One of my earliest recollections as a child is the visit from the parish priest at the beginning of a new year. Around the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Father Valasek, our parish priest, came to our home for a brief visit and on his way out used chalk to put a message on the top of the doorframe. I recognized the new year marked and some initials that my mom told me represented the three kings who visited Jesus in the manger.
Right in our home, the Light of Christ was shining. The Prophet Isaiah announced: “Arise, shine; for your light has come.” (Isaiah 60:1) It just seemed that our home was filled with light, and in my heart, I began to understand the mystery that Jesus Christ has come for all — for every person, for every corner of the world — even our little home.
Before Christmas, Maureen Larison, a staff member of the Office of Faith Formation who supports our archdiocesan Faith Clubs, invited me to bless chalk. This chalk would be used to make up kits for the Faith Club members and their families to have a ceremony in their homes to do what my parish priest did years ago — they would bless the lintel of their front door on the Solemnity of the Epiphany.
You may have read about it in The Record a few weeks ago. Recall that our Faith Clubs gather persons with disabilities, along with their families and loved ones, each month for social and spiritual gatherings. These clubs have existed quietly for many years and have been enriching members’ lives. Back in November, I gave a virtual talk, sponsored by Catholic University of America’s Institute for Human Ecology entitled “Christian Anthropology and Persons with Disability.”
The focus was on our Christian conviction that human dignity flows not from what we do but from who we are — as persons who are each unique and made in the image and likeness of God. Because my brother was born with Down syndrome, I find myself naturally giving high marks and dignity to persons with disabilities. God’s image and likeness in them seems to shine through so clearly to me.
I know that my attitude is not always shared by others. The assault on children with Down syndrome is real, and statistics reveal sad testimony that the taking of their innocent lives through abortion is real. For the followers of Jesus, however, the light shines through, and so I was delighted that it would be members of the Faith Club who would lead the blessing of their homes and make holy chalk marks on the lintels of their front door, proclaiming that in this home, Christ’s light shines brightly!
Reflecting on this home blessing made me think of one silver lining of COVID-19 — the chance we have to increase the presence of the domestic church in our homes. Here is what the web site of the Knights of Columbus states about the home as the domestic church:
“The phrase ‘domestic church’ has been used to describe families since the beginning of Christianity. In his ‘Letter to Families,’ Pope St. John Paul II explained, ‘The Fathers of the Church, in the Christian tradition, have spoken of the family as a ‘domestic church,’ a ‘little church.’” (See https://www.kofc.org/en/who-we-are/our-faith/domestic-church.html to read more.)
I imagine the chalk on the doorpost of my home was my first experience of the church encouraging us to make our homes into a domestic church. Unwittingly I suspect that COVID-19 restrictions have allowed many homes to become that domestic church. The live-streaming of daily and weekend Masses, special prayers and the reading of Sacred Scripture and maybe even identifying places in our homes for prayers to occur all create marks in our homes that can be permanent.
Using chalk on the top of the door entering the home and marking a blessing for the new year allows for an inner conversion of heart so that Jesus Christ, our light, might enter the doors of our homes and shine forth, revealing the dignity of each of us as children of the light.
Earlier this month we celebrated the Solemnity of the Epiphany. This manifestation of Jesus Christ to the world reminds us that there is not a corner of the world and not an individual born who is not created in the image and likeness of God and who is not called to be elevated by grace as a son or daughter of God.
Our January marking of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day to eradicate racial prejudice and the Jan. 22 Roe v. Wade reminder of our need to protect innocent children in the womb are events that remind us of the dignity of all human persons.
Together we chalk up a new year, 2021, hopefully with a reminder in each of our homes that the dignity of the human person, which we firmly hold, will emanate from the domestic church — our own home — throughout this year.