Saturday, July 4, 2009

Mass on the Day of Independence: To Be Blessed and to Bless!

On this day in which we celebrate our nation's independence and all that we've been blessed with, the readings for Mass (Saturday of the 13th week in Ordinary Time, Genesis, 27:1-5, 15-29 and Matthew 9:14-17) invite a reflection on the theology of blessing. Several days ago I met the mother of a vocation prospect who shared with me her conviction that we live in a country that has been greatly blessed. What makes this insight so valuable is that she has lived in a number of countries throughout her life (Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, Israel, Italy and S. Africa). This insight gave me pause to think about what constitutes a scripturally solid theology of blessing and more precisely in what way America can truly be "blessed."

One example of blessing can be seen in today's first reading. When Isaac blesses Jacob with his final act of blessing, he passed on his patriarchy to him: inheritance rights, "favored son" status, etc... This act of blessing, unlike a blessing before meals, was no simple, pious gesture but one laden with tremendous implications regarding Jacob's future. Furthermore, given the wholly or mostly undeveloped appreciation for eternal life at the time of this event, the act of blessing perhaps also constituted the final gesture of love and outpouring of one's self on the part of Isaac. His "life" and patriarchy would now continue on in Jacob. The important point here with regard to a sound theology of blessing is that Isaac, no doubt richly blessed by God throughout his life, passes this blessing on to his son. In other words, in order for a blessing to remain a blessing, it must be shared with another.

The Hebrew Scriptures reinforce this point through the prophets who castigated the materially wealthy and "blessed" persons of their day. On more than one occasion, God through the prophets referred to the wealth of the well-to-do as a curse or as tarnished by their misdeeds, injustice, and selfishness. What this clearly indicates is that a blessing can become a curse if it is not used to bless others.
In this morning's homily I remarked that a theology of blessing that doesn't include a dynamic awareness of the moral and ethical implications of being blessed cannot help but arrive at the "Gospel of Prosperity." Basically, this age-old "heresy" holds that if one "checks the blocks" in one's relationship with God, one will receive material blessing and even wealth. This also implies that the "terminal point" in our relationship with God is to receive blessing. As a country that has been so abundantly blessed with resources and opportunity, we would do well to recall the example of St. Francis who never ceased throughout his life to be not only an instrument of peace, but one of blessing - perhaps knowing that the terminal point in the life of faith isn't to merely be blessed, but to bless. Pat, TOR