Let me start with the obvious: The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world and rewritten what we consider “normal.” Every part of our lives has been impacted to some degree: how we live together and interact with each other on a daily basis; how we work and communicate; how we shop; even how we eat, drink, and enjoy our leisure time. During these times, I felt as if I was starring in the film Groundhog Day, reliving the same day over and over again.
Prior to the pandemic, the term “homebody” referred to someone who preferred staying within the comfort of his/her own home, as opposed to venturing out into the public world. The stay-at-home order that many of us underwent because of the pandemic made us all into homebodies. But our homes, which are meant to represent a place of safety and security, a place of comfort, in some ways became something else. Forced to stay in our homes for an extended period of time, we began to observe attitude changes in our loved ones who were quarantined with us. Perhaps we even witnessed them cycle through various emotions, such as anxiety, fear, frustration, depression, and even boredom, as we experienced the same jarring, unnerving feelings ourselves.
As the global pandemic was both unexpected and out of our personal control, many of these stated emotions have become our new “normal” – an emotional Groundhog Day of sorts. When would relief come? When would it all end? Would we ever find that feeling again of our home as a safe and secure space, a place of comfort, and not the site where we’re shut in with all our fears and frustrations, our worries and wonderings?
During my years working in the African missions, those individuals who were fortunate enough to have a home considered it always to be their safe haven, despite all the sufferings and the built-in uncertainties of their day to day. It’s their example that I try to keep in my mind these days especially. And those same families had their homes – often one-room huts made from sticks, mud, and rocks – blessed by a Catholic priest. This blessing was meant to keep suffering and evil out of their homes, and keep only positivity and faithfulness inside. The blessing includes a “chalking of the door.” After blessing the home, the priest uses chalk to write above the main entrance of the house the specific year, separated by the letters: C, M and B (so for a 2020 blessing the priest would write: 20+C+M+B+20). The letters stand for the Latin blessing, Christus Mansionem Benedicat (May Christ Bless This House / Dwelling Place), as well as the names for the three Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, who came to visit Jesus in His first home. The inscription is applied as a prayer that Christ will bless homes so marked and that He will stay with those who dwell there throughout the year and with any guest who may cross their threshold.
The “chalking of the doors” is a centuries-old practice throughout the world, though it appears to be somewhat less well known in the United States. Most commonly, it is performed on the Feast of the Epiphany taking place after the Epiphany Mass, and can be done at any church, home or dwelling. Of course, this blessing can be performed at any time.
I was fortunate enough to see this blessing performed by missionary Father John in a very poor area outside of Nairobi, Kenya. The home did not have a front door so the chalking was done on the side next to the door opening. Living in the home was a widow who was suffering from AIDS. She had two small boys. She wanted her home blessed, feeling that when she passed her son’s would be safe and secure. Ironically, that same year, Father John came to Pennsylvania. Although it wasn’t around the time of the Epiphany, I still had him come and bless my home.
Practicing traditions like the “chalking of the doors” can help us to live our faith more concretely and serve also as an outward sign of our dedication to the Lord. Since many of us have not been able to attend Mass during the COVID-19 pandemic, our homes have become a place of daily prayer, as we read Scripture, or watch Mass on television or the internet.
Often these days, I focus on the experience in Kenya and on the blessing of my own home by the same mission priest. Now that I think of it, recalling that memory is the singular part of the Groundhog Day experience that is ever new, ever welcomed, each day. Though living with the COVID-19 pandemic may be taking away the security and sense of comfort of our homes, for me, every day, I look to those mission memories as a reminder to welcome God’s blessings into this space, and to remember that with Him, all things are bearable, all can be overcome.
Be safe. Be well. Be blessed.
“Hol(l)y Headlines!” ~ a bit of a play on words ~ is an "Extra! Extra! Read All About It" call to build missionary momentum as part of our ongoing effort to educate and motivate the next generation of the Catholic Church's missionaries. The blog's author, Holly Benner, is National Coordinator for the Missionary Childhood Association. She's also the mission education coordinator in her home Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania. She has a passion for the missions and experience in making mission real at the diocesan level. For 10 years, Holly traveled frequently to Africa as president of a faith-based non-profit that she founded, one focused on developing sustainable water resources among poor communities.
Back to school supplies...
No matter what the school supply list looks like this year during COVID-19, schoolchildren in the Pope’s missions may look a little different. At the top of the list: FOOD. Clothes, desks and computers follow, along with more traditional items, like books, crayons and paper.