Friday, July 1, 2016

Blood Truly Remembers: Thoughts for the Feast of the Precious Blood

Today the Roman Church celebrates the Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ (as well as the Octave Day of St. John the Baptist). In praying Matins this morning, I was struck by two lines in the hymn (Salvete Christi vulnera):

Suique Jesus immemor,
Sibi nil reservat sanguinis.

And Jesus, not remembering Himself, holds back none of His blood. What a mysterious power is the human memory! To remember is to intend, to re-live something that now no longer exists, to make it intentionally present once again--yet not as it originally was, but strained through the (often distorting) filter of one's life, one's prejudices good and bad, one's temperament, one's fullness or lack of attention, one's imagination But also to remember is to unify one's life, the many disparate strands of one's consciousness, in a single recollected life, centered around some good. But again to remember is to attend to something--perhaps wrongly, to hold back what should be spent or given, as Jesus did not do in shedding His blood--or perhaps rightly, as when God (in that wonderful word) remembered Noah in the ark. I should remember myself and not dissipate myself--that is, I should know myself, recollect myself from the many distractions and temptations that threaten to pull me away from myself and fragment myself, be centered in all that I do around what is good. I should not remember myself and I should dissipate myself--that is, I should not think primarily of my own well-being but only center myself around what is more inward than my inmost self and higher than my highest self, the Good itself, and I should utterly spend myself, prodigally, profligately, in the service of that Good. This is the opposite of that will to destruction of meaning that I wrote about last night. There one remembers meaning and wills to destroy it; here one remembers meaning and wills that one should be utterly spent and lose one's life for its sake.

But this perhaps Augustinian analysis might not go far enough. For Augustine, memory is a mental power. That is true. But here, in the liturgy, memory goes further. To remember is to carve what is remembered on the palms of one's hand. Blood remembers better than ever mind alone could. There is no covenant without consummation. One must cease to remember oneself so as to be able to give oneself utterly: the blood of martyrdom or childbirth. Blood, like human seed, is not just a bodily fluid, but the very working of memory, a speech that can be, in its very physicality, spiritualized beyond mere conceptual thought, eloquent beyond this airy speech. In the consummation of marriage, the memory of the species and of the Church is perpetuated in the very flowing-forth of the seed. In the shedding of blood, the memory of self-gift, the unification of one's life around the Good which is this utter, prodigal self-pouring-forth, is effected.
To truly remember is to die for what one remembers, to be consumed by it, unifying one's life only in giving it away. 

Jesus, not thinking of Himself, not remembering Himself, gives Himself to the full, remembering the Good in shedding His blood and thereby giving birth to the Church. I cannot remember God or my true happiness or even myself unless I pour myself forth. We do not just remember internally. That is why our truest, most perfect memory, the Holy Mass, is not within us only, but is a sacrifice on the altar. I remember only if there is blood. Like Nietzsche says, to remember history is to take all that has gone before and transmute it into blood, into one's very life. His blood, pulsing in my veins, so that once more it may be shed and once more it may give birth unto eternal life. 

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