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May 18, 2004

Madonna of the Precious Blood

This is the image that St. Gaspar took with him on every mission.

This is a photo of the original painting after it was restored. It hangs in the St. Gaspar Museum, Albano, Italy.

This is a modern statue. It stands in the Cloister at Abbey of San Felice, Giano 'del Umbria, Italy. San Felice is the Motherhouse of the Precious Blood Missionaries.

This image hangs in the Precious Blood Spiritual Center, Columbia, PA

This image is from Peru. It hangs in the Motherhouse of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, O'Fallon, MO.

This statute stands in the Province Center, Pacific Province, San Leandro, CA

This is a wood carving that sits on my desk here in Chicago. I purchased the statute in 2001 in a little gift shop that is on the roof of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City.

This is a embroidered banner. It hangs in my bedroom and it travels with me on every mission.

Here is my latest article for Precious Blood Family. This month it is on the Madonna of The Precious Blood.

Madonna of the Precious Blood
by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, CPPS

Blood might be something we think about in medicinal terms if we are checking our cholesterol, or it could be part of the entertainment culture in movies that portray violence in graphic reality while we sit comfortably in our theatres. Maybe occasionally we think of Blood as gift and we treat it as a commodity that can be donated.

The gift of Jesus' Blood is an incredible and ineffable mystery that we seek to express in a variety of images. This month we pay special devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, that living chalice that by obedience becomes the human home for that divine blood to be formed as the creator of the universe takes human flesh and blood and pitches his tent among us.

The traditional image of the Madonna of the Precious Blood was a painting by Italian artist Pompeo Batone (1708-1787). St. Gaspar asked the painter Andrea Pozzi(1) to add a chalice to the child's hand and to add clothing. In a recent restoration of the painting the clothing has been removed, but the chalice remains. This image traveled with St. Gaspar on every mission and became the focus for his initial preaching. In various letters you find him giving instructions on how the image is to be copied. He insisted that the image should be beautiful, not sad, and that the great gift should be evident. She is the means by which our devotion to Christ remains human, and we experience his love and his gift in our daily experience.

In the rule of 1841 it is noted that it is the custom of our Congregation that each of our churches has an altar in which the faithful may venerate The Blessed Virgin who gives us this divine Child holding in his right hand this sacred chalice showing it to his Mother. Our Holy Mother invites all sinners to take for ourselves this "divine medicine" in order to heal us of our sins and to immerse ourselves in a life of virtue and grace.

Our Congregation has venerated our Holy Mother under a variety of titles. St. Gaspar placed the congregation under the protection of Mary, Help of Christians (May 24) and Venerable Merlini promoted devotion to her under this title. Francis de Sales Brunner who brought the CPPS missionaries to the United States was devoted to the Holy Virgin under the titles of Mother of God, and Sorrowful Mother. Our Missionaries in Guatemala promote devotion to her under the title in the native Quecha language. Her name, reflective of a Quecha ritual means literally, the Lady who gives us to drink. The Adorers of the Precious Blood promote the devotion under the title Mary, Woman of the New Covenant and celebrate her feast on September 15.

We live in an inhospitable world uncommitted to a reverence for life. Too many people still separate themselves from the feast she offers, and she continues to present this world to Jesus with the words, "they have no wine." Then she offers us the cup and says, "Do whatever he tells you." The grace of our salvation is God's work yet she remains "a vital participant, a central figure and the first recipient"(2) She invites us to the Feast of this new covenant where we take and drink the Blood of the new and everlasting Covenant. In this we become living chalices as well, and continue to offer the world this remedy from darkness sharing the experience of relationship and belonging to the Body of Christ.

(1)A letter November 1825 Gaspar writes: "I do not know who the painter was, in Rome, who depicted my Madonna. The one that added the Chalice to it is Mr. Pozzi; but the image was carried on the Missions by other Missionaries who are already deceased."
(2)Robert Schreiter, CPPS

Posted by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. at May 18, 2004 11:24 AM

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dear Father Jeff,

I've read this article several times, and I still am trying to figure out what you meant to say about blood donors.

It's not a major point, but at the end of the first paragraph, you have a throw-away comment about blood donations being a commodity, which feels way out of line to me as someone who did a lot of blood and platelet donating when she was able.

At least from a volunteer donor's point of view, donating blood or platelets and white cells is an intensely personal experience of giving. Lying still with my blood leaving one arm and the red cells returning to the other arm is a moment of identification with Christ.

What did you want to say about blood donations that had anything to do with your article? Maybe harried managers of blood banks slip into thinking of units of blood as a commodity, but I'd drop the side remark about blood donations if you don't feel you can say anything positive about us.

Posted by: Maureen Lahiff at May 25, 2004 3:53 PM

I meant no more than that the gift of Jesus' blood is essentially greater and uniquely different. I intended no criticism of blood donors, but still it is a one time event and may or may not signify the gift of ones' entire life.

Its an introduction, Maureen. Try not to get snagged by supposed slights and head for the heart of the article.

Posted by: Fr. Jeffrey Keyes CPPS at May 25, 2004 4:28 PM

who's the 'we' in 'we' ?

maybe that's what I dislike about the intro to this article: the gratuitous "we" that shows up a couple of times.

starting well is important! the second paragraph is great, the living chalice image is wonderful, but I don't think it's helpful or necessary to start with negatives to make your point.

Posted by: Maureen Lahiff at May 25, 2004 6:44 PM

"Might", "could" and "maybe" are all qualifiers of the "we."

It is not a direct accusation or negative image, but one that does exist in our world. And it asks the question of the reader.

So choices: answer the question or attack the question.

I would posit that second paragraph as Jesus' "answer."

The lights shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Oops, can't mention the darkness, That might be too negative. (grin)

Posted by: Fr. Jeffrey Keyes CPPS at May 25, 2004 7:23 PM

I've been thinking about this, in an attempt to explain why I'm not just always looking for the downside of things. I still don't hear any question in the first paragraph...just fault-finding.

The rhetorical strategy of starting out with our ignorance/thoughtlessness/wickedness
doesn't work as a way to reach, engage, or motivate me. I don't think I'm unique in this, though I agree there aren't many who complain!

Actually, this sort of start is a pretty common strategy in Christian preaching and writing, but I don't think it's the approach of Vatican II.
Whether it's the way the New Testament approaches people is a more complicated question.
It's certainly the way Paul of Tarsus usually operates. And it fits right in with the writer of the gospel of Mark, who continually makes the disciples totally clueless. Matthew and Luke, especially the great stories unique to Luke, are much friendlier. John has all sorts of stances, but what we've been hearing in the Easter Season treats us as friends and then there's the wonderful scene on the seashore in the last chapter of John.

The light shining in the darkness that can't be overcome is fine. Implying that the reader is likely to be among those who love darkness more than the light isn't.

Posted by: Maureen Lahiff at May 26, 2004 12:35 AM

Interesting back and forth comments with Maureen. I, too, think too many sermons start with negatives.

Posted by: Annette DeCarolis at May 26, 2004 9:57 AM

I have read that first paragragh over a few extra times. I found and corrected a typo. I do not find it negative at all. It is human, simply human, normal human behavior and attitudes. It makes no accusations or judgements, simply describes a few possible scenarios. Jesus breaks into this human atmosphere, principally through Mary's yes. That is the message. It is hardly negative. But then things are perceived according to the mode of the perceiever.

Posted by: Fr. Jeffrey Keyes CPPS at May 26, 2004 10:46 PM

I think it would be better to start in a way that doesn't involve using "we." If the author intended to engage the reader by using "we", it didn't work for me, instead, it had the opposite effect.

There's a way to also include positive human experiences of blood and expand them (the analogical path) rather than only setting up a contrast. (Contrast does seem to be the author's intent here; I do have some training in this stuff, though I could be making a mistake.)

Father Jeff referred a few posts ago to the first paragraph asking a question. I think the question may be something like "In what sorts of contexts have you thought about blood recently?"

In what sorts of contexts have I thought about blood recently? In an appeal for blood donors now that summer is approaching. In medical advice, reminding me about diet and cholesterol. In everday expressions like "blood, sweat, and tears" and "you're my flesh and blood" In gratuitous violence in TV shows and even in the nightly news -- "if it bleeds, it leads."

Posted by: Maureen Lahiff at May 27, 2004 2:25 PM

Sorry, Maureen, I still disagree. Your version is simply too direct and possibly experienced as judgmental. As you have said to me many times, I prefer the indirect approach.

Posted by: Fr. Jeffrey Keyes CPPS at May 27, 2004 2:49 PM

judgmental is, I agree, centered in the response of the reader.

I still think presuming to include the reader in a "we" which may be miles away from where she's at is likely to backfire.

true indirect communication might have 'some people' rather than either a first person singular or plural.

Posted by: Maureen Lahiff at May 28, 2004 1:33 PM

"we might" sounds better than "humans might."

Posted by: Fr. Jeffrey Keyes CPPS at May 28, 2004 3:39 PM

Father Jeff,

I don't think I've been able to make myself clear, so it's time to put this to rest and celebrate Pentecost.

I never like it when someone presumes to include me in a "we" of which I am not a member. Or, at least, do not experience myself as a member.

I seem to remember a Jeff Keyes article a few months back objecting (albeit indirectly) to another CPPS member's use of the word "we" in a way that, it seems, you wanted to say "not me" with enough energy to write an article for your province's newsletter. Whatever that felt like may be close to my experience of the "we" in your recent article.

Posted by: Maureen Lahiff at May 29, 2004 2:26 PM

The article was about a differnt "we," one that had canonical boundaries. If you remember I quite agreed with him in the generic context.

Yes, Happy Pentecost! Can "we" be used for all nations invited to the fullness of the spirit?

Posted by: Fr. Jeffrey Keyes CPPS at May 30, 2004 9:07 AM

About the human construct of blood in today's world, I heartily agree with Father. Our parish Bible study class is currently studying Ex 24, looking back at the Passover, covenant ratification, Day of Atonement sacrifices, todahs, communion sacrifices, and comparing them to the Gospel versions of the Last Supper, Passion, and Resurrection, and which are all still present in and fulfilled by the Mass.

No doubt about it. Blood has a sacred meaning that we have lost somewhere along the way. God's own strictures against eating or drinking flesh & blood were a strong reason why so many disciples walked away from our Lord and He just let them.We truly must have the Spirit in us, and have eyes to see and ears to hear. May Our Blessed Mother continue to intercede on behalf of "us" all.

I, too, prefer the apparently disliked "we," Father. It shows that we are all sinners, including Father, and it is only the grace of God that gives us His precious Body and Blood to consume, and the faith to know Him in it, as did the disciples at Emmaus.

In Christ's peace and joy,

Robin L.

Posted by: Robin L. in TX at September 15, 2004 7:10 AM