As we honor the Mother of God, a battle is being fought for blessings. In the world, this battle is more ancient than the Bible. The blessings of Moses and the Prophets stood out against disordered efforts to advance power, pleasure, and prestige through the false blessings of idolatry. With John the Baptist, the battle for blessings culminated with his witness to the Bridegroom to all of Israel and the sanctity of marriage before Herod. Today, in the Church, this same battle tests the unity of minds and hearts established by Christ when He laid down his life for our sake. The form of this battle goes beyond theological argument, though purification and renewal of minds in the Church is a grace for every believer. The darkness we face is deeper than the world of ideas and a proclivity to conform to this age obscures the very structure of things, even in the Church. We need now more than ever the Light and Truth that comes forth from the womb of the Virgin to help us find our way.
The mystery of Mary helps us see that the hope of humanity is at stake. Without the Light that comes through her obedient faith, the reality of sin and death seem to have the upper hand. Satan seems to be the center of the story and human thriving seems completely blocked by the ancient adversary and obstacle. Under this shadow, the powerful make absolute claims over every aspect of human life. Under this darkness, the home cannot be shielded from the competitiveness of the world. There is no room for the sacred when this enchantment seizes the soul. In this smothering obscurity, one lacks the clarity to distinguish good from evil, the order of creation from the order of sin, of holy unions from the merely banal. But Mary’s Motherhood contradicts this appearance and makes space for a pure love to freely flow through humanity once again.
The blessings of our faith come from the one St. Paul declares “man born of woman.” Just as Christ came through Mary’s “yes” to the Holy Spirit, so too every blessing that comes through Christ. In her maternal love, we see a nobility deeper than sin at work in humanity, a gift from God on which all human action plays out, including the blessings that we give in the name of her Son. Such blessings are about the advancement of God’s plan even in a world darkened by sin – so that darkness and confusion do not get the last word in human affairs.
Blessings of faith all share this deep connection with all that is good, holy and pure about humanity – because the Son of Mary reveals the truth of humanity to itself. This is the truth of the Father’s love and the truth of its most high calling. When a blessing of faith is spoken, whether in the liturgy or in para-liturgical devotion, the purity and holiness of the Church, which the Mother of God personifies, help us see how the light shines in the darkness and darkness cannot hold it back.
The Light that shines from the Mother of God reveals the true freedom and warmth of love. Not sentimental well-wishing. Not empty words. Not the jargon of a religious industry satisfied with helping people manage difficult life circumstances. Blessings have a more sacred purpose: entrusted to the Church, they are sacred acts won through the shedding of the blood of the Son of Mary. This is because to provide real hope, blessings must bear away sin, and bearing away sin comes at the price of sacrifice, the offering of one’s life in love. This mystery of sacrifice is renewed in every shedding of blood in his mystical body – including the martyrs who die today in concentration camps or torture chambers, who are mocked, dismissed, rejected and humiliated even as you read these words. A blessing is filled with the suffering love that made it possible.
The only proper response to a blessing on the part of a believer is conversion of life. This conversion is a turning to the love and life that Christ has offered for us and it is always a turning away from the sin that such an offering bears away. Just as the mystery of the Word made flesh culminates on the Cross and the piercing of his Mother’s heart, every Christian blessing establishes harmony in the heart and in the Church at the price of blood and compunction. That is to say, every genuine blessing leads to the Eucharist and to the Sacrament of Penance or it has failed its purpose. In the sacraments of the Church, more than any other place, the freedom and warmth of charity are protected by the truth born of a Virgin.
Our Lady is not indifferent to the battle over blessings being argued today. She does not side with confusion because she has taken the side of her Son – who is the Way, the Truth and the Light. In secret, she has formed armies of prayer warriors whose secret blessings are protecting all that is good, holy, and true in the Church even as you read this post.
Apostles of her love, these love-filled souls offer countless sacrifices to make space in the world for the glory of God to shine again. Somehow they have made up in their own bodies what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. Somehow these great Christians assist the Lord in bearing away sin – indeed, this is in part what we mean when we say we “assist” at mass. Perhaps, dear reader, you are one of these. At Mass our efforts are joined to all of heaven and even the Great Mother of God, Mary Most Holy. If only a single flash of this glory can end wars, what will happen when through prayers and intercession offered out of love for the Lord the splendor of His blessing completely envelops all human affairs?
Her maternal concern fiercely protects the hearth and home of all those who turn to her Son. Her heart is pierced again when troubled ecclesial leaders are given to wicked principalities and powers in the name of progressivism and political opportunism. Oh, there is always pressure to appease the powerful at the price of truth. A weird loyalty to everything that is not God. Against this false piety, the very virginity of the Mother of God is a reminder that such sacrilege brings only woe, millstone,, and fire.
False blessings may obscure the vision of God and rob even the most valiant of the strength needed in the face of death, but the Holy Virgin is the maternal defender of the Church, the terror of demons, the tower of truth. And, over every evil, the Mother of God boldly lifts up her Son together with those who dare to stand firm with Him. Icon of the Church, she blesses what is good and declares the proud, mighty and self-satisfied cast down. And in the end, Her Son will not deny his Mother’s prayers.
The One who is blessed among women knows that a blessing unleashes the glory of God on humanity and brings the structure of being into new harmony: time is touched with eternity, earth with heaven, the human heart with the Heart of God. Her biblical witness reveals that a blessing is never limited to the person blessing and the person blessed – but all witnesses of the blessing (everyone who reads and hears the Gospel) too are caught up in the wake of this sacred action. In union with the Virgin, every Christian blessing is ecclesial: in the Church all that is noble, good and true come together in an indissoluble union with Christ who with the power of the Spirit destroys what is evil, saves what is good and renders it right and just before the Father.
More honorable than the cherubim and far more glorious than the seraphim, the Queen of Martyrs, Virgins, Saints, and Angels gathers the heavenly hosts to follow the Lamb that was slain into battle. The truth is that wherever sin abounds, grace abounds the more — if there is confusion over blessing in the Church, an even greater clarity is breaking in on us. Against dark forces, she blesses us with her Son and before his glory, the Church knows it is long past time to help her with prayer and sacrifice, vigil and fast.
When confusion and heartlessness seem to have the upper hand, the loving Mother of the Redeemer is already blessing all families who dare to rise again and celebrate the Christmas mystery. Her virginal Motherhood leads heaven to protect the sacredness of marriage for man and woman, to keep the home sacred for life and innocence, to safeguard the blessings of the Church even from political agendas. And for those who most need a word of hope, for the loneliness and forgotten, the Mother of the Redeemer comes with the love of her Son. Even those who no longer think they deserve another chance, she knows her Son gains nothing when souls are lost and so calls them to repentance as only a mother can. This is why we call her Theotokos, God-bearer, the Great Mother of God.
Image: Virgin and Child in Majesty by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-11