“BLESS yourself before you go”, my mother often said to me as I left for St Anthony’s School in the Brisbane suburb of Kedron.
It was a perfectly natural thing to do; for, as Catholic primary-level pupils in those days, we lived in a world of blessings.
Before school business began we chanted a long, drawn-out greeting to our teacher: “Good morning, Sister, and may God bless you”.
Then, with an unselfconscious blend of piety and patriotism, we proceeded to invoke in song God’s blessing on “our lovely morning land, Australia”.
We waylaid visiting priests and asked them to bless our newly-acquired medals, scapulars, rosary beads and indeed ourselves.
Some people of my acquaintance, whose memory of these far-off days is touched with nostalgia, claim that we live today in a “piety void”.
Whether they are right or wrong, we could with enrichment to ourselves, both as parish communities and as families, take a fresh look at the place of blessings in our lives.
In the Old Testament there are more than 400 references to blessings, beginning with God’s blessing of the sea creatures and birds on the fifth day of creation (Genesis 1:22) and of Adam and Eve on the sixth (Genesis 1:28).
Drawing on this rich inheritance, Jesus blessed God (Matthew 11:25), little children (Matthew 19:13-15), the loaves and fishes (Matthew 14:9) and the bread and wine at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26-27) – to choose only a few examples.
He even told us that we should bless people who treat us with contempt: “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).
In similar vein Peter writes in his first epistle: “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called – that you might inherit a blessing’” (1 Peter 3:9).
The last action of Jesus before he ascended to his Father was to bless his followers: “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).
In this, as in so many ways, Jesus has given us an example to follow.
It is not surprising, therefore, that his Church continues in our day to bless in his name and in the power of his Spirit.
Day by day in her official prayer, the Divine Office, the Church invites the Christian faithful to acknowledge God’s abundant blessings in two very beautiful prayers – the Benedictus of Zechariah at Lauds and the Magnificat of Mary at Vespers.
In them we offer joyful praise and thanks to God, the giver of all good gifts.
On the day of his ordination the priest hears the presiding bishop say to him: “Whatever you bless will be blessed”.
However, lay people also may give blessings.
At baptisms of children parents are sometimes invited to sign the forehead of their child with a cross using the oil of chrism.
The same privilege is extended to godparents; and I would like to think that siblings might be similarly involved in the sacred ritual.
In some families the practice of blessing continues as children grow up.
It is a simple and meaningful thing to bless them (in whatever form this might take) every evening before they go to bed – also when they are ill, or whenever there is cause for celebration.
Nor should we limit our attention in this matter to the younger members of the household.
At the least we can see to it that the custom of saying grace at meals, asking God to bless us and the food we eat, is observed in our homes.
This gives even the most ordinary meal a certain Eucharistic character.
“May the Lord bless you and keep you.
“May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
“May the Lord show you his face and bring you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)