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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost—12 July AD 2020
ve Maria!

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On Blessing and Cursing

17th Century Giovanni Lanfranco The Multiplication of the Loaves
Raccolta della Manna

[ Ordinary of the Mass ]
[ English Text ]
[ Latin Text ]


“And they had a few little fishes, and He blessed them, and commanded them to be set before them.
And they did eat, and were filled, and they took up that which was left of the fragments, seven baskets:
and, they that had eaten were about four thousand....”


This sentence from Saint Mark's Gospel tells us something about the word “blessing.”  In Latin we use the word “benedícere” which is simply a fusion of the two words  “bene” and "dícere"—literally, “to say something good” about someone or something.  Sometimes we use the word “Benediction,” although most people reserve that word for a blessing with the Blessed Sacrament.  This grammar explains how we can say: "Benedicamus Dómino—Let us bless the Lord” at the end of the Masses of Advent and Lent.  When we “bless the Lord,”  we are not conferring a benefit on Him, or making Him any holier, as we do when He blesses us.  To bless Him is simply to say something good about Him—we understand that to mean that we witnessing and proclaiming His great Holiness to all who hear us.  Likewise, it would be correct to bless the Angels or the saints—we would simply be acknowledging their goodness.

In some cases, however, the act of blessing does seem to be an exercise of power.  The multiplication of fishes in today's Gospel seems to be caused by our Lord's blessing.  We see much the same in the Institution of the Blessed Sacrament and in Its renewal in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass:

... the day before He suffered, took bread into His holy and venerable hands ... blessed, + broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying: Take ye all and eat of this.  For this is My Body….

Usually, we refer to this sort of blessing as a “consecration,”—an exercise of the Divine power by Christ or one of His priests, setting something specially aside.  Likewise, the “consecration” of a bishop.  Priests do truly change the nature of many things by blessing them.  In conferring the Sacraments, the priest is giving a blessing instituted by Christ, thereby changing the spiritual state of the recipient.  He may bless an enormous number of things, acting on behalf of Christ's Church—the sacramentals, about which I spoke to you last week.

In traditional Catholic society, it is understood that even lay people can confer God's graces and protection on those persons and places for whom they are responsible.  Usually, such blessings are “deprecatory”—which is to say that the one giving the blessing calls on God to grant His favor.  Parents are expected to bless their children—perhaps at bed time, when starting out on a journey, or before some period of separation.  The head of the household is called on to bless things like Advent wreaths and Christmas trees.  The blessing before meals is often delegated to one of the children, perhaps to get them in the habit of doing so when they are away from the family, or when they come to have a family of their own.

So we see that so many of God's graces can be shared through blessings.  But we should be keenly aware that we human beings are capable of doing just the opposite.  Just as we can commend someone to God's graces by saying something good about them (bene dícere), we can also detract from them by saying something bad (mala dícere), which translates as “malediction,” or even a “curse.”  Fortunately, this is usually nothing more than emotionally vocalized complaint against someone who has failed us in some way, but it can become something much worse.

You will probably remember last week's Gospel, which dealt with the idea of being angry with a brother.  We were directed to resolve our anger before offering our gift at the altar—before turning our minds to the worship of God. There were three degrees of anger and three consequences of acting on them:

I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.[2]

The first degree is just an internal feeling of annoyance.  The second is a verbal complaint about the brother's incompetence—our Lord says that this offence is serious enough to be judged by the Sanhedrin (or a Church court in the case of Christians).  The highest degree was an emotional outburst, proclaiming the brother's utter stupidity—“thou fool”—an offense already condemned to the fire of Hell!!

So, what is it about these three degrees of anger that makes them evil enough to possibly deserve the pains of Hell?  It would seem that such anger turns the natural order of things upside down.  God is love, yet anger is hate.  God blesses us abundantly, and expects us to bless those around us in imitation of His goodness.  In the third case—the emotional outburst of anger—it seems as though we are calling upon God to act against our brother—we can say that it seems as though we are calling on God to curse him!!  Doing that would be liable to hell fire because wishing the damnation of a brother would be the greatest possible abuse of our ability to call upon God for the things we need or want—a sort of “anti-prayer.”  And, so much the worse if we actually misuse God's name in our curse!!

Saint Paul sums up the proper Christian approach to the question of blessing or cursing in his Epistle to the Romans:

Bless them that persecute you: bless, and curse not. [3]

Our Lord reiterates this in Saint Matthew' Gospel:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. [4]

And Saint Paul continues:

Revenge not yourselves, my dearly beloved; but give place unto wrath, for it is written: Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.  But if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink. For, doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.  Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.[5]

By blessing our enemy—by doing him good rather than cursing him—we set the natural order of things right side up again.  All men and women are God's beloved sons and daughters.  By blessing rather than cursing, we join with God in loving our brothers and sisters.  What He calls “Revenge” is nothing less than restoring the mutual love He wants all of us to have for one another.

Notice that God’s “Revenge” is very sweet!




Dei via est íntegra


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