Training our thoughts to bless
A Christian is called by Christ to aspire for excellence and the correct term to explain excellence as a disciple of Christ is maturity. At the heart of Christian maturity lies the fundamental question: What must be done or manifested in our lives to show that our person, our faith and our virtues are deeply mature? Amidst the many marks that we could explore to assess and sustain our Christian maturity, the image of blessing others and our enemies in particular and the world stands very conspicuous. In other words, the ultimate image of maturity as a disciple of Christ is not that of warrior or martyr, dying for a cause, noble as that may be. Rather, ultimate maturity is the capacity and willingness to bless others and our enemies. This image resembles the nature of God who blesses others and blesses the world generously and consistently. Scripture says, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45).
The story of David and Saul in the first reading of today shows how David had mastered the principle of blessing all situations especially enemies as he blesses his deadly foe (Saul), and Jesus in the Gospel gives a concrete example of what it means to be merciful just as our Heavenly Father is merciful (Luke 6:36). He says, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:27-31).
Rediscovering the Divine and human logic of blessing
The first and the highest secret of a happy living is the art of blessing. It is this awareness and realization that led Jacob to desire blessing and even steal the blessing that his father was to bestow on Esau. Jesus the Ancient of Days knew it, taught about it and lived it. Even on a tough experience like the Cross “Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The concept – bless in the English verb “to bless” derives its meaning from the Latin benedicere. It literally means “to speak well of” (as in bene – meaning well or good, and dicere – meaning to speak). Therefore, from the root of the concept, to bless someone is to speak well of him or her. For instance, if someone were to come up to you and say: “You are a very wonderful person,” that person if he means what he says, is blessing you and he is speaking well of you. Now to bless is to bring forth good in a personality, situation and condition. It is not to judge according to appearances, as Jesus advised but to judge according to right judgement – that is beholding the good and thereby bringing it forth in a person or situation. The power of blessing saves marriage and relationship, it makes bad cheques good, it improves and sustain health, it reduces weight and it reorders our destinies. Try it!
Jesus challenges us to live above the conventional moral laws that supports social order and to live out the prosperity secrets of the ages – the art of blessing. Hence He says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Expressed by St. Matthew, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). For many the foregoing aphorism of Jesus is idealistic and not practicable in our violent and terrorized world. Many Christians find it difficult to bless those who do good to them let alone bless, pray and do good to their enemies. To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too – oh, that is not practical! Lend without any hope of return – oh, Jesus is not serious!
Dearly beloved in Christ, what is the source of Jesus’ practical Christianity? In the ancient world and the days of Jesus, the secret of a happy living, health, wealth, prosperity and harmony was through the practice of blessing. The Divine and human logic of the ancient world was that if you bless a person or thing it will bless you and if you curse a person or thing it will curse you. This is still in vogue today! Today people have come to know that money and politics are very powerful. This is true especially when they are gotten genuinely and their powers are well channeled for the common good. But the power of blessing is more powerful than money and politics. Therefore, “Nothing so much depresses us as cursing others, just as nothing brings as much joy into our lives as blessing others” (Rolheiser, 2014). The formula of the method of blessing could be “I BLESS YOU AND BLESS YOU FOR THE GOODNESS OF GOD THAT IS NOW WORKING IN AND THROUGH YOU.” Apply this formula to every situation and see the fruits that you will bear!
Finally, there is the height of the power of blessing. It consists in blessing and praying for those who hurt us – our enemies! This is very difficult for those of us who have been badly hurt, especially in marital, office and personal relationships. There are five special wounds such as rejection, abandonment, humiliation, betrayal and injustice that ensue as a result of limitations within our relationships. These wounds need to be healed. Without healing and the grace of God it will be difficult if not impossible to forgive our enemies and do good to them. As difficult and demanding as the foregoing may be we need to forgive, forgive and forgive our enemies because we are created in the image and likeness of God and we share in His identity and nature. His identity and nature is love and unless we love like God, we cannot be called his sons and we cannot find fulfillment as well. Thus, Jesus asserts, “You will have a great reward, and you will be sons of the Most High.” Furthermore, we have to bless and forgive our enemies because before we die, there is only one moral imperative: not to die an angry, bitter person, but to die with a warm heart.
“The power of blessing is an amazing thing. Begin now to bless and praise everything and everyone that comes into your life! It is just as easy to bless and praise as it is to condemn and complain, you intensify the very unpleasant conditions you wish to be rid of. By blessing such conditions you take the power of evil out of them, and turn on the power of good that is there” (Ponder, 1986).
Fr. John-Mary Atep