the blessing

Jan 1, 2023

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The greeting of the day will be Happy New Year to family, friends and even to strangers. However in the midst of the celebration and the happy hellos, our experience reminds us that without our vigilance and vision, too soon a new year can quickly become weary old and tired by the routines and demands of life.

There is a remedy for this malaise and it is found in the gospel reading for today’s feast of Mary the Mother of God.

The shepherds arrive, encounter the Christ child, and then return to their fields transformed. Shepherds don’t normally go about their shepherding “glorifying and praising God” because “of all that they had heard and seen,” but after coming face to face with Christ these first Christian messengers return to their work routines vibrating with hope.

Note that it is the encounter with the child Jesus that is the transforming event. This encounter which begins a life of intimacy with God, is the most fundamental need of every person and happens every day in little and easily overlooked ways.

The first reading from today’s Mass gives the benediction which beautifully and powerfully expresses the desire of God to bless and keep, graciously shining his face upon us, looking kindly on us and giving us peace.

In these days as we accompany emeritus Pope Benedict in what may be his last days on earth it is appropriate to recall his last New Year’s day message, given on this day ten years ago, just a few weeks before he announced his retirement in:

The first reading reminds us that peace is a gift from God and is linked to the splendour of the face of God, according to the text from the Book of Numbers… This blessing repeats three times the Holy Name of God, a Name not to be spoken, and each time it is linked to two words indicating an action in favour of humans: “The Lord bless you and keep you: the Lord make His face to shine upon you: the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (6:24-26). 

Contemplating the face of God is the greatest happiness:  From the contemplation of the face of God are born joy, security and peace. But what does it mean concretely to contemplate the face of the Lord? It means knowing Him directly, insofar as is possible in this life, through Jesus Christ in whom He is revealed. To rejoice in the splendour of God’s face means penetrating the mystery of His Name made known to us in Jesus, understanding something of His interior life and of His will, so that we can live according to His plan of love for humanity. 

Here, dear brothers and sisters, is the foundation of our peace: the certainty of contemplating in Jesus Christ the splendour of the face of God the Father, of being sons and daughters in the Son, and thus of having, on life’s journey, the same security that a child feels in the arms of a loving and all-powerful Father. The splendour of the face of God, shining upon us and granting us peace, is the manifestation of His fatherhood: the Lord turns His face to us, He reveals Himself as our Father and grants us peace. 

Nothing can take this peace from believers, not even the difficulties and sufferings of life. Indeed, sufferings, trials and darkness do not undermine but build up our hope, a hope which does not deceive because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

You can hear John Rutter’s beautiful setting of this blessing by clicking on this link.

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.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this heartwarming reflection, Fr. John, it is full of nuggets to be pondered upon. May you have a blessed new year.

    Reply

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