One of the things about being here at St. Peter’s Parish that I find a little funny at times, is that often I will be walking between the Centre and the Church, and as I do so someone will roll down their car window, and stop me on Bathurst Street, to demand that I give them a blessing as they are driving by on the street. My first inclination is to try to have a conversation with them to find out what they think that a blessing signifies. However, as the traffic is often heavy and they are in a hurry, they frequently get a little angry with me and demand that I stop my small talk and quickly give them the blessing that they are seeking before they drive off. These experiences have helped me to realize that many people may not even know what a blessing signifies or be aware of what is required for a blessing to really be of any value.
When the Church asks a blessing on a place, like a church or a cemetery, it is first required that this place has been set aside for sacred use. The church that is to be blessed must be given over to use for the purpose of sacred worship alone. Once it has been set aside for this purpose, the Church then asks a blessing so that God’s Holy Spirit may be called down on that area which has been set aside to worship God. The effect of the blessing lasts for as long as that area remains set aside for sacred use. If at any time the area is desecrated or handed back over to use that is profane or scandalous, that area is considered to no longer be blessed. It is supposed to be re-blessed so that it may again be set aside for God. The blessing signifies that it has been put into God’s presence. However, when it is taken out of God’s presence, the blessing no longer holds force or has the power to prevent it from being profaned. It must be re-blessed—put back in God’s presence.
To some extent this is also true with people. A blessing recognizes that a person has put him or herself in God’s presence and asks God’s Holy Spirit to dwell within that person who has put themselves in God’s presence. This is why we receive a blessing at the end of Mass. Having come to Mass and receiving the Eucharist, by which Jesus comes to dwell in us through His body and blood, we have put ourselves in God’s presence. The blessing at the end of Mass recognizes this fact and sends us out into the world filled with God’s presence so that we might make Him present to others. The fact that those who receive the Eucharist are blessed is best summarized in the formula that is said before an individual receives the Eucharist: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lord.” To be blessed means to be in God’s presence and to enjoy the fullness of life which He offers. To be blessed involves a choice to put ourselves in God’s presence, allowing Him to dwell with us and a choice to remain in His presence.
To be blessed, then, means to live in God’s presence. This is why we hear the blessing that was given by Moses and Joshua to the people of Israel in today’s first reading from the Book of Numbers. The people of Israel were God’s people and He journeyed with them through their pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He led them in the pillar of fire and dwelt with them in the Temple in Jerusalem once they arrived in the Holy City. We also call the Saints blessed, because having reached Heaven, they stand in God’s presence enjoying the beatific vision—seeing God face to face as they stand in His presence. Scripture tells us that Mary has been recognized as “blessed among all women” from the moment Elizabeth recognized that she was carrying the Christ child and that God dwelt within her. As the Mother of God, Mary was blessed in a particularly grace-filled way by living in the presence of Jesus. On this first day of the New Year, we celebrate that Mary is the Mother of God and through her we are also blessed by Christ’s presence among us and are able to live our own lives in His presence.
As the Mother of God, Mary is the first Christian and a model for the Christian life and what it means to live a blessed life. Mary shows us that by her dedication to God she was open to doing His will and opened her heart so that the Holy Spirit was able to dwell in her. She gave her yes to the Holy Spirit dwelling within her and by doing so Christ became present to the world. Like her, Christians are called to open their own hearts to God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within them so that they may be blessed and Christ may be made known to others through them. In order for the Holy Spirit to dwell in the Christian, he or she must set him or herself aside for God. Each Christian must work to create within them a place where God might dwell. This means that each of us must make the time for Christ in our lives and create a space for Him in our hearts. In order to be blessed we must be open to God’s word and His will for us. The single greatest way to live the blessed life is to celebrate Christ’s resurrection from Sunday to Sunday with the community of believers who listen to His word and receive the gift of His body and blood each Sunday so that He might dwell within them. It is hard to believe that a person who does not have time for Jesus and the celebration of His Sunday Eucharist is really a person who has created a place for Him in their hearts. As the Mother of God, Mary shows us what it means to make room for Christ in our lives. Just as she allowed Him to dwell within her and she listened to His word, the Christian also does this by making time to attend the Sunday Eucharist in his or her parish and making the reception of the Eucharist a real priority for their lives. Again, this is why we say at every Eucharist—“Blessed are they called to the supper of the Lord.” The Eucharist truly puts us in God’s presence and allows us to enjoy the state of blessedness given to those who are in His presence. I would actually go so far to say that a Catholic who never makes the time to put him or herself in God’s presence by attending the Eucharist is not really able to live in the state of blessed in this life. To be blessed, like Mary, we need to allow ourselves to be in God’s presence so that He may dwell with us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
During this life, the Eucharist is a sacrament that Christ has given the Church to allow us to open our hearts to His presence. This sacrament allows us to be in Christ’s presence and be filled with His Holy Spirit. One of the things which we are very blessed to have in our parish community is Eucharistic Adoration in the Centre chapel every Monday to Friday. I am hoping that when the Centre closes we will be able to continue this practice in the Church. This will continue to provide an opportunity for people in our city to come and be before the Lord. His presence with us will call us to grow as a community of love and charity, reaching out to those in need in our community. As Eucharistic Adoration requires the constant presence of people before the Lord, I would ask that parishioners consider whether they might be able to take an hour or two a week to be with the Lord in our chapel. There is a sign-up book in the chapel for Adoration. Once we strengthen the custom of Adoration, I would like to move it into our church, so that it can be kept open in the daytime. I am hoping that Eucharistic Adoration can become a practice for our community that allows us to leave our church open and calls all in our community to turn toward the Lord and be blessed by His presence in our lives.
The Church begins the New Year with the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God so that we might celebrate the life of one who was truly blessed by opening her heart to Christ’s presence in her life. Mary is the model of the blessed life and of the way in which we are called to live if we wish to also be blessed. We open ourselves to living as those truly blessed by the Lord by making time and a place for the Lord in our own lives. As we are reminded every time we come to Mass—“Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lord.” To be blessed we must follow the example of Mary, the Mother of God and her dedication to the Lord. We are not blessed by simply driving by a church and asking a priest to bless us. We are blessed by giving our “yes” to the Lord in our lives and modelling our lives on that of Mary. The way of life taught us by the beautiful prayer “Our Father,” in which we ask the Lord to give us the strength to do His will and trust in His love shows us the way to the blessed life. To live a blessed life calls us to live daily in God’s presence. As we begin this New Year on the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, my prayer for you is that: “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!”
May God bless you in this New Year of 2020.
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor, St. Peter’s – Toronto.