It is patently clear that the word “blood” is the most important and most enlightening word in all three readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. We immediately associate blood with life; while we recoil from the sight of spilled blood as, right away, it conjures up the specter of a violent death.
The significance and the message conveyed by blood are such that it is used to seal a covenant, a bond between a Community (the twelve tribes of Israel represented by the twelve pillars) and Yahweh God. The sprinkling with blood indicates, therefore, that through a covenant with God, a Community commits itself to drawing life from Him by remaining faithful to Him and by obeying His Word.
In the Old Testament, the sharing in the life of God required a bloody sacrifice, the spilling of young bulls’ blood. However, the covenant was broken repeatedly by Israel of old because the personal cost to the individuals and to the Community was minimal, just the cost of the sacrificed animals.
There was need for a lasting, actually, eternal covenant. And, inevitably, this necessitated God’s ultimate sacrifice of Himself in order to convince humankind of the extent of His love and to elicit from individuals and from the Community a personal sacrifice that would assure that a new covenant would withstand the passing of time.
This is the idea expressed in the letter to the Hebrews, addressed to those who were the recipients of the first covenant and to all future generations of disciples. On the part of God, this covenant is truly new and eternal because the blood of sacrificed animals is replaced by the most precious Blood of God himself in the Son, Christ Jesus on the cross. As far as we are concerned, the covenant is new and it is as lasting as the degree of personal sacrifice which Jesus’ most precious Blood can elicit in our hearts. In the old covenant, the bond between God and His people was sealed with the sprinkling of the blood of sacrificed animals; now it is sealed in the Blood of Christ that we receive in the course of the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Through the consumption of the Body and Blood of Christ we enter into a Holy Communion which will never be broken by God, but which can be broken by us in our human frailty. However, although we are left free to respond to God’s love in three ways: with the offering of our whole self; or by holding back; or, even, by turning away from Him. Yet, God’s investment is the new covenant is such that we should live with the certainty that He will always find a way to offer us reconciliation with Himself and with the Community (Church) that is wounded by our refusals and failures. I think that this thought is extremely important for us to keep in mind.
After the sacrifice of His only Son and the shedding of his Blood, for God there is no turning back and there is no desisting from seeking us out with tenderness and infinite compassion anytime we walk away from Him. We are and will always be too precious for the Father to let go of us!
But there is another reason why I have been reminding myself and all of you about the significance of having been sealed in the Blood of Christ, of sharing in His “divine DNA,” so to speak. It is because of the inevitability and the continuity of situations in which those comprising the new 12 tribes of Israel, the disciples of Christ, are and will be asked to shed their blood figuratively, symbolically or, in increasing number of cases, even literally for him.
Let me remind you that the Catholic Church, in particular, has been targeted for destruction by the forces of evil which employ many means and many venues to this end. We cannot forget that Catholics are imprisoned, their property confiscated, their homes and churches burned to the ground in parts of Africa and Asia. Persecution in its vicious intensity is endured by Christians in North Korea and China and many other nations where Islamist or Hindu fundamentalists are free to attack them with impunity. In Europe, persecution takes the form of ridicule, severe restrictions and the prospect of fines and imprisonment for preaching the message of the Holy Scriptures anytime such message is interpreted as hate speech. Presently, in this country, the persecution is often subtle and, thus, felt as infringement of one’s constitutional rights only by those who are deeply distraught that their money is used to pay for the destruction of innocent preborn babies (here and abroad), and for embryonic stem cell research.
The fierceness of the persecution is directly affecting those who opt to lose their livelihood rather than participate in any way in the sale of abortifacients; in sterilization; in euthanasia; in transitioning to the opposite sex of young people suffering from gender dysphoria and in the celebration of same sex unions.
If we feel deep inside the significance of the Holy Communion sealed in the Blood of Christ that we live out also with those who are persecuted anywhere across the globe, we must ask ourselves about the extent to which we are willing to go in our loyalty to Christ and to the Gospel. The history of the Catholic Church is filled with instances of martyrs who, in their frailty, sought strength in the Body and Blood of Christ to remain loyal to Him to the end. May we all do the same and rely on the love and power found in the Eucharist to help us when it will be our turn to bear witness to Christ anyhow and, thus, to seal the new covenant even, perhaps, with the shedding of our blood.