The blessing of a New Year

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Every new year is a blessing. Time is itself the greatest blessing we can ever have. This is so since, thanks to time, we can choose to live eternally with God or be separated from Him through the course of actions we choose to follow.

The Church knows the power of the blessing. In fact, in her Catechism, Mother Church teaches us: “Blessing expresses the basic movement of Christian prayer: it is an encounter between God and man. In blessing, God’s gift and man’s acceptance of it are united in dialogue with each other. The prayer of blessing is man’s response to God’s gifts: because God blesses, the human heart can in return bless the One who is the source of every blessing” (no.2626).

Hence, the Church, as mediator between God and humanity, wants to present us, you and me, to God. She wants to prepare us in order that we open our minds and hearts to this powerful blessing that God always wants to impart upon us, both individually and collectively. When we pray or ask that a blessing is read upon us we simply acknowledge God’s power to bless and, more importantly, that we want that He blesses us so as to unite us more with Him, the unique fountain of all holiness and blessing.

As we know, we start every year by the Aaronic or priestly blessing which we find in the Book of Numbers. Its text is the following: The Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron and his sons, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (Num 6:22-27).

The way it is presented the blessing of Numbers 6 is itself greatly stylized. In fact, it is made up of three verses (Numbers 6:24-26) with two clauses each. In Hebrew, 6:24 had three words. Whereas in the following verse, 6:25, it had five words. Finally, in 6:26, it had seven words. The evolvement to seven words showed the complete blessing of God, since the number seven symbolized fullness. To strongly emphasize that point, in verse 6:27 God declared I will bless them. Let us remember that the I in Hebrew rendered the verse emphatic.

In verse 6:24, the blessing invoked God to bless and keep the people. By blessing, the writer meant the accomplishment of the covenant. God promised Abraham numerous descendants and land; the blessing demanded God to make the population numerous and to enrich the land for a plentiful harvest. By keeping, the writer meant saving the people from evil, any force that would put the covenant promises into jeopardy.

In line 6:25, the blessing asked God to unveil his face together with his graciousness. Showing his face meant his presence; his graciousness is his loving activity. The connection to the covenant is all the more clear in the blessing. When God made his covenants, he displayed his face (in other words, revealed his presence) and his graciousness. By such an action, he chose these people from others. Hence, by keeping the covenants He would reaffirm his presence and activity.

In line 6:26, the first part of the blessing as found in this verse repeated the blessing we find in 6:25 (The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you) but also intensified the blessing. To shine upon meant active intent. In other words, it signified “to give favor to.” The last part of the blessing in 6:26 was the end game of this and all Hebrew blessings: peace or shalom, that sense of God’s presence and peaceful dominion over the cosmos. Even Paul as well as Peter, in the way they greeted their audiences, they wished them grace and peace (see Tit 1:4; 1 Pet 1:2; and 2 Pet 1:2), meaning, of course, that both words are to be taken interchangeably since both referred to the presence and activity of God for the faithful.

The last verse of the blessing stated that when the name of God was invoked, He would bless the people (invocation of YHWH’s “name” was the same as calling upon the power of God). For Jews, this blessing and the ones giving the blessing were acting as bridges back to the covenants God made to his people. Whilst for us, Christians, God blessed his people only through one mediator, Jesus Christ. He was God’s presence par excellence who gave his followers God’s power. Thus understood, the blessing became a prophecy God successfully accomplished in Christ. He was this one blessing; his life (grace) is, indeed, our blessing!

That is why, as the Catechism rightly asserts, Christ is the royal road to both the Father and the Spirit when it tells us: “Two fundamental forms express this movement: our prayer ascends in the Holy Spirit through Christ to the Father – we bless him for having blessed us; it implores the grace of the Holy Spirit that descends through Christ from the Father – he blesses us” (no.2627).

Christ is our incarnated blessing! But He could only become one of us thanks to the YES of Mary, whose divine Motherhood we celebrate precisely on January 1. Mary was the first and ever perfect disciple of this living blessing, named Jesus Christ! Mary let herself be swept by this great blessing, Jesus Christ! She was the first one to behold God’s face, made man, in the Holy Babe of Bethlehem, fruit of her virginal womb. Her unshaking faith made her blessed … among women (Luke 1:42). As the Mother of God, she is the first to be blessed, the one who carried this blessing in flesh and spirit, and is the one who gave Jesus to us, the human family. Mary’s YES to God’s invitation to be the Mother of His Incarnate Son shows us that we too are to be responsible like her in opening our hearts to His grace and say YES by our lives to it. As our Mother and Mother of the Church, Mary intercedes for you and me with Her Son and Our Saviour, Jesus, to be, like her, living and faithful tabernacles of Jesus, our Only Blessing!

Every blessing elicits a response to work out. Let us pray to Mary so that we let Jesus, make us instruments of his peace. As Pope Francis tells us, in his message for the 53rd World Day of Peace, being witnesses of Christ’s peace in today’s world means:

First, being on a continuous journey of hope amid the obstacles and trials we have to face. Second, being able to listen through the support of memory, solidarity and fraternity. Third, being on a journey of reconciliation in fraternal communion. Fourth, being on a journey of ecological conversion. Finally, fifth, being patient and full of trust until peace ultimately reigns among us.

In this perspective, receiving frequently sacramental confession helps us taste that unconditional love which is bestowed upon us by the grace of God our Father. It is then that, “having received his forgiveness in Christ, we can set out to offer that peace to the men and women of our time. Day by day, the Holy Spirit prompts in us ways of thinking and speaking that can make us artisans of justice and peace” (Pope Francis, message for 53rd of World Day of Peace, no. 5).

A Blessed 2020 for all of you!

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

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