of us have probably heard the following old Irish blessing at least
a hundred times:
May the road rise up to meet
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
While it is a very simple blessing,
the Irish words are a powerful reminder of how important a blessing
can be in our lives. Unfortunately, in our culture today, we have
become a nation of cursers, not blessers. Our movies, our music, our
magazines are crammed with four-letter words.
Drive down any highway and you
will see people cursing each other with flying fingers and flailing
fists. Visit any playground and you will not only hear cursing from
the mouths of babes, but also witness the violent behavior that cursing
calls forth. The act of cursing has become so prevalent in our society
that we seem to be a people that has forgotten how to bless.
In the Bible, throughout the
creation story, God sets an example by blessing all that he creates:
“God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good”
(Genesis 1:31). This goodness, and the desire for goodness, is the
heart of what blessing is about.
A blessing as defined by Webster’s
is, “The utterance of a wish, request or direction that good should
follow, pronounced over a person or an object, or the benefit which
follows such utterances.”
Cursing, on the other hand, is
the opposite of blessing. To curse is to call evil or injury down
on someone. It is to invoke or pray for evil. And so in life, we find
ourselves offered the choice: to bless or to curse, to call forth
goodness or to call down evil.
As Christians, we need to understand
the implications that accompany this choice. If we are to be a people
of God, we need to relearn the forgotten art of blessing.
To offer a blessing is not a
difficult task. In fact, a blessing can be so simple that all too
often we take the act of blessing for granted. The priest, for example,
blesses us at the end of each Mass (provided we haven’t ducked out
early). Whether we are aware of it or not, we bless ourselves each
time we make the Sign of the Cross. Despite this inherent simplicity,
the act of blessing can take on more meaning if we come to understand
the three basic elements that comprise a blessing, such as our Irish
Elements of a Blessing
first element in any blessing is that there has to be a relationship
with God. When we bless, when we ask for goodness, we ask from the
source of all goodness, we ask God. When things are going well in
our lives—when the road seems to rise and meet us—our relationship
with God will be positive. Cursing is the furthest thing from our
When things are not
going so well in our lives—when the road does not rise to meet
us—everything in life can seem like an uphill struggle. It is during
these times that we run the risk of losing our relationship with God.
If we allow this to happen, we are unable to bless. We become like
the embittered psalmist who can only curse. Relationship with and
belief in God are essential to blessing.
The second element in
a blessing is the ritual of transfer of the blessing or the goodness.
Historically, this transfer of the blessing takes place physically
through words that we pronounce and gestures that we make, such as
uplifted arms or actual laying-on of hands. The person giving the
blessing transfers the blessing in such a manner that it will somehow
be experienced by the receiver.
The sense of touch,
whether it is the wind at your back, the sun shining upon your face
or the firm hand of a priest blessing your forehead, can convey an
enormous life-sustaining power. A blessing is the bridge between heaven
and earth. The transfer of the divine that occurs when we bless is
truly a sacred moment.
The third element of
a blessing is the enhancement of the receiver, wherein we envision
the goodness of the blessing. Even Jesus, when he pronounced the Beatitudes,
envisioned a goodness that would give comfort and hope to millennia
of believers. We have in our possession the ability to envision virtually
any future for humanity. The power to bless is incredibly awesome.
It is the vision of divine enhancement, of a people resting in the
palm of God’s hand, that is the hallmark of a blessing.
Our days are filled
with endless opportunities to practice the art of blessing. The best
place to start, however, is by personally calling down God’s goodness
by blessing ourselves with the Sign of the Cross. Morning after morning,
we can begin our day by choosing that divine vision, not only for
ourselves, but also for all who we might encounter in the course of
We might also choose
to use this opportunity to include a brief morning prayer. This self-blessing
through gesture, touch and words can become an important ritual that
will help us to spiritually center our day.
Our mealtimes provide
yet another important opportunity for blessing. We know from our New
Testament reading that Jesus would traditionally bless food at the
feeding of the multitudes and at the Last Supper.
In our society of abundance,
we take our food supply for granted, indulging and overindulging,
even to the point of impairing our health. Why not take a moment at
each meal to pause and bless the nourishment before us? Mealtime graces
from The Catholic Prayer Book include:
Bless us, O Lord, and these your gifts which we are about to receive
from your bounty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen
We give you thanks, Almighty God, for all your gifts, who lives and
reigns, for ever and ever. Amen
Our homes, the core
place where we spend our lives, can also be blessed. Many priests
are willing to visit and bless a home. In Christian homes a cross
or crucifix can be prominently displayed as a sign of God’s benevolent
presence in the home. Similarly, in Jewish homes the mezuzah is placed
on the doorpost. Part of the Jewish tradition is the touching of the
mezuzah and the reciting of the wonderful blessing: “May God protect
my going out and coming in, now and forever.”
We all need that reminder,
whether we are just sitting around the house or venturing out into
the world, that the goodness of God is with us.
Perhaps the most important
of the blessings that we can bestow in life would be the regular blessing
of our children. Who can forget the Old Testament account of Jacob
stealing his brother Esau’s blessing and the richness of their father
Isaac’s vision for Jacob: “May God give to you of the dew of the heavens
and of the fertility of the earth abundance of grain and wine” (Genesis
Today, we give our children
everything that is material and little that is spiritual, then we
are surprised when a child does something amoral. Like Isaac’s vision
for Esau, we find ourselves in a position where the only blessing
that we can muster comes out sounding more like a curse: “Ah, far
from the fertile earth shall be your dwelling; far from the dew of
the heavens above!” (Genesis 27:39).
It is crucial that our
children taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Simple daily gestures—a
hand on the forehead and a “God be with you,” as they head out for
school in the morning. A tracing of the Sign of the Cross and a “God
keep you,” before they sleep. Never to let a day slip by where we
don’t, in some small way, call forth the vision of goodness into the
lives of our children.
Importance of Blessings
whether they’re Irish or Jewish, ancient or modern, are an important
part of our faith life. We need to forget cursing. More than ever,
we need to continue to bring the flow of the divine into our lives.
Just as in Moses’ time, our generation needs to learn the art of blessing:
“The Lord 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!”(Numbers
Like Aaron and his sons,
we too hold that awesome power to bless. We just need to use it.
Sascha T. Moore
is the pseudonym of an author who writes essays and poems about theology
and social justice.
Multitude of Blessings
presents many opportunities for blessing one another, like the
following. Maybe you can think of others.
Shopping lines today can be breeding
grounds for rudeness and anger. If someone is in the wrong line,
perhaps help unload the cart and wish the person well. If someone
cuts in line, it probably is done because of urgent problems.
To acknowledge that stress and offer a “God be with you” can
bring grace to a tense situation.
on the road
There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t
read about road rage and the unnecessary horrors that it can
bring. Instead of cutting someone off, we need to allow space
for others. As a people of God we need to acknowledge that person
with a kind wave and a blessing for the journey.
Many workplaces today have been transformed into
hostile environments. The increasing demand for productivity,
more work in fewer hours for less pay, creates needless antagonism.
Perhaps a blessing for the workplace itself, and a prayer for
co-workers, can be the starting point.
of the elderly
As a greater percentage of our population
ages, we daily witness the struggle of elderly people to maintain
their dignity and independence. Instead of losing patience and
making short remarks, why not offer a blessing and envision
God’s goodness for the remainder of life’s sacred journey?
While there are many controversies within the
Catholic Church today, it is time for laypeople to show their
respect for the men and women who have chosen to devote their
lives to serving God through the Church. A simple touch of the
hand and a “Bless you, Father” or “Bless you, Sister” can be
a vital faith-affirming gesture that our religious need.
of the sick
Life-threatening illness can invade our lives
when we least expect it. To reach out and bless someone who
is ill can bring much-needed physical and emotional healing.
On the outside today’s teenagers can seem loud,
rude and uncaring. On the inside many are lonely and afraid
of what life has in store for them. Instead of fearing and avoiding
teens, kind words and a blessing will bring a touch of the divine
into the material lives of teens.
It can be annoying and disruptive to have children
cry and misbehave during a Mass. But to remove children from
church is to rob them of their faith. In Jesus’ words, “Let
the children come!” Like Jesus we need to reach out, bless these
children and envision the goodness that our children deserve.
Your Pet for St. Francis Day
John Bookser Feister
The feast of St.
Francis of Assisi (October 4) provides a special opportunity
to remember what a blessing animals are to us. Many
parishes conduct pet-blessing ceremonies on or near St. Francis
day. These are typically raucous events. Barking dogs, crying
cats, all manner of children and their reptiles, arachnids,
fish and small mammals try their very best to be quiet during
the blessing but generally succumb to nature.
At these ceremonies—only
the bravest parishes conduct them indoors!—a priest or another
presider says a few prayers, then moves through the menagerie,
sprinkling the creatures with holy water.
If you can’t find
a local pet-blessing ceremony, you can bless your pet at home.
But why limit the blessing to St. Francis day? If you don’t
have a pet, your neighborhood birds, rabbits, raccoons or other
wildlife will do—after all, the blessing touches the heart of
the blesser, as well as the blessed.
Web site of St. Anthony Messenger Press, has a special section,
Francis of Assisi, Lover of All Creation,” which includes
stories of St. Francis, a national listing of pet-blessing ceremonies,
some sample pet blessings for “do-it-yourself” blessings and
a pet-blessing e-Greeting to send your blessing to friends and
family—and pets with e-mail accounts! The pet-blessing area
is linked to the home page, www.AmericanCatholic.org,
Here is a simple
blessing you can use at home:
Blessed are you,
maker of all living creatures.
On the fifth and sixth days of creation,
you called forth fish in the sea,
birds in the air and animals on the land.
You inspired St. Francis to call all animals
his brothers and sisters.
We ask you to bless this animal.
By the power of your love,
enable it to live according to your plan.
May we always praise you
for all your beauty in creation.
Blessed are you, Lord our God,
in all your creatures! Amen