24th Thursday in Ordinary Time
Blessing of Fields and Bakery
2Th 3:6-12,16; Mk 4:26-29
Every week at Lauds on Saturday we conclude Psalm 90 with the words: “Give success to the work of our hands; give success to the work of our hands.” In a way, that sums up what we are doing today as we celebrate this Mass and go in procession to bless our fields and bakery.
I think it’s important, though, to point out what we are NOT doing. For as far back as we can remember or archaeology can find evidence for, man has been trying to manipulate and placate his gods into providing good crops and good hunts. Some would even go as far as to sacrifice their own sons and daughters. We, in contrast, are not trying to twist God’s arm or bribe him. We mainly want God’s blessings on our work. We want it to be a pleasing offering to him. It would be nice if everything went smoothly, if the rains came at the right time, and if bread sales increased a bit. If God grants that request, fine. If things turn out to be otherwise, fine. Either way, may God be glorified. Material things are means, not ends. This world is passing. Like the Book of Job, we can bring honor to God both in prosperity and adversity. Those are the kinds of things that will last for eternity.
This day of blessing our means of income also brings up the question of just how involved God is. Does God aim every lightning bolt? Does he determine just how much rain this place gets and another place doesn’t get? Did he directly cause the 8.3 earthquake in Chile yesterday? Or, at the creation of the universe, did he design the laws of nature and then let them run their course? Ultimately, it’s a mystery that we’ll never know the answer to this side of death. In my opinion, it’s somewhere in the middle, and probably closer to letting nature run its course. He reserves the right to intervene sometimes, but I think he tries to make it rare. God probably ends up getting blamed for more than he deserves. He sees a much bigger picture than we do, and I’m sure he has good reasons for choosing not to suspend the laws of nature this or that particular time.
I’ve always been edified by the Trappist custom of making the sign of the cross before beginning a task. It’s easy for me to bring up a mental image of Br. Alberic making the sign of the cross before washing dishes, or Br. Theodore before the raisin wash. It’s a way of consecrating this “work of our hands,” dedicating it to God, making it a prayer. It can be a very simple, ordinary, mundane undertaking, but by raising it to the supernatural level, we give it eternal value. For me, it just makes it that much more meaningful and enjoyable. I do it before starting a project or felling a tree. Wrapped up in it is request that things go well and accidents are averted. But mainly, I want God to be involved in my work. Whether things turn out the way I wanted them to is secondary. Anything not done for eternity is a waste of time.
So, in a way, blessing our fields and bakery today is a larger version of blessing ourselves with the sign of the cross. It’s not a superstitious act. It’s not a chess move with some deity with unpredictable emotions and moods. We know and are convinced that our God is totally for us. Crazy, all-out love is his nature. He only wants what is best for us. We may not understand it now, but whatever he directly wills or indirectly allows is the best possible scenario. By making everything a prayer and lifting it up to him, we can get a “base hit” every time and bat a thousand. He’s realistic, though. He’ll still love us if our batting average is less than that.