I’ve been retired for a while now but one of the delights that I gifted myself was a trip to Rome as a celebration. Even now I am “Rome sick” and I fantasize about when and how I can get back to the eternal city. All in all this was a trip of a lifetime and I contemplated and planned about what to do when there and how I would make the most of this wonderful opportunity. In my considerations I included a strategy that I would employ each time I was lucky enough to seen a priest when I was in Rome. I knew that this action would be a source of spiritual enrichment as well as protection and I hoped that it would give me some “spiritual extra credit”!
My plan was based on a practice that I had seldom seen and had never heard people talk about. I knew that the plan was valid, though, because it was one of those practices of the Church that was “old school” and based firmly on scripture. Was it Mass, no, penance, no, pilgrimage, no, confession, no, none of these things! Instead I had firmly resolved to take advantage of the ancient practice of the “priestly blessing”. In Numbers 6: 23-27, Moses is commanded by God to instruct Aaron and his sons to bless His people. The promise associated with this blessing ends like this; “So shall they [the priests] invoke my name upon the Israelites [people], and I will bless them.” So “the blessing” is serious business and a tangible spiritual benefit that was handed down by God himself and did not just show up in Church practice because of someone’s interpretation of an obscure writing somewhere.
I proceeded with my strategy by forming a polite phrase in Italian that I could include when the opportunity presented itself: “Padre, per favore, Benedetta mea”. “Father, please bless me.” I created this based on my study of the Italian Aria and my time as a classical singer. If this is not proper Italian grammar, my apologies to all the Italian scholars. Anyway, it seemed to work just fine. I even managed to annoy a monsignor (crimson trim on the cassock) who was entertaining a party in a posh Italian restaurant near the Basilica of St. Mary of Trastevere. He was not happy, but he did not refuse me. I did not disturb his meal but put in my request as he was leaving the restaurant, oh well. One of the things that most people don’t know about the priestly blessing is that once a priest is asked he cannot refuse the request. As per the charge given in the Numbers passage, he is responsible for “blessing the people” if they ask. This is not a bad thing to know especially if you feel in need of some extra protection or an extra dose of blessing and a priest suddenly appears. I had the joyful privilege to be blessed in some great locations in Rome including St. Peter’s and a favorite of mine, the Church of St. Cecelia. One can never have too much blessing.
My blessing adventure in Rome was just one of many but as I thought about this wonderful time it caused me to reflect on our Church and how it is a clear and present vehicle for the Lord speaking in the world today. The “priestly blessing” may seem silly to some who don’t understand the concept but what does it actually convey? More than anything the practice of something as ancient as the priestly blessing shows us that the Church and its faith is really a great circle enveloping all of mankind in its arms. The priestly blessing began thousands of years ago and is still practiced today. It has been present in all of history. Right now, this minute, by practices and traditions like the priestly blessing, we are inseparably linked with Moses, the Israelites, the Bible, God, his Son and all the spiritual events that lead up to where we are today. This is not a speculation. This is not a figment of someone’s imagination. This is not a “rumor” based on what someone guessed that they saw. This is a fact. When you ask for and receive a priestly blessing today, you are having the same experience that the faithful who were being cared for by Aaron and his priestly sons had. Wow!
Next, this practice is a powerful affirmation of our very real relationship with God the Father. God’s command to Moses was meant to make sure that the priests knew that one of their jobs was to petition him on behalf of their people and when priests did this, God himself would respond with delight. This is an “unseen reality” that carries us forward in a world which puts no stock in what cannot be seen or possessed. The fact that any priest today who extends his priestly blessing to you does so links his work directly to the priesthood of Moses and Aaron and God’s chosen people. We are really a people of the Spirit, the unseen dimension where God himself exists and eagerly awaits re-union with each of us. His charge of the priestly blessing is one of those things meant to keep us going when it all seems too crazy. It reaffirms the role of priest as liaison and agent of God himself. It shows us, in practice, that God is still in charge although we cannot see Him and that his priests are the not so secret agents who stand for Him in a world gone mad and rushing to eliminate Him from every nook and cranny of the public square. In this Year for Priests do not hesitate to take advantage of God’s generosity of the “Priestly Blessing” and be sure to lavishly thank the servant of God who gives it to you. Your blessing is His joy and brings a smile to God’s face. “The Lord bless you and keep you. / The Lord let his face shine [smile] upon you, and be gracious to you! / The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” (Numb 6:24-26) Amen.
On the Net:
Investigate more of Kathryn’s adventures at: www.atravelersview.org
Copyright © 2010, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved.
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