Editor’s note: This week The Miscellany introduces a new question-and-answer column written by Father Jeffrey Kirby of the Diocese of Charleston. He holds an M.A. in philosophy from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and a doctorate in moral theology from Holy Cross University in Rome. He is the author of several books including, “Lord, Teach Us to Pray.” Email him your questions about the faith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: My coworker, who is of another faith, sometimes attends daily Mass with me. She wanted to know if she could go up to the priest during Communion and cross her arms over herself and receive a blessing as we have seen others do. Is that just for people in RCIA? She also wanted to know if she could go up to a priest and ask for a blessing at any other time? (Charleston, SC)
A: Great question! Some encouraging news: The Church is in the business of blessings. As such, anyone of any faith can approach a priest for a blessing either during the distribution of holy Communion or outside of the Mass.
The power of a priest’s blessing comes from God and does not depend on the faith of the person, and so a blessing can be given to anyone. Although, for a blessing to take effect in a person’s life, she has to have some kind of faith since it is faith that “fans into flame” the grace given by the blessing (cf. 2 Tm 1:6). So, have your friend come forward knowing that a priestly blessing can be given to anyone, and the grace it gives will work in anyone if they cooperate with it.
Sometimes, our world is quick and keen to criticize and denounce people for many reasons: their physical appearance, social views, abilities or inabilities, race, gender, religious creed, or for any other perceived fault. In such a state of affairs, it can be a source of encouragement and hope to break from that cycle and receive a blessing, a moment of grace and affirmation from God. And such a blessing is open to anyone.
With that said, it’s consoling to know that some people, including other faiths, would want a blessing from a priest. The role of the priest (and the importance of blessings) can be forgotten or eclipsed in a world of materialism and secularism.
And so, thanks be to God for your friend and her desire for a blessing.
Q: I was visiting a friend when she, and two others, made critical remarks about Catholics. It seems some Catholic participants in a multi-faith mission program removed their children from it because they didn’t agree with the mission recipients being taught information that was specific to that other faith. My friends said we Catholics needed to “get with it” and “act like Christians”. What should I say to people when they make sweeping remarks about the Church like that? (Charleston, SC)
A: It is sad that the Catholic Church is still misunderstood by many, especially by people who clump all Christian communities into one, without understanding the different beliefs involved in each. The people in your question seem upset because they want Catholics to be like everyone else, but we’re not. As Catholics, we have a very specific set of ancient beliefs not held by other Christian believers. As such, we have to stay true to ourselves.
As people criticize the Catholic Church, we should attempt to be strong witnesses of our way of life. Just because some Christians of other communities may not show us kindness by their sweeping criticisms does not mean that as Catholics we can fall into a similar spirit of rash judgment or unkindness. As Catholic Christians, we should strive to live the virtues of patience and gentleness that are signs of our discipleship.
If people are open to a response to their criticisms, we can try to explain our differences. If not, then we let our witness stand on its own. When someone is offensive or belligerent to us, we can also absent ourselves from their company without judgment or unkindness toward them. Incidentally, this could be a great opportunity to pray for them, for strength in our own faith, and for greater unity among Christians.