Nightmares, bizarre dreams, bodily aches and bladder activity interrupted much of my pregnancy slumber. Rarely did a nighttime pass undisturbed, but I suppose that is all par for the course in getting ready for evenings with a newborn in residence. Thankfully, the lack of restfulness meant that the plots and details of my nightmares drifted quickly out of my memory shortly after my eyelids lifted. Maybe that’s why I am so intrigued by one dream in particular because it didn’t fit the pattern. Although in hindsight the timing of my sleepy encounter also inspires my curiosity.
Now let me first say, I’m not superstitious and I steer clear of those dream interpretation books. Dreams, on their own, are little more than fleeting stories conjured up by the quiet mind while the body is at rest (at least that’s my thoroughly unscientific thought on the matter).
Well, in my dreamy state, I was seated in a room full of friends and fellow seekers. At the head of the room was the Blessed Sacrament encased within a simple, gold monstrance. The seating arrangement was such that my friends and their families were facing Jesus, but I, flanked only by strangers, was positioned on the right of the room so that I could only see the side edge of the monstrance. Knowing that my line of sight wasn’t a requirement to offering Him my adoration, I was still somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t stare longingly at His manifest Presence. And something seemed to be weighing heavily on my mind, although I don’t know what that something was.
While caught up in prayer and some sort of internal struggle, a priest walked over and stopped next to my chair so that he was pressed up against me. My attention diverted, I looked up at him. For a moment I thought it was John Paul II as his face was initially hazy, but then I realized (in my dreamland state) he was a diocesan priest. All dressed in snow white and gold vestments, he was a vision of peacefulness and reverence like I’ve never fully encountered in life.
I whispered, “Father, will you please give me your blessing?” And he smiled the warmest smile and asked, “Do you need a blessing, child?” I told him I really did and with that he silently laid his hands on my head and the blessing ran over me so that its power was unmistakable.
That was on a Thursday. The following day my labor would take hold and prepare my body for the 3 a.m. Saturday arrival of my eighth child (two weeks before his expected date).
So what, I suppose, you might be thinking. You had a nice dream, good for you. Truly it was just a lovely state of my mind for a bit of the evening, but it reminded me of the real power and grace that we can receive through blessings.
Like many other sacramentals, perhaps blessings have been largely forgotten. Most of us are familiar with the cinematic depiction of young couples seeking the premarital blessing of the girl’s father, but beyond that how often do we witness this action of our faith?
Blessings come under the category of sacramentals. A sacramental is a special prayer, action or object which, through the prayers of the Church, prepares a person to receive grace and to better cooperate with it. Unlike a sacrament, a sacramental does not itself confer the grace of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, like a sacrament, a sacramental helps the faithful to sanctify each moment of life and to live in the paschal mystery of our Lord. By celebrating a blessing, the faithful can also sanctify various situations and events in their lives. Blessings are signs to the faithful of the spiritual benefits achieved through the Church’s intercession. Throughout sacred Scripture, we find how God issued various blessings. In all, in bestowing His own blessing, God declares His goodness. We in turn bless God by praising Him, thanking Him for all of His benefits and offering to Him our service, adoration and worship. When we invoke God’s blessing, we implore His divine benevolence, trusting that He will respond to our needs.
Back in the day, when my now husband was still in pursuit of my hand, he asked my father for his permission to marry me. At the time it was more a gesture of good will on his part, but nonetheless what he was really looking for (even if perhaps without realizing it) was a blessing, a tangible sign of approval and a reflection of God’s favor on our union.
Our parish priest reignited this tradition for our family, so that we often ask his blessing during trying times, before long trips and in times of celebration. With the institution of the Blessing of the Unborn, he offered me so much comfort and pastoral care from the very first days of this latest pregnancy. And whenever we encounter a visiting priest, Father encourages us to get an extra blessing from them as well. What a treasured reminder of Christ’s goodness at work in our midst.
Perhaps, my dreamy blessing is worth my pondering because it helped me recall that I am never out of the Creator’s reach. Eyes opened or closed, His aid is never more than a prayer away. Certainly, that thought helped me through the throes of labor pains which I endured the next evening (and that in and of itself was a welcomed benefit). But, too and maybe more importantly, the dream led me to bless God throughout the days to follow. To praise Him for the peace and renewal I felt when I woke up (which it turns out I’d really need), to offer Him my physical suffering as I worked through the labor, to thank Him for the strength of my body which allowed me to deliver my son into the world, and to recognize His very real countenance in the face of my newborn son.