Bless!

Homily at St Philip Evans, for 11.30 pm Mass on New Year’s Eve 2013 (Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God).

“Every baptised Christian is called to bless, and to be a blessing.”

So says the Catechism of the Catholic Church!

But what is this thing called “Blessing?”Our Lady of Banneux - Blessing (4)

It is when one person connects another person with the gifts God wishes to pour into that person’s life.

In our First Reading, Moses instructs Aaron, the first High Priest of the Jewish religion, about his priestly duties. He is to bless God’s people, in the words given to him by Moses.

In this way, we see it is part of God’s plan to give great blessings through a priesthood, a group of men set apart for this purpose. To go to a special person, a person not of our choosing, to receive God’s blessing, is irksome! Why make it so complicated? But it is a sign of our trust and dependence on God. To receive God’s blessing we approach God on His terms, not ours. The priest uses God’s words, not his own.

This same humility was shown by Our Blessed Mother when she took the Christ-child to the Temple. Although this child was a heaven-sent child, a true Son of God, she was the Mother of this Child, the Mother of God-made-flesh – the Mother of God. She did what all humble Jewish mothers did on giving birth to a male child: she had him circumcised in humble obedience to God’s covenant with Moses. She did what all humble Jewish mothers did on giving birth to a first-born male: she went to the Temple to redeem the child with an offering.

Mary herself has come as one who blesses. The Catholic Church recognises that 80 years ago, she appeared in the Belgian town of Banneux and designated a spring to be a place of healing. At times she stretched her hands in blessing over the visionary, Mariette Beco (the statue pictured captures this gesture). Is the Blessed Mother a priest? No, but she is one who mediates God’s blessings between heaven and earth. She revealed this more fully to St Catherine Labouré in 1830, when she appeared with rays of light radiating from her outstretched hands – the graces that God allows her to obtain for us from heaven. Yet there were some dark spots. These, she said, were the graces we forgot to ask for.

We, too – because of our baptism – are a priestly people. Every baptized person is called to be a “blessing,” and to bless. We do this when we say grace over a meal, when a mother superior sprinkles her nuns with holy water at compline, when a mother or father makes the Sign of the Cross on their child’s brow at bedtime. And we bless one another in our parish community by praying for one another’s needs.

If we would receive God’s blessing, we must approach God in all humility. We must ask for God’s blessing each day. Yet do we ever ask God to guide us in which blessings to ask for? If we ask for what we would like to receive, we may be granted it. If we pray for what God is guiding us to seekwe shall surely receive it!

So as we stand on the cusp of a new year, the Year of Our Lord 2014, let us ask God to teach us how to bless one another. Let’s stand a moment of silence. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us. We have just heard that “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” and made us heirs of God the Father. If the Spirit dwells within us, the Spirit can teach us how to pray. Ask the Spirit to whisper into your heart what blessings God would pour on Wales, on the Catholic Church, and on us gathered here tonight. Pray in silence for what you feel God may be giving you. Let’s do that now…

[after a silent pause]

Now, let us offer our prayers for the Church, for the World, and for the local community. Feel free to put into words the thoughts stirred up in our hearts. We can never be sure we have heard God fully, but at worst we will be asking our Heavenly Father for the good things that we would like for one another, and at best – we will have caught the voice of the Holy Spirit and will be united with Christ as one body in praying, humbly, to the Father.

Thought for the web: Continuing the theme of humility, Anglican and other Christian traditions pray a “prayer of humble access” before coming to communion, of which this is one modern form: We do not presume to come to your table, merciful Lord,trusting in our own goodness, but in your all-embracing love and mercy. We are not worthy even to gather up the crumbs under your table, but it is your nature always to have mercy. So feed us with the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your Son, that we may forever live in him and he in us. Amen.