Blood is thicker than water, they say. We wanted to prove our loyalty to each other, to deepen our bond, to be more than just friends.
We thought it was a great idea.
(My mom thought otherwise. She was, well, horrified when she heard about it and started talking about blood diseases and other sundry pleasantries.)
The idea of blood brotherhood is cross-cultural: there are legends and rituals among such diverse peoples as Norsemen and Native Americans and Chinese. Why does this idea have such widespread appeal?For the same reason it appealed to two nine-year-old suburban girls. Everyone knows you're supposed to be loyal to your own family. So how do you express a deep friendship, how do you express that your loyalty to a friend is like that of a brother—a bond that is lifelong and unbreakable? Family members are said to be related "by blood" (people didn't know about genes back then), so from that I suppose arose the idea of mixing—sharing—your blood with that friend who is like a brother.
When I was little, one of the torments my older brother and sister devised was to try to convince me that I was adopted and therefore not a true member of the family. (The fact that I'm not and yet they treated a "real" sister in such a way just goes to prove that not being adopted doesn't protect you!) Of course, I now know that if I had been adopted it wouldn't have changed anything: my parents have always loved me dearly, and I know they'd have loved me just as much. Adopted children have just as much chance—sometimes more—of being cherished than biological children.
But we live in a fallen world, and thus we're all a little insecure.
At a retreat some time ago, it dawned on me how thoroughly the Lord recognizes the longings of the human heart. (Shouldn't really be a surprise... He made our hearts after all.) So not only did the Son come down to earth to save us, not only did He become one of us to save us, but He even went so far as to make us His adopted brothers and sisters, calling the Father: "My Father and your Father". We are the adopted children of God—how incredible is that!
But He also knows the insecurity that lies behind our longing to be "blood brothers". So He undertook a much greater ritual, not the mere prick of a needle to his thumb, but nails right through His hands and feet. Not a mere drop of blood, but shedding pints and pints of His Blood, some say to its last drop.
And what about our part? He does call us to carry our cross and follow Him. But most of us won't have to shed our blood for Him, and He knows none of us could without His help anyway.
Instead, He found another way for us to achieve an even more deeply unifying sharing of His blood than by rubbing thumbs together: He gave us His own Blood to drink and Body to eat in the Eucharist.
There is no greater union possible on this earth.
"You are what you eat." This isn't merely a health motto—it seems it was also the motive for cannibalism. Fr. Jean de Brébeuf—a seventeenth-century Jesuit missionary—underwent horrific tortures with such courage that his Iroquois persecutors ate his heart to gain his courage.
I don't know if Fr. Brébeuf's virtues had any chemical correspondents in his blood that could have passed to those who tried to steal his heart, but I'm sure they couldn't gain those spiritual gifts that way.When we partake of the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Eucharist, it is not cannibalism because He is alive and gives us His whole self. And it is a gift that, if we are open, will impart to us His Heart, His grace, and the characteristics of Him whom we consume. And it is a gift that unifies us with Him and truly makes us His blood brothers.