The Unbloody Sacrifice, or: Sketches on Violence and Sacrament

Carlos Saenz de Tejada, “The Life of St. Ignatius Loyola. Plate 8. Before saying Mass, Ignatius is overcome with tears.”

Violence is that intimate, universal friend we all know and never know.

I feel speechless before violence, and that speechlessness is part of the language of violence, a language I wish I did not know. Violence is the great, monstrous, silent language; it is the insidious un-wording of words; it is that invasive articulation of a horrible lack.

The human heart shatters into pieces over violence. We do much to explain it away, to wash our hands: they are a violent people; that is what happens in a broken home; she was asking for it. None of which says much of anything, except to say that violence stretches its chilling hands over entire swaths of the world, families, individuals. Not anything, except to say that he who lives by the sword will die by it. Not anything, except no one asks for it.

I think often of the ways my own life has been touched by the savage wing of violence, how intimate a friend this bloody angel is to me. My mind grazes over the memories, swift and timid, every instant too much to stare full in the face. We all look at violence through angled mirrors down stretched hallways, catching the shadow of a figure in a doorframe.

Whose face would we find, could we turn and blink?

How familiar would it be?

Out of the heart come evil thoughts, the same heart made for love. I’ve thought often of this, and tried to understand. I cannot seem to understand: not that the heart is capable of evil, or capable of love, but that it is capable of each.

Sometimes I think that the most vulnerable human beings are those who experience the most violence. There is something about violence that enflames in the face of someone powerless against it. There is something about violence that enlarges when confronted with silence.

Christians believe that the silent Lamb did not struggle as He was bound and led to the slaughter. And there was something incomprehensible about the magnitude of violence experienced by Him, something enflamed and enlarged to monstrous proportions. The shadow in the doorway lurched, and it hungered for the weakness of the Lamb.

Darkness seems to consume the Lamb.

But there is much the darkness does not comprehend.

The offering of the Lamb constitutes the Eucharist, the unbloody sacrifice. The once-for-all, eternal sacrifice. The unbloody sacrifice. It seems important to remember that. Something in the very heart of violence is unhanded in the offering of the Lamb.

Of that something and that unhanding…

How familiar would it be?


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