Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, November 2010
– PDF version –

I regret many of the words that fly out of my mouth. The sarcastic one-liners, the zingers and the offensive phrases that effortlessly role off my tongue. I catch myself only when my comments have already hurt another person. I hear myself and then realize I had better options. I could have used words as precious instruments of blessing. Rather than being put-downs or the continuation of gossip, my words can build up people from their hurt or misfortune.

I often fail to connect the daily words I speak with the gesture of prayer I model at the end of Mass. My hand rises up in the sign of the Crucified to bless people in all aspects of daily life. My fingertips reach for my forehead and then touch my chest then rest on my shoulders. I understand in my heart that God wishes to transform every aspect of my life and relationships as well. This blessing is not just a perfunctory gesture, an empty ritual or an ancient archaic rite, but the reality that God has already marked us with blood in Christ’s death and resurrection. This intention to offer ritual blessing on the community is simply expressing our true identity.

This holy gesture shelters nameless sinners, defiant unbelievers, stubborn children, rowdy teens and helpless elders in God’s forgiveness and mercy. The blessing reminds us how Jesus lived out his Father’s mission to offer welcome to outcasts, kindness to the weary and acceptance to the undeserving. The words of blessing invite our worshipping assemblies into living out God’s plan for all people. These words consecrate people’s lives, bridge relationships and invite people into the community as God’s beloved.

As I listen to the liturgical gospels from the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time until the Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, I am reminded of Matthew’s desire to bless the meek and lowly. John the Baptist points us into the direction of the Lamb of God. Jesus will bless us not only with water as John did, but with the Holy Spirit. This blessing will bring fire and compassion to peoples’ lives.

Jesus then calls the disciples out from the ordinary means of life. No longer will they haul heavy nets of fish, but they will carry the burden of fishing for believers. These days of heavy work will only be carried out by the grace and blessing that is offered them from Christ’s life and example.

Jesus also calls his new followers to a mountainside and he begins to teach them about how to continue this message of blessing, healing and love. These words of beatitude, of extraordinary blessing come directly from Jesus’ mouth. These words come as a shock, so much so that to this day we have yet to put them into practice. The people who will fall under the arms of Christ’s blessing are the poor in spirit. They include people who mourn the loss of a loved one in death, the meek who cannot inherit land by law and people thirsting for the springs of righteousness. Jesus names those whose intentions are honorable and whose hearts are clean of anger, hatred and violence. He calls peacemakers those who will be blessed by God. These people stand in the shadows of any culture, yet are called into the light of God’s rich blessing.

Jesus blesses his believers to become salt and light for the forgotten and the doubtful. He tells us still that no light can ever cast a shadow over this bright light of faith and goodness. He continues to tell his followers that real blessing comes in authentic forgiveness even when wronging a brother. He commands followers to turn the other check when wronged, give the extra coat to warm a stranger, walk the extra mile for the needy and give something worthwhile to the beggar.

Jesus also tells us that we cannot receive such blessings by serving two masters. If we all in fact give ourselves to God then worry shall be stripped from our hearts. This blessing will enable us all to have adequate clothing, enough food to eat and be sheltered from the cold and even our sorrows.

Every day I feel my fingertips at my forehead and my hands on my shoulders being blessed under the love God has for every person. I know from my ministry among the marginalized that today brings many problems. Blessings of food, shelter, kindness and companionship become real miracles. Reaching out to bless the lowly, the ill and impatient become the reasons why any Christian community exists. The blessing that Christ offers us transforms not only our thoughts about what we own but about other people who long for us to serve them.

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