A Catholic Monthly Magazine

A Sacrificial Chook!

By Fr Kevin Bates SM

Quite a few years ago, with a small group, I visited El Salvador and Guatemala. At one parish church in Guatemala, I remember especially the colourful, graphic statues depicting the martyrdom of saints and Jesus’ death. 

The parish priest gave us an insightful reflection on the people of the parish, their piety and spirituality. He made the point that while many were committed Catholics, they hadn’t entirely left the religions of their ancestors behind. 

For instance, he told us of some people who would head to the nearest hill and sacrifice a chicken to the ancient gods after Sunday Mass, just in case they needed appeasing.

The story perhaps reflects how we, as western Christian missionaries, had engaged with cultures. We came from outside with our religion, our culture and as often as not with our military, declaring that our way was the only path to salvation. 

The result was often enough that we achieved a certain conformity in imposing our religious culture on people but didn’t necessarily convert the heart. As a result, Christianity was worn by many people as a kind of outer garment. Yet, at the same time, the ancient religion survived hidden away inside. 

Jesus had a different approach, emerging as he did from within his culture, naming the signs of God’s presence within that culture and calling people to conversion in their own language and in terms of their own much loved, familiar religion. 

In recent times in the Church, we have reflected in depth on the nature of our mission in the world, and other more culturally respectful, patient and effective revealings of the Good News have been employed. 

Pope Francis himself has led the way in this regard, as was evidenced during the Amazonian Synod in Rome two years ago when he encouraged the use of indigenous ritual at Synod gatherings and had representatives of Amazonian cultures contribute to Synod discussions. 

We can nod and smile at the story of the sacrificial chook, and then maybe we can reflect on the state of play in our own hearts. 

Yes, I’m Catholic, but are there some sacred chooks that I sacrifice to my own gods? 

My sacred chook could come in any number of guises. It’s my escape hatch from the demands of really embracing the more challenging parts of gospel living.

I might busy myself with good works, reading, worrying and living anxiously. But, on the other hand, my escape could be as simple as a glass of scotch that takes my mind off things I could put into Jesus’ hands, matters that need some remedy that I’m not ready to face.

I could offer sacrifice to the god of gambling, sex, power or body image. 

If the gift of faith, the beautiful song of Jesus, has not entered the depth of my being, then the chances are that I will have a good supply of chooks ready to be sacrificed!

When I allow the song of Jesus to resonate deep inside me, I cannot help but be laid open to conversion, no matter how old I get or how holy I think I am. Of course, the fact that I have kept all the Church’s rules, know all the Church’s teachings and pray all the required prayers is no guarantee that His song is in my heart, though my following all these teachings and practices ought to be evidence that he lives in me.

When the gospel story came into my life, was it presented from on high as something beyond my reach or was it gently woven into the fabric of my soul from the beginning?

Suppose I find that I have a few sacrificial chooks that enable me to escape from a living encounter with Jesus. In that case, it’s never too late to stop, feed the chooks instead of  sacrificing them on the altar of my own needs, and allow the One Love who alone can satisfy my restless heart to enter and make a  home with me.  

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