New year’s blessings

The readings today for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, all focus on blessing. In the first reading, the Lord tells Moses to tell Aaron and his sons to bless the Israelites. The Psalm speaks of blessing. The shepherds who visit the Holy Family are undoubtedly blessed by the experience.

A friend and colleague, Tim Muldoon, recently spoke at my parish and said, “A blessing is a chance to stop your day and let your words be God’s words to another.” In this first reading we see the way in which there is a kind of reverberation of God’s words from Moses to Aaron to the people of God, in which the blessings of God work through the blessings offered by human beings. In the Gospel reading, we see the simple presence of beholding the divine as itself a blessing.

Words are a kind of a blessing, and significant ones. We all long to be blessed and affirmed by those who are important to us: parents, teachers, mentors, guides, others who have accompanied us. I can think of a recent retreat that I attended in which my retreat director, a priest, offered me the sacrament of reconciliation on the last day of the retreat and placed his hands on my head to pray over me. The gentleness of the touch was healing and itself a kind of blessing.

Our actions also can bless others: a smile to a harried check out clerk at the grocery store; a kind word to our children or spouses when they are encountering a challenge or are fatigued; or a generous act to a stranger, for example, letting another go ahead of us in line, or examples of drive through customers paying for the check of the person behind them as in this story.

Simply being present to the beauty of the world is a blessing for us, and perhaps even for it, in a way. When we take the time to behold the beauty of creation, or the beauty of another human face, we are also enacting blessing on that which we behold.

On the Solemnity of Mary, we recall that Mary gave a great blessing to the world: Jesus. As Jesus’s mother, she also offers the gift of her self: her body in carrying this child; her reputation, at least for a while at the start; and all the sacrifices including the ultimate one that will “pierce her heart” to the core. Mary is a model of generosity to us in being one who blesses–through her, the gifts of God and God’s self come into the world. Thus she is called not just Jesus-bearer in the church, but Theotokos, or God-bearer. We, too, can think about ways that we can bring God to others through our own words, whether with words of blessing like those of Aaron and the generous actions of God’s own mother, Mary.

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