Today’s post comes from Leslye Colvin. Leslye is a writer, contemplative activist, and social commentator. A graduate of the Living School for Action and Contemplation, Leslye lives in Alabama where she writes from her African-American Catholic heart at Leslye’s Labyrinth.
The older I become, the more I stand in awe of the reverence with which some family members practice the ritual of making the sign of the cross before and after offering grace at meals. I have memories of my late father exhibiting the same reverence that my mother and aunt still model. All of this struck me again tonight as I served my mother her dinner. While dementia challenges many of her abilities, her ability to bless herself in this sincere, prayerful manner is not compromised.
The acts of entering and leaving a parish church are accompanied by blessing oneself. Some people make the sign whenever they drive pass a church or when they hear a siren. When my family entered the Catholic Church in my predominantly Protestant hometown of the 1960s, crossing myself before eating lunch in the school cafeteria was noticed and questioned by my classmates. Explaining this simple but profound act provided my earliest opportunity of speaking about my faith to those of other traditions.
Decades ago, a former pastor and dear friend was moved into a nursing home after surviving a cranial aneurysm resulting in paralysis of his left side and other impairments. This facility was his home for the last 17 years of his life. To the end, he was aware of his priesthood, and freely blessed residents and guests with the cross gesture when requested, as do other priests.
As a Catholic, I know there is a seemingly inexhaustible list of what is considered appropriate for blessing. We bless ourselves, others, and creation. We bless rosaries and medals, residences and vehicles. The prayer before meals is a humble expression of gratitude. “Bless me, O Lord, and these thy gifts that I am grateful to receive from thy bounty through Christ, Our Lord.” Upon entering the confessional, we say “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”
Commonly, priests bless water and oil, fire and earth in formal rituals. When one requests a blessing from a priest, there is not a question of parish membership or the person’s faith. On October 4, the day on which the universal church memorializes Saint Francis of Assisi, all sorts of animals, from anacondas to zebras, are blessed by priests on parish grounds. Sadly, I have even seen photographs of priests blessing automatic weapons.
I imagine other Catholics are reflecting on our blessing rituals after the March 15th statement from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in which priests are told not to bless same-gender couples. Since I am a woman who is not ordained, the statement may not appear to impact me. However, based on my faith journey and lived experience, I know that the wounding of exclusion does not stem from the Gospel of Christ. In this case, the wounding seems intentional. I acknowledge the ways in which many would choose to exclude me because of my gender, my socially constructed race, or even my Catholic faith.
I know that my life is blessed by the unions of couples who are gay. Some of the most moving words heard at a funeral I attended were spoken in my former parish when the grieving gay stepfather spoke of his deep love for his deceased stepson. A few years ago, I worked at a conference for priests. In spite of the great speakers, I was most touched by a session in which priests spoke of their ministry to persons who identify as LGBTQIA. Both of these unexpected experiences provide a glimpse of the abundantly magnanimous grace of the God of Incarnation, the God whom I serve.
I do not know what it is to live as a lesbian, gay, or bisexual person, but I do know well the experience of living in a body considered inferior because my body speaks of Africa.
I do not know what it is to live as a transgender person, but I do know well the experience of living as a woman in a patriarchal society and church.
In truth, it is a loving and merciful God who blesses us and our life-giving relationships. We are merely privileged to participate in the expression of God’s grace. As a baptized Catholic, I am to do no less as God’s grace flows in the lives of others with or without my participation.
—Leslye Colvin, May 9, 2021