I said in my introduction that God our Father is a God who wants to bless us, if we will let him. I say, “if we will let him” advisedly, because it seems that most of the time we don’t want to accept God’s blessing. This was brought home to me some years ago, when I and a group of members of my community Lift Jesus Higher were prayer – walking around the streets of Vanier one day. Prayer – walking is where, as you are walking, you are praying down blessings on the houses and businesses and schools in an area, asking God to send his blessing of health, safety, peace, joy on those who live and work and study in that area. It sounds a bit foreign to us Catholics perhaps in these days, but it really is not very different to what Jesus’ disciples were sent out to do in today’s gospel: to simply bless people and show them how much God cares for them and wants always to bless them, that He is in fact, and despite what so many seem to think of Him, He is a God of BLESSING.
Well, this day as we were prayer-walking through the streets of Vanier, we came across a woman, busy gardening and she asked us what we were doing. We introduced ourselves and told her we were simply going around praying blessing on everyone. She responded that she was pleased to hear it, because she herself was a Catholic who always went to Mass on Sundays. I was very encouraged to hear this, and thought she was obviously ready to be blessed, but when I asked her if we could pray with her for God to bless her, she said, very forcefully: ”NO!!” I was, I admit, quite taken back by the strength of feeling behind that response. Beware in mind, I had just come back from leading a team of people on mission to Peru, which we do every year, and there people were simply lining up for a prayer of blessing. Whether they were taxi drivers, cops, soldiers, waiters, people at bus stops, or lining up to go onto planes, nobody turned down the chance to be blessed by us – in fact, many came up to us and asked us outright for such a blessing. Yet, back here in our own Ottawa, not even the Catholics wanted us to bless them, even though I was a priest!
I still don’t understand it, even though it is not the only time that this has happened to me here. If I want to pray a blessing over people in church, they seem very happy to receive it, but it is almost as if the idea of a God who walks around the streets, and wants to have relationship with his people, is too scary, too unexpected, perhaps too real. We like to have God where we can manage him, in church, in the tabernacle, in our prayers, but outside of that, we would prefer him not to bother us, out there in the real world, unless we really, really need him. And then we are more likely to ask others to pray for us to God, rather than we praying ourselves, because we say to others: ”God is more likely to listen to you than to me, because you are more holy than I.” Wrong, wrong, wrong, but that is how most people seem to view God, because they simply do not know him in a personal, intimate way. And that is what God wants, and why he sent Jesus into the world in the first place, and why he continually sends his Spirit to us, to knock on the door of our hearts, and seek an invitation from us to come and enter in. God does not want us simply to know about him, but to know Him! The way we know our family, our friends, our loved ones. We don’t need an appointment to meet them, do we? We don’t expect them to demand we only meet them on specified days and in specified places, because they are too important, and too busy, and their schedules are simply too full to be able to give us more than an allotted period of time. Yet, many of us seem to think God is like that, far too busy and important to want to spend time in our presence, to simply want to hang out with us.
But this is precisely why Jesus came from heaven to earth, to walk among simply, ordinary people, and to share with them that His Heavenly Father wanted nothing more than to get to know them, and have them get to know Him. Which is why Jesus spent his days, walking around the towns and villages and countryside of northern Israel, interacting with the people he met there, whether they be fishermen, or farmers, or tradesmen, or Pharisees, or priests, or tax collectors or prostitutes. He had time for everyone, he poured himself out for hours into peoples’ lives, blessing and healing and teaching and sharing. And yet, for all that, Jesus himself experienced resistance and rejection, as we saw in last week’s gospel, where people from his own town, Nazareth, shut the door in his face, when he wanted only to bless them and heal them. And we are told he was “amazed at their unbelief.” Well, Jesus, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but it’s worse now than it was even back then, when you walked the earth. People who you would think would be only too delighted to receive you and have relationship with you, ordinary Christians, would prefer to keep you at a distance, in that nice box-tabernacle thing in the Church, and bring you out for a short period of time during Mass, but apart from that, they would prefer that you stay there, and they will come and visit you when they have the time from their busy schedules. It is not God that has the busy appointment schedule these days, but we ourselves, judging by the time we feel able to give God. And it is so sad, so very sad, because this is not why God created us in the first place. Our catechism tells us that God made us, “to know him, and to love him, and to serve him in this life, and be happy with him in the next.”
One of the saddest stories I ever heard concerned Pope John Paul I. He was meeting up with an old priest-friend of his, whom he had been trying to get in touch with for quite a long time. Then his friend had a favour to ask of him, so got in touch via the Vatican, and eventually was given an appointment. When the two met up, Pope John Paul I chided him, saying: ”My dear Guiseppe, when you and I were priests, we spent so much time together as friends, talking on the phone, or meeting up for meals, or going for walks together. But now that I am Pope, it seems you only come to see me, when you want something from me.” I should imagine that God would want to say much the same thing to many of us, myself included, that we see our relationship with him as purely a one-way thing, that we come to him only to ask things of him, but we don’t want to hang around long enough to get into a real dialogue with Him, and build a real, close, personal relationship with Him. I talked some weeks ago that it was possible, according to Scripture, to, “grieve the heart of God” (Ephesians 4:30). God is grieved, not so much by our sin, but by our silence, our unwillingness to make time for him in our so busy schedules, our assumption that it doesn’t much matter, because surely God too has a very busy schedule, and doesn’t expect us to hang around too long, just enough to say our prayers, and come to church occasionally, especially for Easter and Christmas, like we might do for family members on their birthdays or anniversaries, but other than that, we don’t much bother with them. Because we are so busy.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
So begins our second reading today, before going on to list seven wonderful ways in which God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has already blessed us, in our birth, and in our new birth, at our baptism. The blessings include: choosing us even before the foundation of the world to be his adopted sons and daughters, saving us from sin and hell and the devil, by Jesus’ death on the cross, revealing his eternal plan for us to spend eternity with him in heaven, and giving us his Holy Spirit as our permanent friend and guide, as a pledge of his trustworthiness to fulfil his promises. And those blessings are just the start, and don’t include all the many, many ways in which God continues to pour out his blessings upon us, in giving us faith, family, friends, home, education, career, health, comfortable life-style. And there are so many other ways in which God want to fill our lives with his blessings, if, if, if we will let him. God, Father, Son and Spirit, would want, I am sure, brothers and sisters, to speak to us in the same words as St Paul does to the Christians in Corinth: “Our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return – I speak to you as my children-open wide your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6: 11 -12).