By Eric Shuler
Am I going to be safer now when I brush my teeth? The thought flitted across my mind as my wife and I stood watching my Jesuit friend flick water onto our bathroom mirror. Normally, safely brushing my teeth doesn’t worry me, but this was a special circumstance — or at least a unique one for me. Never before had I asked a priest to bless my home. To be fair, I’ve been living out of apartments for a long time by myself, so I’m fairly new to the wonderful challenge of being married and working with my wife to turn a house into a home.
I love that the Catholic Church has so many blessings for different things, and I’m slightly ashamed that I didn’t think of a house blessing first. I was just going to invite over a couple Jesuit friends for food, wine and conversation. After all, Ignatius wanted to call his group “Companions of Jesus,” so Jesuits should be go-to guests for good companionship. It was my wife who said, “Eric, your friend is a priest now, right? So don’t you think it would be nice to ask him to bless our home?”
That’s how I found myself following my friend through my home as he blessed every entrance with holy water after our initial prayers and Scripture reading. Dousing the bathroom mirror definitely caught me by surprise. I don’t usually think of mirrors as entrances. The old D&D geek inside me thought, “Duh, of course mirrors can be portals to other realms and evil spirits!” Another side of me though couldn’t help asking if this wasn’t just a bit archaic and superstitious. Are evil spirits likely to invade my bathroom? And if spirits are, well, spirits, then why do physical entrances matter at all?
I think they do matter. We are physical creatures as well as spiritual. We have to use those entrances, and we bring a lot from the outside world in with us. The rite of blessing prays that the people in the house be built together into God’s dwelling place. Our houses transform into Christian homes only through our choices and the Holy Spirit’s work. If we desire a holy sanctuary as our home, then we must fiercely protect its threshold. The blessing of doors prepares us for that.
When we enter a blessed doorway, we should pause and practice discernment. Sometimes I am going to bring worries, frustration and bad habits to my doorstep. Can I leave these burdens outside for another day? If not, how can I make sure that they don’t poison the peace of this home? Perhaps I need to ask God, my spouse or my family for help healing from the day’s troubles (for that too is part of the blessing of a holy home).
And what of mirrors? That blessing of mirrors broadened my idea of entryways. As a former teacher, I learned that mirrors whisper into many teenagers’ ears lies of being unworthy and unlovable. I wish though that the modern rite also included warding television, computer, tablet and phone screens. Those devices can make lives better; my wife’s grandmother can see her great-grandbabies in video calls (and you can read Jesuits.org!). Is that how I’m using those devices though, or do I bring anger, consumerism and a false sense of worthlessness into my home through them ? Whether you’re a teen, single adult or busy parent, social media walks a fine line between connecting us and eroding our inner peace. Perhaps, just once at night, we can ask God to bless our screens and examine what we’ve brought through them into our homes that day.
If we can do that, we may find that by moderating what comes into our homes, we can also influence what goes out of our homes. The last intercession in the rite for blessing homes asks for help for the homeless. A true home is not just a sanctuary for the family; it is an incubator for love. Christian love always reaches out. Gratitude for our blessings (an important part of a good examen) can motivate us to make sure others have a chance to enjoy those blessings too. How can we use the strength given to us by our homes to work to make sure others have shelter? How can we make our homes places of hospitality for guests who may not have a home in which they feel comfortable?
I don’t claim to have answered all these questions. I know building a holy home will be an ongoing process. I am grateful though for my Jesuit friend’s blessing of the beginning of that process and for the guidance that the ritual gave us.
Eric Shuler is a freelance editor, writer, and Latin translator at PeregrinePhd.com. He has a doctorate in medieval history from the University of Notre Dame, a decade of (mostly) happy memories from teaching teenagers and a love of the diversity of Catholic spiritualities from history. He lives with his wife in beautiful, chilly upstate New York. You can read more of his writing at FriendsAbove.com.