“We’re blessed” – why all of us need to bless and be blessed
Back in 2005 I participated in a 12-week sabbatical program at Menlo Park, south of San Francisco. It was a fabulous experience that included a superb five day silent retreat. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
I was privileged to listen to Canadian Oblate priest Ron Rolheiser for several days. I just love his work and I reckon that his “Daybreaks” daily reflections booklets for Lent/Easter and Advent/Christmas are the best value for money that one could buy.
The predominant idea that I took home with me from the sabbatical was Rolheiser’s angle on “blessing”, so here’s my recollection of it:
The word “blessing” comes from the Latin word “benedicare”, to speak well (of someone). Both the Old and New Testaments begin with powerful blessings.
- In Genesis, we’ve heard a great deal about “original sin”, but original blessing comes before it and is more important. God looked at His handiwork – creation – and saw that it was “good”. He looked at people and said they were “very good”. We’ve been blessed by God from the first moment of creation and He still blesses us today and every day of our lives.
- In the gospels, at Jesus’ baptism, the Father is heard to say: “This is my beloved son – I take delight in Him”. During the transfiguration the Father reportedly says: “This is my son, the beloved, listen to him”.
- In the sermon on the mount, the first Beatitude that Jesus says is: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit” – this is a throwback to His being blessed by His Father as if He’s always aware that He’s so richly blessed.
- Jesus experienced very tough times, especially in the agony in the garden and on the Cross when he felt totally deserted and rejected. On these and other occasions, Jesus drew strength and was energized by a profound awareness that He had been blessed by His Father. This ever present awareness and conviction that the Father had blessed Him was clearly a life-giving and powerful motivation to persevere against all the odds and to fulfil His mission.
There are three important aspects to a blessing:
- To see; people want to be noticed, recognized and affirmed – we hate it when people ignore us.
- Blessing basically means “to speak well of another”. We know that communication is predominantly non-verbal; we quickly sense when people are pleased to see us; similarly we know if others aren’t happy in our presence.
- We need to give something of ourselves so that others can have more life. In some real sense, we need to die to something in us, so that we can be life-giving for others.
The opposite of blessing is cursing; that’s when I’m demanding, I’m insisting to be noticed and to be spoken well of.
Experts who’ve research these matters tell us that it’s very powerful when the blessing comes from the top down, e.g. parent to child, and that the most powerful blessing comes from within the same gender We celibates are impressed by the life-giving capacities of mothers, but Rolheiser stresses the critical importance for boys to feel blessed by their father. Older men blessing younger men is something that many of us guys find hard to do. To take up another biblical story, just think for a moment of the contrast in response to Jesus’ birth. The three wise men came to bless Him, while King Herod wanted to kill Him. Researchers tell us that a curse arises from shame, which comes from being shamed out of our enthusiasm when we were children. Some writers and other observers of life suggest that in the west, with our lifestyle and culture, many of us guys live in an almost permanent state of chronic depression. Writer Robert Bligh maintains that western men are always uptight, always trying to prove ourselves.
It’s amazing to reflect upon the fact that our lives, our faith and the Eucharist in particular are full of blessing.
- In the Eucharist we bless ourselves at the beginning and end of our celebration; the celebrants’ first words to the people are a greeting of blessing and regularly during the Mass he wishes the congregation the peace of the Lord. The Spirit works through the celebrant as he blesses the bread and wine as it’s transformed into Christ’s body and blood. All Eucharist participants are blessed by the presence and support of fellow members of the Christian Community. All of us are blessed as we are enlightened and challenged by the sacred and life-giving word of God. The final act of the Mass sees the celebrant blessing us in the name of the Lord and in the name of the Church now that we’ve been so energized and blest, so he sends us out into the world to bless others and to bless the whole of creation.
- On a personal note, I’m full of gratitude to God whom I believe has blest and continues to bless me in so many ways, namely my family, the gifts of faith, church, priesthood and friends, living in Australia and especially Melbourne and even more particularly Eltham, good health etc. etc. etc.
The list is endless, isn’t it? I believe that I’ve been truly blessed in so many ways by God who overwhelms us with His extraordinary generosity and kindness. The overriding feeling/conviction that has been gifted to me in the past few years has been one of gratitude.
I’m quite simply staggered by the richness, beauty and depth of the mystery that is the love of God which has been poured into our hearts, minds and bodies by the Life-Giving and nourishing Spirit of the Risen Lord. One of the best pieces I’ve read on gratitude was by the Herald Sun’s Bryan Patterson in his “Faith works” reflection of 13-5-2007, entitled “Say thanks for critical challenge”. After treating the common human tendency to complain he says that “the secret to moving from complaint to grace is gratitude. If we are grateful, we will be happy because gratitude unlocks the fullness of life… We can’t cure the world’s sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy… The happiest people are those with the capacity to appreciate again and again the wonders of life, despite the pain. Gratitude brings God’s blessings into our lives!”
Patterson concludes with a magnificent prayer of gratitude by an unknown Confederate soldier in the American civil war: “I asked God for strength that I might achieve; I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey… I asked for all things that I might enjoy life; I was given life that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing that I had asked for, but everything that I had hoped for. Almost despite myself my unspoken words were answered. I am, among all men, most richly blessed.”
To summarize: The Father blesses Jesus so that through the Spirit, He could bless and empower us to bless one another as we give praise and glory to our God with hearts full of gratitude.
Looking for ideas for homilies? Try the above material for feasts of Transfiguration and Christ’s Baptism, and for Lent/Easter.
Let’s remember the three aspects of blessing – seeing – speaking well – giving life: ALL OF US NEED TO BLESS AND BE BLESSED.
Fr Kevin F Burke is Parish Priest at Our Lady Help of Christians, Eltham, Victoria, AUSTRALIA (Address: P.O. Box 310 Eltham, Vic. 3095).