Pelican’s Breast – A Symbol of Sacrifice

Perhaps you’re wondering why anyone would choose Pelican’s Breast for a blog name? It’s certainly not top on the list of popular domain names, that’s for sure. But when I contemplated a discussion on sacrifice, it became clear that Pelican’s Breast was the way to go.

Throughout history, the pelican has been a great symbol of sacrifice. According to ancient legend, a mother pelican would pierce her own breast in times of famine, that her children might seek sustenance from her very flesh and blood. When necessary, the mother pelican was said to have readily offered this sacrifice at the cost of her own life. Pelican's Breast Image

Over time, for obvious reasons, the pelican came to symbolize Christ, who gives us his very flesh and blood, that we might have eternal life. You may have even noticed carvings or stained glass windows of the mother pelican and her young in your local church, as a symbol of Christ in the Eucharist, but also as a symbol of sacrifice for us to model.

Unfortunately, just as the story of Christ’s actual sacrifice is heralded less and less, in most places today we hear little of the legend of the pelican. Sacrifice is something not often promoted today. At least, not in close quarters. We’d rather have the resurrection without the cross. But sadly, without the cross, there can be no resurrection. For Christ Himself said,

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  -Matthew 16:24-25.

Christ calls us to sacrifice. He isn’t just calling for us to “suffer” with him because misery loves company. Rather, in His infinite wisdom, He knows that in this world so lovingly created for us, our joy will directly correspond to our ability to keep our eyes on the ball, so to speak. He knows that our willingness to sacrifice in this life will not only prepare us for heaven, but will make for a much more fulfilling time on earth. In our day, we are experiencing the antithesis of this. We are seeing the results of a refusal to sacrifice. We are witnessing daily the results of the culture of ME. And most of us would agree that they are not pretty.

There is a great need for sacrifice in our world. Rather than look to God merely for His glory, we must seek Him in His suffering and degradation. We must follow Saint Paul and

…rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

When we turn suffering, annoyances or obligations into gifts of love, they become sacrifices. When we give – whether our time, treasure, desires or our very selves – we are offering sacrifices. And we are in great need of sacrifice today.

Back to the symbol of the pelican. Our own children are starving. Worse than starving from physical depravation, they are suffering from great emotional and spiritual deprivation. Many are missing the very foundation of childhood that stems from the security of family. They are raised in a culture that values the material over the spiritual, relativism over truth, personal choice over life and pleasure and self-determination over commitment.

Starvation from love and truth are exponentially more destructive than starvation from food:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Matthew 10:28

For the sake of our souls and for those of our children, we must begin to embrace the notion of sacrifice. Take some time this week to contemplate the cross. And if you are so inclined, tune in to the pelicansbreast.com and join our discussion.

In my next post, we’ll begin to discuss sacrifice in practical terms.

 

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10 Comments

  1. Thank you for stepping out in faith to write and share about suffering. It is very relevant for us all and a solid reminder that we can do far more good if we unite our sufferings to the true suffering servant in Christ. I also love the Pelican symbolism and the history behind it. God bless you, Vicki!

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  2. Thank you for teaching me something new today. God bless.

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  3. I had recently discovered this sacrificial icon of the pelican while I lived in Germany. Fr. Kentenich, the founder of the Schoenstatt movement, also loved this image and it is proudly discussed on the tour of the museum there. I meditated on it a lot as a mother and follower of Christ! Almost every significant place for me spiritually since that day has had a pelican! The Erfurt cathedral where I saw Pope Benedict with my kids while my husband was deployed and even the ProSanctity chapel altar here in NE! Thank you for this gift of a blog named after one of my favorite images of Christ and His priests with your beautiful words written here!

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    1. Angela,
      You’ve given me a great idea! I should begin to collect photos of all these images! I’ve been drawn to them for quite a long time, and only God in his Divine Providence knew how my interest would manifest itself. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences – I will have to make a point of seeking out pelican’s breast carvings and pictures now. God bless!

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  4. This a great encouragement to mothers, in every walk of their life. It is so easy to lose yourself, in the midst of taking care of your family. It is nothing compared to what Jesus did for us, but it is significant in our families lives.

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    1. I agree – As a mother, I need all the encouragement in the world! It’s so easy to get lost amidst of the daily demands of life. Blessings to you!

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  5. Great article. Such a good place in Lenti to read it!

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    1. Thank you! Perhaps Lent is why this blog just demanded my attention at this time. God bless you!

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  6. Catherine Nicholson

    Great post, Vicki!
    God bless you.

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    1. Thank you, Catherine – this subject has been pressing on me for quite a while. God bless you too!

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