What does it mean to be blessed? There are some in our society who would try to tell us that one who is blessed by God can demonstrate these blessings materially—through possessions, money, power, or influence. There are even some so called Christians who try to promote a Gospel of affluence. They tell us that the way to measure someone’s blessings is to look at the size of their home, the brand of car they drive, what kind of clothing they wear, and where and what they choose to eat.
A few weeks ago, on the 6 th Sunday in Ordinary time, we were confronted with the difficult words of Jesus in St. Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. In this version, Jesus says that that the ones who are blessed are not the rich but the poor; not those who are satisfied but rather the hungry; not those who laugh but rather those who weep; not those of whom everyone speaks well but rather those who are despised and excluded and insulted—not for their own sake but for the sake of the Son of Man.
Every now and then, I am surprised when I see someone who is facing some great challenge in life, some adversity, who, when asked how he or she is doing, responds, “I am blessed.” In spite of the faith I claim to profess, I don’t think I ever understood that until after a two week hospital stay in December of 2018 for sepsis, when I began to understand just how close I had been to death. It was only then that I realized that there are times when we can rely on absolutely nothing except for the grace of God. There is nothing we can do but allow God to love us and to be present to us, in spite of our natural instinct always to try to do something for ourselves. It was certainly a humbling experience in which I was forced to face my own weakness, my own limitations, my own insignificance in the face of eternity.
What does it mean to be blessed? It means that in the midst of our suffering—suffering we don’t have to look for but which will certainly find us—we recognize God’s loving and abiding presence in our lives. It means that no matter what goes wrong for us, no matter how unsuccessful we may be in the eyes of the world, we recognize that true success cannot be measured in material terms. True blessedness lies not in success but in faithfulness. It is found not in what we drive, nor in where we live, not even in what income tax bracket we find ourselves but rather in our ability to recognize the gifts we have and to share them with those around us. Being blessed does not necessarily mean being the
first or best at anything but in recognizing that no matter how badly things seem to be, no matter how tempted we are to give up, God loves us, pure and simple. And when we are hungry, when our lives are empty of material things, God is waiting to fill us with his love—not so that we can hold on to it for ourselves but so that we can share it with those around us. And that is why we fast and give alms during Lent in particular—so that we can allow God to fill us with his love, a love which we are called, in turn, to share with others. True blessedness carries with it not a freedom from all responsibility but rather the freedom of servanthood, of being willing to carry the cross for others, following the example of Jesus Christ in allowing our bodies to be broken and our lives to be poured out for the sake of others.
What does it mean to be blessed? We find blessing not in the fact that life is necessarily easy for us but that we are willing to make life easier for our brothers and sisters around us who are struggling to walk life’s journey. We find blessing even in being hated for the sake of Christ in order that Christ might shine forth in us. If we trust only in ourselves or in our possessions, then we have everything to fear. But if we trust in Christ, who died and rose for us out of love alone, then we have nothing to fear. For we will understand what is of utmost importance and what is not. And in understanding, we will know what it means in the most profound sense to be counted among those who are blessed because we will share those blessings—the fruit of our fasting, prayer and alms—with he world around us, especially with those who are in need.