One of the most powerful Catholic actions that can happen in a home is the simple act of giving a blessing.
Blessings are considered sacramentals, meaning that they are “sacred signs or sacred actions” (Youcat 272) that help us to grow more like Christ and receive the graces available in the sacraments. Blessings typically consist of prayer, the use of Scripture and a corresponding sign, usually the Sign of the Cross. Although we are accustomed to seeing and/or receiving blessings in church by the presider or deacon, there are many instances in everyday life, especially within the home, where it is appropriate for families to bless each other. This is especially true of parents blessing their children, where parents exercise their function as priestly people who participate in the priesthood of Christ through their baptism.
The Priestly Blessing
Scripture is full of examples of God blessing his people and fathers blessing their children. One of the best loved blessings is given by God to Moses in the book of Numbers, sometimes referred to as the Priestly Blessing. God said to Moses, “Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them:
‘The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!’
So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites and I will bless them. “ (Numbers 6:24-27)
The footnotes of the NAB (New American Bible) explain that the word “peace,” translated as shalom in Hebrew, refers to “the idea of happiness, good health, prosperity, friendship, and general well-being.” To bless someone in the name of peace was to pray for all of these things to descend upon the person. Simply put, blessings call down God’s favor and protection upon the one who is blessed. It is to look upon a person with love and delight, to recognize the goodness in him or her, and to want that goodness and grace to multiply.
Just as God looked upon Adam and Eve in the garden and blessed them (Genesis 1:28), so we are also called to imitate God in being people who bless, In fact, the Catechism reminds us that “every baptized person is called to be a blessing and to bless.”
Blessing at Home
The easiest way to incorporate blessings into everyday life is to print out the Priestly Blessing above (or just memorize it) and tape it on the back of the door your family uses most, ie. garage door, front door, back door, etc. As you leave for school, work, sports practice, dance practice or anywhere else, just take about 3 or 4 seconds to bless each other. Recite the blessing while you make the sign of the cross on each other’s forehead. If you do this consistently, you’ll be surprised at the results.
I will share that my husband was fortunate to grow up in a home where he was blessed almost every time he left the house, and this was one of the traditions he passed on to our children, blessing them in their comings and goings. It is such a powerful, yet simple, sign of conveying favor and love to another person that it wasn’t long before our children’s friends, having watched this ritual a few times, started lining up to get a blessing as well when they left our house! Additionally, introducing parents to the practice of giving blessings is something I do at our church formation sessions. It really is quite something to see the look on many parent’s faces when their child blesses them, and prays that the peace of God will descend upon them.
As with most of our Catholic traditions, it is the repetition and practicing over time that allows these practices to bear fruit. The habit of blessing reminds us that God is with us, and goes out with us as well. It also shows us that each of us is a God-bearer, made in his image. Inserting God into the few seconds before we leave is an opportunity to breathe a little, pray and hope. As this school year ramps up, consider adding the practice of everyday blessings into your home life.
Now that the first week or so of school has come and gone, let’s revisit the idea of taking on some Adult Education to further our own growth in faith and build our relationship with God, as well as model life-long learning to the children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and/or neighbors who may be in our lives. I wrote about several different options in my last article, and with a little thought, prayer and planning, everyone can find the level of activity and commitment that best works for them.
An additional trick I’ve learned through working with parents over the last decade and a half is to put a visual reminder of the goal you want to complete in a prominent place somewhere in your home. To that end, I’ve created the simple “Parent Pledge'' (or "Grandparent Pledge") form above. After you’ve decided on your goal, here’s all you need to do:
1. PRINT out the form above.
2. FILL it in.
3. POST it somewhere you and your family will see it every day.
4. Then just DO it!
Besides the classes, online courses and books I listed in my previous article, I would like to offer two additional books for consideration. Both of these books especially tie into the National Eucharistic Revival.
1. Making the Mass Come Alive At only 35 pages in length, this booklet is easy to read in one or two sittings, but packed full of enough quality material that you will want to read it another couple of times. Written by John H. Hampsch, C.M.F., and published by Queenship Publishing Company in 2000, the booklet explains why the Mass should be celebrated, not just passively attended - or worse, simply endured. With chapters like “Don’t Be a Party Pooper” and “Every Body Needs Prayer” this tour through the Mass is well worth your time and offers a good introduction to Eucharistic theology.
2. Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist Published in 2011 by Doubleday, this full-length book (135 pages) is a collection of essays approaching the Eucharist from different perspectives. Written by Ron Rolheiser, O.M.I., past president of Oblate School of Theology and well-known author, the book is a compilation of Fr. Ron’s many musings and teachings on the Eucharist. Ultimately, the Eucharist is a great mystery of God’s presence and love. The essays work together to try to explain some of this mystery, culminating in the fact that the “one great act of fidelity” that we can offer back to Jesus is to receive him in the Eucharist - to just keep showing up. The essays are only two or three pages long in most cases, and are written in Fr. Ron’s clear, pastoral style. This book will easily keep you company in the fall evenings.
Both of these books are available on My Bookshelf. Have you decided what you will learn this season? Let’s pray for each other as we continue on this Eucharistic Revival journey, that we may be people who “know wisdom and discipline, may understand intelligent sayings, may receive instruction in wise conduct, in what is right, just and fair, [so] that resourcefulness may be imparted to the naive, knowledge and discretion to the young. The wise by hearing them will advance in learning, the intelligent will gain sound advice.” (Proverbs 1:1-5)
Hail Mary, seat of Wisdom, pray for us, now and at the hour of our death, and pray for those who never pray to you.
back to school, back to learning
The annual back-to-school trek has begun in earnest around the country this week. Schools that didn’t start a week ago are getting going this week. That means early mornings, stray papers in the kitchen, school buses on the road and, of course, homework.
Now that the kids are back to studying, what about us? Shouldn't we also be revving up our brains again and flexing some of our mental muscle? We definitely know that those who routinely exercise and stretch their brains to learn new things will retain a much better quality of life as they age. Besides, there are so many interesting things to learn about!
Another reason to seriously consider learning something new is to model that learning about our faith is a life-long journey. We don’t graduate from growing in our faith, as though we’ve learned all we need to know at Confirmation. One parent told me she started going to Bible study because her child looked at her one day and said "You're making me go to RE class, but you don't do anything. I guess I can quit, too, when I get older." If we want our children and grandchildren to take their faith seriously, then we have to show them how to do it, and that it’s important in the midst of our busy lives.
Model Life-long Learning
So, I would like to propose a "Back to School, Back to Study" Pledge for Parents. Like all my faith formation suggestions, adding something new is NOT intended to overwhelm or cause guilt. It's really more about finding a bit of time, or reorganizing a little space, to fit in something new that adds great value. It's finding an inch, not a mile. In other words, this pledge has to be pretty simple. It really involves just 2 things: 1. finding a study that interests you and fits into your schedule and 2. sticking with it.
So, where should you look to find a good Catholic study? Most parishes have good Bible studies that start around this time of year, and they use solid resources that you can trust. My favorite Bible series is from Stephen Binz, published by Twenty-Third Publications. It's called the "Threshold Bible Study" series, and it covers many fascinating topics. Many parishes use the "Little Rock Scripture Study" series, or the "6 Weeks with the Bible" series from Loyola Press. Both of these are also good.
Some parishes also offer courses in the "Echoes of Faith" series, a program published and produced by RCL Benziger, a well-known Catholic textbook publisher. This program can be done in group settings or individually and has recently been updated. The current version is called "Echoes of Faith, Emmaus," signifying that it follows the Biblical story of Jesus walking with his disciples on the road to Emmaus. It's very well done and is often used for catechist certification. This is a good option if you are just starting to learn about Catholicism. Ask your Director of Religious Education at your local parish about it.
But if committing to another outside activity makes you feel overwhelmed, you can also consider learning on your own. The St. Paul Center, at www.stpaulcenter.com, offers several online courses for free and they are a great place to start.
However, if you're not sure you can make it through a full course - even a free, self paced one- you can always pick up a new book and commit to finishing it by Christmas. There are several books that I highly recommend on My Bookshelf, such as John Bergsma's Bible Basics for Catholics or Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing. Shorter autobiographies, like St. Therese of Lisieux’ The Story of A Soul, are also perfect Fall reading.
Whatever option you choose is not nearly as important as actually choosing something and sticking with it. Take a few minutes today to think about the season ahead. At Christmas time, what would you like to look back and have read or learned during those 3 or 4 months? Then, just pick something and get going, and model life-long learning to those around you.
St. Thomas Aquinas, patron saint of students of all ages, pray for us this school year!
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