Blessings All Around

God blesses us most of all through the Incarnation of His Son

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Faith

There’s a nasty cold making the rounds. Flu season has officially started. Was that you sneezing? Bless you! Maybe I’ll add gesundheit! Or maybe not, since gesundheit only means “good health,” and once upon a time it signaled a toast.

But a blessing is decidedly different, isn’t it? Let’s see why.

A blessing is scriptural. The Creator blesses creation. We see it is a vehicle of praise: “Bless the Lord.” A blessing can serve as a call to spiritual well-being. It can sanctify a recipient and dedicate a gift.

A blessing is liturgical; it is sacramental. The Church reserves certain blessings to popes, to bishops, to priests, and to deacons.

There’s more, of course. Along with blessings of people, there are blessings of the food that we need. There are blessings of things that we need, for example, houses and schools and hospitals. There are especially blessings of the sacred objects that we use in worship and prayer. Oddly enough, the media seems to have a keen interest in the blessing of animals. There’s a useful distinction to sort out such blessings. Invocative blessings seek God’s help. Constitutive blessings bring a special character, at least for a time, to their object.

So far, and with a major assist from New Advent (a decidedly helpful source), I’ve put together an inventory of blessings together with ways to group them. But if only in a “bloggish” way, there’s surely a philosophical and theological reflection to offer.

Insofar as we receive blessings, whether directly or indirectly, we receive them as limited, that is, finite beings. Here one thinks of the Thomistic axiom: whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver. But when we receive blessings, real blessings, they ultimately come from God, from Him who tells us “I AM WHO AM.” As limited and finite, we do not know God’s essence. But God blesses us most of all through the Incarnation of His Son. The Incarnation itself remains a mystery, though reason can show that it does not involve any logical contradiction.

The Son, we know, lived and died among us. We know him best in his resurrection. Even then, he would sometimes accept our touch and sometimes not. Thomas the Doubter, yet not Mary Magdalen, was invited to put his hand in the sacred wounds. But suppose we think of a blessing as a sacramental. Then, something less than a touch, and from a time before the resurrection, might well come to mind. Remember the woman whom doctors had not been able to heal? She said to herself, “If only I touch the fringe of his cloak, I will be healed” (Matthew 9:21). To do so was itself a blessing, and she was healed. Her blessing points to the blessings we give and receive, and it reveals the source of their power.

That blessings have such a source, and such a power, is consoling in times such as ours. We are blessed!

Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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