Blessing for Bicycles
Catholics bless things!
It is just who we are. Parents bless their children before drifting off to sleep. We bless our food before eating it. We bless the beginning of the school year. We bless our pets. We bless our homes. We bless fields before planting and we bless the tools of our trade. We bless travelers, and Catholics hang miraculous medals from the rear view mirrors of their cars.
Catholics bless everything because we know that, as Catholic poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it, "earth is crammed with heaven and every bush is aflame with God's power even though not all can see." Life always hints at more. It has an infinite horizon. Creation reminds us of the presence and guidance of our creator. So, why not bless our bicycles? The bicycle is a machine that multiplies our power and extends our reach and closes distances between people. It gives us power for good or ill. We bless a bicycle but really its operator and ask that God will make us courteous riders and compassionate neighbors.
The idea for a particular bicycle blessing all started in Ghisallo, Italy. According to medieval legend, Count Ghisallo was attacked by bandits one day, while traveling on the road. He quickly spied the image of Mary at a roadside shrine and he managed to get free from his attackers and took refuge by hiding at the shrine. From this experience his heart was moved to care for people forced to travel unprotected. As the story spread, Our Lady of Ghisallo became known as the patroness of local travelers. Cyclists began to find this shrine a popular place to stop, rest and pray. After World War II the pastor proposed it as a shrine for Italian cyclists and Pope Pius XII approved it on October 13, 1949. Today there is both a shrine and a cycling museum at the top of the hill with refreshments and an eternal flame in memory of cyclists who have lost their lives.
Summer is a most fitting time to bless bicycles. Of course, this event is actually a blessing for the people more than the machines and that is the beauty of it. This includes all people who seek the blessing of God's protection. We bless active parishioners, inactive Catholics, as well as those who no longer attend any church. We bless everyone who uses bicycles. The prayer can be quite simple. It can include a word of welcome, a scripture reading, a word of reflection, and a final blessing. If someone has been recently injured or killed, using a bicycle on the road, they can be remembered at this time as well. At St. Mary Cathedral in Portland, OR, they toll the bells once in prayerful memory for each victim lost in tragic roadway accident over the year. The blessing can be done in a parish courtyard, parking lot or even on the lawn.
If you want a more elaborate affair, invite a community liaison from the local police department to offer a few words about road safety, during a reception with light refreshments immediately following the blessing. Create decals for each bike using the image of Our Lady of Ghisallo, the patroness of cyclists. Include the date and place of the blessing. Give out the decals at the end of the blessing. With the help of a donor, the parish might even purchase and distribute water bottles with the parish logo and contact information.
Who will come? Singles come! Families come! They come with children. Young singles will show up with their friends. Seniors and cyclists of various faiths, or no faith. We all seek the protection of God's favor when we are most vulnerable and cyclists know that they are vulnerable on the roads. Why not leave the church open for prayer after the blessing? Consider having a knowledgeable parishioner available to offer a church tour.
This is an opportunity to receive people, quite literally from the highways and byways of life. The blessing is all written and ready to use below.
(Adapted from St. Mary Cathedral, Portland, OR. Adapt as needed.)
Call to Prayer: Lord, Source of all energy and light. The Ancients saw your providence through great wheels of fire rolling across the sky. In those circles of light our ancestors learned to trust in your reliable and sustaining providence. You gave us the ingenuity for science. For generations we have adapted the wheel to sustain us and our creativity, especially for means of transportation. You gave us legs and intended us to be travelers and to seek out a world beyond ourselves. So we gather today to ask for your blessing on our travels. We especially invoke your constancy and care on behalf of those who use bicycles to commute each day - for exercise, for work and for pleasure. We pray this, as a pilgrim people, always yearning for you as our ultimate destination, in Jesus' name. (Amen)
God's Word: (Ezekiel 1: 15-21 and Luke 10: 25-37)
Our Word: At times of travel we are often rushed. We forget to trust in God's care and to recognize that the Creator of the world is still creating and caring about us. The man who fell among robbers in this Gospel account was on the road and probably in a hurry. Why else would he be traveling on a road, so well known for its perils? We too, take chances when we are in a hurry and rely on God to save us in spite of ourselves. We travel life best when we travel mindfully, not just of the destination, but also of the events along the way.
In Ezekiel we hear about wheels that roll strong and true without veering and being directed by the Spirit. Following Jesus can sometimes resemble a bicycle built for two. Christians know to ride with Jesus.
We enjoy having Jesus along for the ride. We expect Jesus to have our back and be ready to pedal hard when we tire out, or when we are facing a hill too steep to climb alone. But so often it is only in times so strenuous that force us off the bike that we volunteer to let Jesus take over steering in our lives. Otherwise we prefer to stay in the front seat and do the steering. Even when we steer over rocky road, into a ditch or worse, too seldom do we see the wisdom in switching seats with Jesus. We plead and demand that Jesus pedal harder at the steep slopes and scary places. How often we fall off and lose our way needlessly. Of course, each time we surrender the front seat to Jesus, we marvel at his ease for maneuvering our lives clear of treacherous corners and hidden obstacles. How much easier would life be if we let the Lord of our lives actually steer our lives?
The injured man in the story told by Jesus, allowed God to help once he could not manage it alone. Interestingly the instrument of God's compassion in his life was someone with whom the injured man might not know or choose to associate himself. This story is repeated over and over again in our own lives. How often we go down the wrong road, or pass someone by who is in need of our care. The road is still a place where we can be ambassadors for Christ.
The people in the town of Ghisallo learned the truth of God providence and the value of compassion in a similar tragedy. How much easier would life be if we let Jesus steer more often?
As you leave today we invite you to take a decal of Our Lady of Ghisallo. According to medieval legend, Count Ghisallo was attacked by bandits one day, while traveling on the road. He quickly spied the image of Mary at a roadside shrine. He managed to get free from his attackers and took refuge by hiding at the shrine and was saved from the robbers. His heart was moved toward those forced to travel unprotected.
As the story spread, Our Lady of Ghisallo became known as the patroness of local travelers. Cyclists began to find this shrine a popular place to stop, rest and pray. After World War II the pastor proposed it as a shrine for Italian cyclists and Pope Pius XII approved it on October 13, 1949. Today there is both a shrine and a cycling museum with artifacts, photos and refreshments, along with an eternal flame in memory of cyclists who have lost their lives in the sport. The shrine is now a popular landmark at the top of a steep hill.
Blessing for Bicycles: Lord, you are our protector and source of all blessings. We ask for your blessing on these bicycles and their operators. All wheels remind us of the infinite quality of your eternal presence. May this vehicle keep our minds alert and our bodies strong. May it provide for our own needs, and encourage us to care for others. Let it remind us of the infinite vistas and adventures in a miraculous world that you created for us.
And most of all, Lord, let us never doubt your protective presence in our lives. You are the ultimate destination of all our journeys. Let this vehicle get us to every destination safely and always be a reminder to us of your constant care which is just as certain as a wheel rolls down a hill. We pray this through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the wind of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(invite owners to bring their bicycles and sprinkle holy water on everyone)
Shrine at Ghisallo, Italy
Web Sources for Our Lady of Ghisallo:
Madonna of Ghisallo
Climb by Bike Profile
Museum del Ghisallo