The annual Dallas Marathon is today. Knowing that the marathon route often presents challenges for Sunday morning Mass-goers, our parish offered an additional vigil Mass last night.  At the end of the Mass, our pastor invited all runners to come forward.  Invoking the patronage of St. John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Messiah, and St. Paul, who used the running of a race as a metaphor for the spiritual life, Father gave a blessing to the runners and their endeavors.

Although I was not among those who received the blessing, I was deeply moved by witnessing it, for it is a beautiful reminder of how much the Church honors and celebrates all good human endeavors and recognizes them as gifts from God and a means to sanctify one’s own life and the lives of others.  It gave the message that there is no good endeavor that is too insignificant or unimportant to be blessed.  Of course, it also reminded me of loved ones and friends who are runners, especially my sister, and how much I admire them and their dedication and discipline as well as physical strength.  These are things to be admired!

I have always been moved by the great variety of blessings offered by the Church through her priests, and by the love and care with which they administer these blessings. Every time I receive a new rosary, I ask a priest to bless it.  It’s such a simple thing, and yet it transforms the rosary from a string of beads to a powerful sacramental that can bring down even more graces.  Even a simple blessing received on days when I am not able to receive Holy Communion often grants a great deal of strength, healing, and spiritual sustenance.

We should never hesitate to ask for blessings from our priests. That is one of the reasons they exist: to bestow God’s blessings upon us who live on earth.  Certainly, we can, and should, pray for God’s blessing each day, but there’s something special about having a human hand raised over you, and a human voice speaking the blessing to you.  And if that hand and voice belong to an Alter Christus, it’s all the better and more special.

It is also true that we can, and should, bless each other by word and touch.  I think it is a beautiful and loving thing when parents bless their children each night.  I found great peace and comfort in giving my parents blessings when they were in the hospital, and especially when my beloved father was in his final illness.  In those situations, it’s easy to feel completely helpless and completely alone.  But saying a simple, heartfelt blessing and gently touching your loved one’s forehead and drawing a little cross there with your finger is a powerful thing.  It’s a way of entrusting them to God and His care.  It is a special, physical act of faith, hope, and charity.

Finally, we can, and should, bless ourselves, and in fact we may do this without even being mindful of it.  Each time we place our fingers in holy water and make the Sign of the Cross, we are blessing ourselves.  Do it mindfully!  Each time we say grace before a meal, we are blessing ourselves and the food we put into ourselves.  Do it mindfully!  Each time we pray a morning offering, we are invoking God’s blessing upon our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of the day.  Do it mindfully!

Catholics and our Church are sometimes misconceived as somehow being averse to the physical world, the body, and love of “ordinary” earthly life.  But our practice of giving and receiving blessings proves otherwise, does it not?  In fact, we believe that earthly and ordinary things and we ourselves can be elevated and infused with divine life.  And this divine life makes everything better and richer and more beautiful and enjoyable.