Homily: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
One of the things that I love about being a priest is that I have the privilege to be a conduit of God’s grace to his people. I do this most obviously in the sacraments, the “sacred mysteries” in which God pours out his grace upon us who are open to receive it. I do it also in more common ways, like when I am asked to give a blessing. A blessing from an ordained minister (that is, a bishop, priest, or deacon) is considered a sacramental—that is, a way that we receive grace in a non-specific way—thus, I see it as a duty to respond generously when anyone asks for a blessing from me. As I said, however, beyond being a duty, I love the fact that I can be a means through which you, God’s people, can receive grace from God.
One of the cultural distinctions between Hispanics and Anglos that I have noticed is that Hispanics ask for blessings more frequently, often for no specific reason. This happens frequently after Mass. I must confess that sometimes I think that the person is asking for a blessing because they think it imparts some sort of magical shield over them that will protect them from bad things happening to them. If true, this would be more superstition than true religion, since true religion trusts that God is with us, even if bad things happen to us, regardless of whether we receive these kinds of blessings. But, I digress. Regardless of the reason that a person asks for a blessing, I almost always offer it because God has empowered me to do so, and I’d much rather be guilty of being too generous with God’s blessings than not generous enough. You all want to be blessed by God, and I am grateful to facilitate that whenever I can.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus makes repeated reference to those who are “blessed”. Obviously, a desire to be “blessed” is a deep part of who we are as human beings. However, this makes me pause and ask myself, “What does it mean to be ‘blessed’?” As I think about it, one answer immediately comes forward: to be “blessed” is to be favored by God. As I reflected on it more, however, I saw something that I thought was interesting—something that perhaps could add some depth to what it means to be “blessed”—and so I’d like to share it with you.
The verb “to bless” comes from the Latin verb “benedicere”. When you break down the Latin, “bene” and “dicere”, you can see that the verb literally means, “to speak well of somebody/something”. “Dicere” means “to say/to speak” and “bene” means “well”. I’m sure that you can see the close connection to the Spanish here, so I guess that I haven’t lost anybody yet, am I right? Good. Perhaps now we can see that to ask for a blessing is not just to seek God’s favor (which we might convince ourselves that he would only give reluctantly), but rather to ask that God “speak well” of us: that is, that he would speak of us positively, as if he delights in us. Let me say that again: To ask for a blessing is to ask that God speak of us in such a way as to show that he delights in us. This is much deeper than simply asking favors from God; this is a profoundly relational request. ///
In this sense, therefore, to be “blessed” is to be honored by one whom we hold in high esteem. When we are young, we are blessed when our parents or teachers praise us for a good work or deed that we accomplished. When we are teens, we are blessed when our peers tell us how much they enjoy spending time with us. When we are adults, we are blessed when our supervisors acknowledge our good work. And, of course, we make others blessed whenever we honor them for who they are and for what they have done. Being “blessed” is a sign that we are in a good relationship with someone whom we hold in high esteem, and it is something that deeply satisfies our human hearts.
For those of us who have opened our hearts to a relationship with God, there is no one whom we hold in higher esteem than Him. Thus, it is natural and good that we seek to be blessed by Him. Left to our own nature, however, we would seek this by trying to prove ourselves worthy of his blessing, like children performing for their parents in order to earn their praise. What Jesus reveals to us in our Gospel reading today is that the way to be blessed by God looks very different from what our natural instincts move us to do. We naturally think that we must do extraordinary, flashy things in order to be noticed (and, therefore, blessed) by God. The Beatitudes show us that God values the most un-notable behaviors among us: poverty of spirit, meekness, long-suffering, a desire for justice and peace, and the like. This is good news! Good news because it shows us that blessedness is something attainable for all of us. Attainable, that is, if we are humble enough to pursue it.
In the first reading from the prophet Zephaniah, God promises to guard and protect the humble and to favor them by not allowing them to experience exile. This is a common theme throughout the Old Testament: that those who fear God, who seek justice, and who walk in humility will be blessed by God. In the second reading, Saint Paul continues this theme by reminding the Corinthians that they have been blessed by God not because they were extraordinary in any way (he reminds them clearly that they certainly were not), but rather because they humbled themselves to be united to Christ crucified. In both, the same good news is echoed: blessedness is attainable for us if we follow the path of humility.
Friends, our Lord Jesus, the Second Person of the Divine Trinity—God himself—humbled himself to become “less than the angels”, one like us, so as to show us the way of righteousness and to redeem us from our sins. In his human nature he was blessed by the Father because he followed the way of humility and sought always to do the Father’s will. In doing so, he has shown us the way to receive the Father’s blessing, which our hearts desire. Let us, therefore, give thanks today that our Good God has made his blessing so simple to attain. And, as we go forth from here, let us boast in the Lord of his goodness to us as we strive to live the Beatitudes each and every day. So that, by our witness and the power of the Holy Spirit, everyone with whom we come into contact might also receive God’s blessing and, thus, the eternal life won for us in Christ Jesus.
Given in Spanish at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish: Carmel, IN
January 29th, 2023