist and the power of the Holy Spirit to embrace this life of discipline and sacrifice. Left to ourselves we will find excuses and rationalize our way out of the call. But if we come to the book and the altar with willing spirits, major transformations can take place. Jesus living in us gives us the courage of the pawn. The Holy Spirit who empowers us gives us the strength.
In the sequence (Laud O Zion) for today’s feast we sing: “Blood is poured and flesh is broken, / Yet in either wondrous token / Christ entire we know to be.”
Jesus gives himself totally for us. His blood is poured out; his flesh is broken. All this for our salvation.
Perhaps chess is not a game after all. Perhaps the basic question in life is not the Shakespearean: “To be or not to be.” It may be the question of the pawn: “To sacrifice or not to sacrifice” — that is the question.
Questions for reflection
1. What does the image of the pawn say to you?
2. What is the level of your ability to sacrifice?
3. Who are your models of sacrifice
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.