“Bless the Lord, all works of the Lord, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever” —Daniel 3:35
The idea of “blessing” is a very common one in Christianity. We ask God to bless us and we thank him for his blessings. We pray for blessings for others. The Bible even tells us to bless God: the song of the three young men in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3 calls on all of creation—sun, moon, stars, fire, ice, wind, rain, sea creatures, birds, cattle, men and women—to bless the Lord. And in Psalm 103 David cries out “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1).
The concept of God blessing us is pretty straightforward. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “Blessing is a divine and life-giving action, the source of which is the Father” (CCC 1078) and “From the beginning until the end of time the whole of God’s work is a blessing” (CCC 1079). As St. James says, “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Everything good that we have comes from God—starting with our very existence and the existence of creation all around us and culminating in the gift of God’s own divine Self, “the Gift that contains all gifts, the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1082).
How can I bless God?
It takes only a moment to examine our lives and begin to recognize the myriad of ways in which God blesses us. But what does it mean for us to bless God? If, as the Catechism says in its very first paragraph, God is “infinitely perfect and blessed in himself,” what can we possibly do that would bless him? Does God need anything from us? Can we give him anything that he doesn’t already possess?
Well, no. God isn’t lacking in anything, and so he doesn’t need anything from us. If he did, he wouldn’t be God. But we need to give something to God. Justice—the virtue that requires us to give to each person his due—requires us to offer our sacrifice of thanksgiving to God in return for his many blessings. The Catechism says that this is what it means for man to bless God, to offer “adoration and surrender to his Creator in thanksgiving” (CCC 1078).
So the kind of blessing we are called upon to offer to God is fundamentally different from the kind of blessing God bestows on us. God’s blessing is something outside of ourselves that he gives to us. When we “bless the Lord” we offer something from within ourselves to God in response. We use the same word to refer to two distinct (but related) actions. God blesses first, and our blessing of thanksgiving and adoration is always a response.
Blessing: the shape of prayer
This back-and-forth of blessing is the shape of our life of prayer. Prayer is a dialogue. God initiates the conversation and invites us to enter into it. We hear his call and respond: “in prayer… our own first step is always a response” (CCC 2567). The gift of God and our acceptance of that gift come together in the living and dynamic conversation of prayer. In prayer the grace of the Holy Spirit descends on us, and in the Spirit our prayer ascends to God (see CCC 2626–2627).
So take some time today to rest in God’s blessing—in his many gifts, and most importantly in Him who is himself the greatest Gift. And in thanksgiving for his blessing, bless the Lord and offer him your adoration and surrender.