Editor’s note: The following is a WPI translation of a statement by the President of the Argentine Bishops’ conference, Bishop Oscar Ojea of San Isidro. The Spanish original is here.
Dear brothers and sisters:
At Mass on the first day of the year we read in the Book of Numbers an expression of blessing. “May the Lord bless you and show you his face”. Thus the Israelite priests blessed their people.
For this reason, it seems appropriate to dwell on the latest Declaration of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on the theme of blessings (Fiducia Supplicans). It reflects the pastoral experience of Pope Francis. The Pope does theology from a pastoral point of view, which is why sometimes it is difficult for some minds to understand this.
The Declaration on Blessings has to do with a rediscovery and revaluation of the meaning of blessings. When we wish each other well and say: “may it all work out for you” or even use expressions such as “good luck”, “all the best”, we are giving a blessing to our brother or sister, we wish them what is good. When we ask God to bless us, the Lord brings to us that goodness, and that goodness is poured out through actual graces in the different areas of our lives where we need His light.
I personally have had and continue to have wonderful experiences when I perform blessings in the street. So often in Buenos Aires, in public places like Rivadavia Park or the San Telmo fair, and now in my diocese of San Isidro in different train stations, in places with a lot of movement of people. Generally we go out to do this on Fridays, at times of great movement and hurry. It is moving to see lines of people who, despite the time pressure, stop to receive the blessing. They see an image of Our Lady and stop in silence. They say their prayer and then ask the minister for a blessing.
To ask for a blessing requires a true experience of poverty: “Lord, I need you, I need you to light up this aspect of my life, this need that I have. I ask you for my sick son, for my son afflicted by drugs. I ask you for my health. I also want to bless you, I want to thank you”. The blessing also has an ascending sense. We thank God, we bless him and praise him. This is also a need of the heart.
The personal experience of blessing in public places is overwhelming. Many times I have thanked the Lord that I have witnessed that intimate silence that occurs when the person is about to receive the blessing. I feel like a witness of a privileged moment between God and my brother’s heart, in the midst of the dizzying movement of this post-modern society that puts God in a corner. Asking for a blessing reflects a profound need for God; how in justice can the Church be absent from this need?
When someone asks for a blessing on the street or in a sanctuary, I never ask him if he is married in the Church or what his sexual condition is. It would be totally inappropriate. When a young woman comes to ask me to bless her pregnancy, to bless her belly, I have never stopped to ask where the child comes from, if from an irregular union or not. To deny the blessing would be lived as a profound experience of rejection, a brutal experience of abandonment by the Church. This rejection has done us so much harm and has alienated so many brothers and sisters. Being in an irregular situation or being in a homosexual union does not cancel out many aspects of the lives of people which seek to be illuminated with a blessing; and when they receive it, this becomes the greatest possible good for these brothers and sisters, in that it disposes them to conversion.
Surely those bishops and ministers who have disagreed with this Declaration have not lived this experience of blessing in the context of popular piety, or have not been able to have this exchange in their own lives, where one experiences the need for God’s mercy in one’s own life.
The Declaration leaves no room for confusion. It distinguishes perfectly the liturgical sphere where a sacrament is given from the sphere of popular piety. To confuse this blessing with a permission or with an approval of a lifestyle would be reductionist, and deny the need for good that people have in areas of their lives.
The Church is not a customs house, says Pope Francis. The Church is not controlling. This is not the Mother Church that our people seek and need.
Let us ask the Lord, then, as we begin this year not to deprive ourselves of that blessing which is a true gift to God’s holy faithful people.
Let us ask him for this year so much in need of blessing, this year that begins under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary whose solemnity we celebrate at the beginning of the year.
✞ Bishop Oscar Ojea
Bishop of San Isidro
President of the Argentine Episcopal Conference