universal givers

on the feast of Corpus Christi

Do you know your blood type?

There are four different types, A, B, AB, and O. Each type also has an Rh factor of either positive or negative, based on the presence (+) or absence (-) of a certain antigen. My blood type is A, and its Rh factor is positive. If you saw my high school, college, and graduate transcripts you might think that my blood type is really A-, but in in fact it is actually A+. I guess we all fall short of the glory of God.

I would imagine that most adults, whether you know your blood type of not, don’t give it much consideration. It might just be a fact about your body which is usually not relevant. But if you were in a car accident, wounded in a natural disaster or needed major surgery and a blood transfusion, your blood type might be very relevant for the people responsible for your care. In an emergency or operating room it is very important that the type of blood given to a patient be compatible with the person’s own blood. A transfusion of the wrong type of blood for you could result in a rejection, and also serious complications, like death.

In general, everyone can receive their own type of blood, but not necessarily just any type of blood. Some people with AB blood could receive any type, but the only type which can be given to anyone is O negative. In emergency situations or perhaps in a field hospital, there is not always enough time to cross check blood types to determine compatibility. For this reason, O negative blood is in high demand. It is the one type which is safe to give to anyone.

These people who have O negative blood are referred to as Universal Donors or Universal Givers. I know this because my maternal grandmother, Katherine, is a Universal Giver. According to the American Red Cross, someone in the United States needs blood every 2 seconds. Yet, only about 7% of the nation’s population has this O negative blood type. Because their blood is in such high demand, these people in particular are highly encouraged to give blood as often as possible, every 56 days.

Given the rarity of the blood type, you might find it interesting that my grandmother and each of her three siblings also had this blood type. My great-grandmother, Lena Mae, had two husbands in her life and two daugthers with each man. So not only was she a Universal Giver, she probably also married two different men that were also Universal Givers. Given the rarity of the blood, it’s something that I consider on occasion, not only the slim likelihood of the possibility, but also the ramifications of the fact.

As a young girl, I learned that each of these four women were happy to give on a very regular basis, and in emergency situations they gave even more often than is usually permitted. My grandmother is 88 today and has Alzheimer’s disease. Her condition is now very, very advanced, but a few years ago when she could still remember her name and some of the details from her early childhood, she told me a story of how at the age of 5 she and her father went Christmas shopping one year. He told her to pick out anything she wanted, and she enjoyed shopping quite a bit. But then they left all of the presents on the front porch of another family’s home. They rang the doorbell and then ran down the street to where the car was strategically parked so no one know it was them. Her father, William, may have known this family, but my 5 year old grandmother did not; they were strangers to her.

In her adult life also she would also be a very generous person, in so many different ways. Sometimes I wonder about how her generosity was conditioned by her father, and to what extant was it also cultivated by the fact that she knew other people really depended on her due to a random genetic trait stitched together in her body at the moment of her conception.

Virtues are habits which, when practiced consistently, lead to happiness in life. Given her early introduction to generosity and also the lifelong practice of giving blood, I imagine that this habit of hers was also one which formed her world view and grounded the way she related to the people in her life, whether family or friends or even strangers. I also wonder how her generosity impacted her children and her grandchildren.

I know I’ll never be able to do a controlled experiment to see what my life would be like without her example, but neither would I want to. I suppose that is a weakness of the scientific method, there are some theories that just cannot be tested. Fortunately, there are other ways of knowing that don’t depend on scientific proofs. Faith is one of those habits which opens the door to a transcendent way of knowing about what really matters. The questions of ultimate concern can’t really be tested in a laboratory with experiments; those answers are not generated by computer algorithms.

According the American Red Cross, someone in this country needs blood every 2 seconds. (i, ii, iii, iv, …) To think that after a car accident, in a hurricane, in a routine surgery, or being treated for a more serious health condition, any one of us could be that person, dependent on the blood of another, not just for a meal, or a ride to the airport, a shoulder to cry on, or a pat on the back, but for our continued existence on earth, for our very life. In my own life, I have come to appreciate a certain kind of spiritual poverty, knowing that there are somethings I need, that I just cannot do by myself. I need God, I need others. I have been fortunate to know that God is there to provide for some of what I lack, and I have been blessed with others in my life who have also helped to bridge that gap, between what I have and what I need. I also hope that at times, I have been able to provide that bridge for others.

Today as we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, we reflect on the significance of another Universal Giver and Jesus’s generous gift of his body and blood, given for us, for our reconciliation with God and for our salvation.

My grandmother and her sisters gave blood for strangers, people they had never known and would never meet. She did not know their names or anything about their lives. She gave generously with no regard for the recipient’s race, religion, ethnicity, gender, political preferences, sexual orientation, criminal history, marital history or moral state. She gave unconditionally, because she knew she had a special gift someone else would need to sustain his or her life.

Do you think Christ gives his blood unconditionally also?

Would you give your blood, without condition?

As much as I love and appreciate the Eucharist, I am also torn knowing that the Church does not give unconditionally. I have two brother’s-in-law, both Protestant men, who married my Catholic sisters. They are excellent husbands and fathers. They worship with their family in the Church. Their first born sons made their first communion this year. But, despite their baptism and belief in Christ, these men are not welcome at the one table. I am a smart and educated person, yet I do not understand why they are excluded. The Eucharist is not given by Christ only to those who we consider worthy. Neither is its purpose to build up the influence of the Magisterium. I am willing to stake my eternal salvation on the hope that Christ also gives to all the baptized without condition. I believe the Church should also. And until all are also welcome, I will continue to fast, to lay down my weekly participation in our sacramental life for love of my brothers and for everyone else the church intentionally excludes despite the gospel imperative to create inclusive community.

[Christ] entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12)