The Blessing of a Priest
Tuesday January 12, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Samuel 1:9-20) Gospel (St. Mark 1:21b-28)
In the first reading from the First Book of Samuel, we hear about Hannah going to the temple and pouring out her heart before the Lord in her pain and in her desire. And, as we saw yesterday, with all of the abuse that had been heaped upon her even though she was already devastated by what had been happening to her for years, she just had more and more heaped upon her. Now we see the same kind of misunderstanding in the way the devil would try to work: She goes before the Lord to pray and pours out her heart, and the priest thinks that she is drunk and begins to give her more grief as if she did not have enough pain already. But the wonderful thing is to see, first of all, the way she responded. Rather than getting angry at the priest, screaming at him, and storming out, she was able to remain calm and simply explain briefly her situation; at which point, then, Eli turns around and blesses her, prays for her.
It is interesting on two points. First, we see the power of the prayer of this holy woman and also the power of the prayer of someone with a broken heart. God is going to hear the prayer because it is a prayer which is pure. But also, the power of the blessing of the priest we need to recognize as well. We seem to have forgotten really what that is all about in our society; we just kind of take it for granted. It used to be that when people were ill and so on they came to a priest. Now, of course, we call a doctor – and understandably so – but we have forgotten that priestly power is something which is quite powerful indeed, that the blessing of a priest is the blessing of God Himself and that it is something of which there is nothing on earth which is more powerful.
The power which the priest possesses is not a power of his own; but rather in the New Testament, remember, there is only one priest and that is Jesus Christ. We see the power of Christ made very clear in the Gospel reading: “a new teaching with the spirit of authority”, “He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey Him”. The people recognized the authority and the power of the Lord and they rejoiced in that. So too, it is the same power that goes out from every priest because every priest stands in the very Person of Jesus Christ. When he blesses, he is standing in the Person of Christ to do so; it is the blessing of the Lord Himself. And so it is something that we need to think about, not only with what happens at Mass (the power of the priesthood to consecrate the host) and in Confession (the power of the priesthood to forgive sin), but even at the end of Mass as the priest blesses the people before they are sent out, or in so many ways as people would bring holy things to the priest to bless, or when they come before him for a blessing for whatever reason it might be – that is something that is very, very powerful. It is not something which is magic; it is not superstition, but rather what is happening is the people are coming before the Lord Himself at that moment and asking God to bless them or to bless whatever undertaking it is that they have begun.
And so, that is something to keep in mind as you move along. It is something that so many of us have forgotten or have ignored, depending on the situation. But never underestimate the power of the priesthood because it is an infinite power, not because of the priest himself but because of the One True Priest, because every priest standing in the Person of Jesus Christ has the power to bless in the Name and in the Person of the Lord Himself; and that blessing is the blessing of Jesus Christ. Jesus is God. Therefore, the blessing of the priest has infinite power and the blessing of the priest is something that should be sought by the people. And understand that the power that is there in the priesthood and the authority that is given to the priest by Jesus Christ is not because of any worthiness of the man himself but rather because of the love of God for His people that He gives this power to certain individuals so that He will be able to take care of the people, to provide the sacraments for them, to bless them, and to bring to them the grace of God Himself.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.