ColumnsNaming Grace

Blessed to live as a blessing

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In this Sunday’s readings for the Solemnity of the Ascension, Jesus “raised his hands and blessed them” before He “was taken up to heaven.” Jesus’ final act, final gift, was His blessing. No longer would Jesus be in the flesh to heal, forgive, love, and bless. Once ascended, the disciples were to be His hands and His feet to carry on His mission. Once blessed, they were strengthened to be a blessing for others in the name of Jesus.

We long to know ourselves as accepted, forgiven, loved, favored—blessed—just as we are. According to Father Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, “Hunger for our father’s [God’s] blessing is perhaps the deepest hunger in our world today.” Then, and only then, are we able to fulfill our mission as witnesses to Christ by healing, forgiving, sacrificing, encouraging, and serving others. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, disciples are “called to be a ‘blessing’ and to bless” (n. 1669).

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The blessing a child receives from God, most often through parents and grandparents, proves critical for recognizing oneself as blessed. We name grace—God’s blessing—by blessing our children through word and action: “You are loved.” “You are a gift from God.” “God has great plans for you.” “You make a difference.” “You are forgiven. Start again.” “God bless.” When blessing is withheld, children can be wounded and unable to move forward in a positive way. When blessed, children become a powerful blessing for others — for a lifetime.

My friend, Becky, blesses all she meets with her joy and attentiveness. On Sunday mornings she takes communion to nursing homes and shut-ins. This past winter, my father had surgery and was blessed, each Sunday, when Becky brought Jesus’ healing presence.

Twenty years ago, Karol Rae, former pastoral associate in my home parish, invited me into ministry. Karol Rae calls forth and affirms the gifts and talents of those she encounters. Karol Rae lives as a blessing with her encouraging presence, and often traces the sign of the cross on your forehead before departing.

My nine-year old granddaughter, Gemma, is big sister to baby brother, Johnny. When Johnny cries, Gemma gently caresses Johnny and sings, “I hear you. I see you. I love you.” Gemma lives as a blessing for family and friends with her tender presence.

Becky and I have often reflected on the blessing we received from our parents, which was rich and deep enough to carry us through a lifetime—no matter what. I continue to receive my ninety-two year old father’s blessing, his greatest and lifelong gift. Recently, when helping him with a simple chore, he smiled and remarked, “Your mother would be so proud of you.” Blessed.

Abraham Joshua Heschel reflected on our true nature as created in the image and likeness of God: “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” Life—our very being—is a blessing, yet we must know we are blessed to embark on mission.

Each time we are blessed at the conclusion of Mass, we are empowered by Christ to live as His blessing for others. “Why are you standing there, looking at the sky?” What are you waiting for? With Christ’s blessing, we have the power to be a blessing—even to the ends of the earth! Now, that’s good news!