Monday, December 21, 2015

When blessings are received well, we pay it forward

As a priest, many people come up to me for a blessing.  I have always met their request, but I also struggle with the very prevalent ‘talisman’ mentality that a lot of Catholics have about medals, scapulars, holy cards and crucifixes.  Don't get me wrong – in themselves, these sacramentals (a Catholic collective term for these articles) are good and useful.  I do not dismiss their effectiveness in conveying a sense of the sacred, and I myself have often been comforted and assured of God’s loving presence in my life by either holding on to an image of the crucified Lord or a medal depicting Mary.  We are people who are visual and tactile, and the wearing of these reminds us that we are always in God’s presence. 

Many ask for these to be blessed, and it is always a good thing.  What are blessings, but verbal assurances to us of God’s love and support in our lives.  It is the same reason why couples wanting to get married ask their parents for a blessing.  To have their parental blessings is to hear in a formal way that the person that they want to have as their life-partner also receives their support and approval.  It is a very real and necessary reminder that this person is also loved. 

It is for this reason that when I am presented with a handful of medals, rosaries, crucifixes, a holy picture, a statue or a scapular, I always ask the person if these belong to him or her.  When it is not, I try to tell them to give it to the person they intend this for, and encourage this person to present this to a priest for a blessing. 

I know that it does seem petty or calculative of me, but I have my reasons. I do not want to be the priest to inculcate nor promote a talisman mentality among the faithful.  The blessing that a priest bestows on a sacramental is also a blessing on the person using them.  I often formulate the blessing to remind them that they are loved by God, and that these sacramentals are to be used as material reminders of this love.  People do not change because of medals or holy cards.  People change because they know that they are loved, that they are approved and that they are blessed.  They need to hear these words and experience the blessing themselves.  Just handing a blessed item or article to someone can often end up with them thinking that there is no need for them to be holy, just so long as what they are wearing or using is holy.  That call to holiness isn’t heard, and it remains on the surface and doesn’t have the opportunity to permeate into their hearts.  Of course, my intentions may not have the desired effect 100% of the time, but at least I know that I have given a chance for this to happen.

Aren’t so many of life’s problems and sufferings caused by the fact that we are not aware that we are loved and blessed?  This is evidenced so clearly by the ways that so many of us get ahead of ourselves to elicit love and approval of others.  This is seen in the ways that we are avaricious of things and images of success.  But when we are confident that we are loved despite our many shortcomings, it allows us to see the shallowness and futility of all that provides false happiness and short term thrills, leaving us hollow in the end. 

A meaningful blessing does this.  It may not do it all the time, but I am always hopeful that this truth touches the people I reach out in a heartfelt and meaningful and loving blessing. 

Most of all, when we see that we are so blessed by God who doesn’t even need to bless, but does anyway, we cannot but become blessings for others.  In this way, we learn the very important Christian virtue of paying it forward for the benefit of others. 


  1. …"And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. 

  2. "I also struggle with the very prevalent ‘talisman’ mentality..."

    I came to the Catholic faith through attending Saturday Novenas over a couple of years while still in school. Though I developed a special devotion to Our Blessed Mother, I've often been hesitant in using medals, scapulars, holy cards and crucifixes because- like you said- I too used to "struggle with the prevalent talisman mentality..."
    In fact, it used to embarrass and even annoy me to see fellow Catholics kissing and reverencing these sacramentals for I felt that there was no difference between their practices and those of the pagans who patronized temples to ask for charms and talismans from the temple mediums to ward off evil or to bring about a change of fortune. Imagine my chagrin and dismay when certain clergy popularized or advocated the use of certain sacramentals for personal protection. But those were the days before church publications like the CCC was made so easily available and before priests were more upfront and willing to correct and catechize the mis-conceptions of the laity as regards to the faith practices.
    I am glad that here - you affirm what I’ve finally come to understand and believe – that holding onto an image of the crucified Lord or a medal of Mary’s image - gives one a comforting reassurance of God’s loving presence in one’s life. For there are countless times when in our quest for personal holiness - we do need to be reminded that we are blessed, we are God’s beloved.

    God bless you, Fr