The blessings of your father are mighty beyond
the blessings of the eternal mountains,
the bounties of the everlasting hills (Gen 49:26).
Children learn about their heavenly Father from their earthly fathers. Fathers should be the head of the family, strong leaders, faithful to their wives, and have a guiding hand in disciplining their children. In the probing words of St. Paul: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4) and elsewhere “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Col 3:21). As fathers, let’s help our children be God-fearing and pious children, blessing them, not cursing them.
God the Father, through the divine instrumentality of the sacraments, blesses his children. Think about how the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders) leave an indelible mark or sacramental character on the soul (cf. CCC 1121). This sacramental seal conforms us more perfectly to Christ and gives us sanctifying grace, which allows us to share in His life and love. Other sacraments repair our broken relationship with God (Confession) and unite our souls more perfectly to our Creator (Holy Eucharist). In the supernatural order, the sacraments are ways in which God the Father blesses his children.
For the further sanctification of her faithful, the Church has instituted “sacramentals”, which, while they do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that sacraments do, prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it (cf. CCC 1668-1670).
For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 61).
Blessings are among the most important of the sacramentals since “every blessing praises God and prays for his gifts” (CCC 1671). Since most of us don’t live with ordained clerics, the Church allows for others to substitute, in this case biological (or adoptive) fathers.
The Patriarchs of the Old Testament understood the importance of blessings. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all blessed their children, particularly their first-borns. In fact, the firstborn blessing was so important that Jacob stole Esau’s blessing from Isaac (cf. Gen 27:27-29). And, as the book of Genesis concludes, there’s the long blessing of Jacob to his twelve sons, who become the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen 49). We’ve somehow lost the sense of how important it is to impart blessings.
Pope Emeritus Benedict – whose papal name means “blessing” – took his name from the founder of Western monasticism, St. Benedict. One of my favorite scenes from his life, which demonstrates the power of blessings, is when his first community regarded his monastic observance as too severe that they attempted to poison him. However, at the moment of the table blessing, the glass or cup in which the poison was contained broke; it was then that St. Benedict discovered his monks were trying to poison him, and he thus left the community. (This also highlights the importance of the table blessing before we eat!)
In The Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Ratzinger discusses the importance of various gestures and postures, and he has this beautiful passage about the importance of the Sign of the Cross:
I shall never forget the devotion and heartfelt care with which my father and mother made the sign of the Cross on the forehead, mouth, and breast of us children when we went away from home, especially when the parting was a long one. This blessing was like an escort that we knew would guide us on our way. It made visible the prayer of our parents, which went with us, and it gave us the assurance that this prayer was supported by the blessing of the Savior. The blessing was also a challenge to us not to go outside the sphere of this blessing. Blessing is a priestly gesture, and so in this sign of the Cross we felt the priesthood of parents, its special dignity and power. I believe that this blessing…should come back in a much stronger way into our daily life (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 184, emphasis added).
Men, let’s take Pope Benedict’s exhortation to heart. Let’s reinstitute the Sign of the Cross as a blessing to our wives and children. Pope Benedict mentions giving a blessing upon leaving home. In our family, we have a special prayer, a blessing taken from the Roman Breviary for those who are about to make a journey:
In viam pacis et prosperitatis dirigat nos omnipotens et misericors Dominus: et Angelus Raphael comitetur nobiscum in via, ut cum pace, salute et gaudio revertamur ad propria.
Into the way of peace and prosperity, may the almighty and merciful Lord lead us and may the Angel Raphael be with us along the way, that we may come to our home again in peace, and health, and gladness.
One of my favorite responsibilities as a father is the blessing before bed. And since the devil hates Latin, I prefer to give my children a Sign of the Cross while reciting the Latin blessing:
Benedictio Dei omnipotentis, Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, descendat super vos, et maneat semper.
May the blessing of Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you always.
In Latin, the word “to bless” is benedicere, literally “to speak well”. The opposite is maledicere, which means “to speak evil” or “to curse”. St. James reminds us that from the same mouth come blessing and cursing (Jas 3:10). Let’s be men who speak well and give blessings! Let’s be conduits of God’s love and mercy to those around us. Let’s take Pope Benedict’s advice about our parental priesthood, and give out Signs of the Cross to those around us.