Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God in the Catholic Church. Rightly so, the second reading and the Gospel reading are devoted to Mary. Today's first reading is easy to skip over, however, breezing past it might result in a missed opportunity to ask for God's blessing on our families and our children as we begin the New Year.
The first reading comes to us from The Book of Numbers. It gets its name from the two census taken before the Hebrew people enter the promised land. The first part of the Book of Numbers deals with the first census taken and inaugurates a period of preparation, which is where today's first reading comes from. In the sixth chapter, God instructs Moses on laws for his people to follow so that they may be holy and pleasing to Him before they enter the promised land. Then God instructs Moses on how Aaron and his sons are to bless his chosen people.
"The Lord said to Moses: Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them: The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give peace! So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites and I will bless them." (Num 6:22-27)
In the Hebrew tradition a name captures the entire essence of a person. Therefore Moses is being told by God to ask for His blessing and to invoke the very nature or essence of God when doings so. In other words, ask God to give from who He is and He promises that He will. We see examples of this in the blessing from the Book of Numbers. God tells Moses to ask that He "keeps you" or remain close to Him. We know that God is always close to His Creation. He says ask that his face shines upon you and be "gracious" to you. God's graciousness refers to the unconditional loving nature of God. He says to ask for God's kindness and His peace. Ask for these blessings which are of God's essence and nature and they will be given.
Unfortunately this does not mean that God will give us anything we ask for, if we say the "magic words". Trust me, I have tried! Rather, God invites us when we pray to ask Him to give from himself so that our souls may be holy and pleasing to him. Jesus reiterates this promise in the Gospel according to John when he says"If you ask anything in my name, I will do it" (Jn14:13). Just as God entrusted his children to Moses, God gives us the responsibility and the privilege to prepare our own children through the sacrament of marriage. He does not impose a burden on us and leave us to it on our own. Rather, He gives us the words to say and the promise that he will deliver.
At bedtime, I have recently started marking each of my own kid's foreheads with the sign of the cross and reciting these simple words "May God bless you and keep you always. Let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May he look upon you and give you His peace. In Jesus' name. Amen." I invite you to to the same! Ask for God's blessing on your children and your families as we begin the New Year and everyday after. For he tells us "I will bless them!"