Believe it or not, when people have asked me to bless them, let’s say outside the church after Mass, I haven’t always been one hundred percent comfortable. That’s because I would feel rushed knowing that people were waiting in line behind them, I sometimes didn’t know what to say, and I just wasn’t used to it. I always knew that a priest was supposed to preach, celebrate Mass, hear Confessions, anoint people, etc. but I never realized that I’d be asked to pray personally over individuals and make up prayers on the spot. And I sometimes doubted whether my prayer was truly effective.
Over time, after getting many requests, I slowly grew in this area and got used to it, but it took time. I realized that people want their priests to bless them. This past summer, before leaving on retreat, even Deacon Lucio asked me for a blessing. Br. Philip and Br. Diego also asked for a blessing before going home.
Let me suggest to all the parents today: your children need your blessing and many of them want it. Just as it’s my duty to bless people, so it’s your duty to bless your children. Moms, Dads, the goal of today’s homily is to encourage you to bless your children and show you how you can do it.
Fr. Bob Bedard, the famous founder of a group of priests called “Companions of the Cross,” in Ottawa, once came to Vancouver and gave a talk to the priests. He explained how he had gone through the same problem that I went through: not being entirely comfortable with people asking for prayers and blessings. He told us that people are looking for the blessing of the priest but unfortunately we’re too busy. He asked, “What are we so busy doing that we don’t have 10 seconds to pray over, or pray with someone?” That question was a breakthrough for me. I asked myself, “Why do I shy away from blessing people? It’s only 10 seconds. It’s my duty, and I have the gift of the priesthood to offer people.” After that talk, I decided to start praying with people when they ask me, even if I was uncomfortable, because it was the loving thing to do.
Today in the first reading, God instructs Aaron to bless the Israelite people. What’s fascinating is that God uses other people to give His blessing. God blesses all the time directly, but also gives His blessing indirectly. Why? Because, as humans, we need physical signs of His love, and so He uses our parents to communicate love, forgiveness, justice, His teaching, etc.. And also because it allows us parents to participate in His love: when we bless other people, we’re sharing in His work.
Jeff Cavins, a famous scripture scholar, has three girls, and has used this blessing of Aaron every single day of his girls’ lives. Every day, before going to school, he would lay hands on them and say, “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Nm 6:24-26). It become such a part of their household that the girls would expect it. One time, when one daughter was younger, she was really in a hurry to go while Jeff was busy with something else, and she said, “Dad, I got to go, hurry up, give me that blessing,” and extended her head for a blessing. He says, “My children have come to know that their father’s approval comes to them through the blessing. If I was angry with them and I withheld that blessing it would shock them” (Jeff Cavins, The Bible Timeline, Disc 8, Track 3, 1:26).
In case you’re thinking that blessings are only supposed to be given by priests, Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote about how his own parents would always bless him, and this is coming from the Pope, and he was born in 1927(!), so this is nothing new. He says, “I shall never forget the devotion and heartfelt care with which my father and mother made the sign of the Cross on the forehead, mouth, and breast of us children when we went away from home, especially when the parting was a long one. This blessing was like an escort that we knew would guide us on our way. It made visible the prayer of our parents, which went with us, and it gave us the assurance that this prayer was supported by the blessing of the Savior. The blessing was also a challenge to us not to go outside the sphere of this blessing. Blessing is a priestly gesture, and so in this sign of the Cross we felt the priesthood of parents, its special dignity and power. I believe that this blessing, which is a perfect expression of the common priesthood of the baptized, should come back in a much stronger way into our daily life” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 184).
This is new for us, including me. My parents never prayed over me (I’m going to call my mom today and say, “What’s the deal, Mom?”), and I wonder how many parents here pray over and bless their children. But this is something God is calling us to work on. It starts with me as the spiritual father, then Deacon Andrew, and then all parents are called to bless their children.
A priest once told me that God has entrusted children to their parents, and parents to their children, and so there is a sacred bond which calls upon parents to sanctify their children. The Catechism, the official teaching of the Church says, “Every baptized person is called to be a “blessing,” and to bless. Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings” (1669).
How can we do this? It’s good to start early in life with our children so that they get used to it. If you feel comfortable making up your own prayer, go for it. It doesn’t have to be long. Just ask God to bless your children especially with whatever graces they need: wisdom, devotion, humility, courage, faith, hope, forgiveness, etc. We can use the blessing of Aaron or something very simple: “May God bless you, ______ (name), and keep you in His love.” And the child can say, “Amen.”
I think it’s a wonderful thing to keep up the Filipino custom of blessing with the hand (mano po), provided that parents don’t neglect the more spiritual blessing and the actual prayer of blessing. I have a feeling that some people will opt for this type of blessing because it’s easier and we don’t have to pray verbally. But in this case, it’s more a sign of respect than a true spiritual blessing.
Now the first time you try this on your older children, we all know what’s going to happen: they’re going to pull away and blame me for putting these ideas in your head. So I say, do it when they’re not looking, sprinkle holy water on them when they’re asleep, bless them behind their back. Or, if you want, do it public, to get back at them for all the times they’ve embarrassed you in public. If you’re still not ready to verbalize it, you can do it silently in your head, praying for them without touching them.
Even adult children can ask parents for their blessing. We priests sometimes ask each other for blessings. I once told a friend, “Give me a good blessing, not a lame one,” because he liked to keep it short. When, for example, my brother, Fr. Garrick, calls, we sometimes end with a blessing for each other. That’s right: we give long-distance blessings.
But, if we can, it’s good to bless with some kind of physical contact. We’re physical beings so we’re hardwired for touch. Dr. Ray Guarendi, a Catholic family therapist, says, “Humans have a built-in need for one-to-one contact. From birth every infant needs ample holding, rocking, and caressing for peak development. The innate drive for the physical never is outgrown, though we vary widely in how much we seek it, resist it, or learn to live without it” (Marriage: Small Steps, Big Rewards, 127). I wouldn’t make a big sign of the cross the way priests do at the end of Mass, but doing so on the forehead or placing our hands on their heads or shoulders.
We’ll also get more experience with this because when Deacon Lucio, God willing, is ordained a priest he’ll come back here for a Mass of thanksgiving and give first blessings. We’ll all line up, kneel down and he’ll give us a personal blessing… into the wee hours of the morning.
You may be feeling like I did some years ago: you’re too busy, you don’t know what to say, you’re not used to it, never knew it was your duty to do so, and may even doubt it your prayers are effective. Well, ask yourself Fr. Bob’s question, “What are you so busy doing that you don’t have ten seconds to bless your children?” It doesn’t have to be long, your prayers are effective because you’re baptized and you’re their parents. It’s your duty and privilege. God wants to bless our children through us.