Saint Ignatius High School

Chalk Talk

20 + C + M + B + 18. Can you solve this mathematical riddle? Mr. Healey uses Theology, rather than algebra, to enlighten readers of this weekend's Lesson from Loyola Hall as we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord.


The Epiphany of the Lord
 
First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
 
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13
 
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
 
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 2:1-12
 
There is a centuries-old tradition, carried on not only by Catholics, but by other Christian communities as well, known as “chalking the door.”  On either the outside or inside of the front door of a house is written (in chalk, thus “chalking”) a series of numbers and letters joined together by what look like plus signs.  Most people have come across it at one time or another, yet it remains for many a cryptic and unsolvable mathematical equation.

20 + C + M + B + 18

Well, it may be cryptic, but it is neither mathematical nor unsolvable.  The first and last parts of the inscription when put together designate the year, in this case “2018.”  The three letters in the middle are the first initials of the three wise men, or magi, who visited the Holy Family on the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.  These letters can also represent the first letters in the Latin prayer Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless this house.”

For those of a more Eastern European background, the ‘C’ is replaced by a ‘K’ for Ka┼ípar, thus maintaining a certain cultural and linguistic purity while suppressing the imagery related to the Latin prayer.  Above the front door at the Healey house the ‘K’ replaces the ‘C’ not so much in deference to the Slavic heritage coursing proudly through my veins, but to the fact that the priest who performed the blessing, our great friend Fr. Tom Weber, chose that formulation.

Another innovation over our door is the fact that the “chalking” was done without chalk.  Desirous of a chalking that could be clearly read throughout the year and not become smudged or worn away over time, Fr. Weber gave the ceremony a modern technological twist by taping a printed “20+K+M+B+18” above the door.  Akin to electric votive candles, it is a 21st Century take on an ancient custom.

Whether chalked or printed, with a C or a K, the inscription is a reminder that within the walls of homes blessed at the Epiphany the spirit of the feast should be alive throughout the entire year.  Just as those three wise men who followed the star were rewarded with the epiphaneia, or “manifestation,” of the Logos or Incarnate Word of God, so too are modern Christians called to follow that same light to that same Logos.

Not only did the magi prostrate themselves and do Him homage, they also “opened their treasures” for this God who was made manifest before their eyes.  One way to see these gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh is as symbolic representations of the three-fold ministry of our Lord: the gold possessed by a King, the frankincense offered by a Priest, and the myrrh that anointed a slain Prophet.

For the modern Christian these three gifts can take on a personal meaning, a meaning that can propel one to better live out the vocation of a disciple of Jesus.  Each Christian is called to be a prophet, a priest, and a king, and with that calling comes the responsibility to do whatever is necessary to live up to that vocation.

Christians are called to live prophetic lives, to be priestly ministers of God’s mercy and love, and to lead through service, especially to those who are invisible to the world.  This monumental task is aided and sustained only by recourse to Christ the Prophet in His Word, Christ the Priest in His Sacraments, and Christ the King in His Cross.

The magi, after their epiphany experience, are said to have “departed…by another way.”  They were changed men, and therefore could not go back to who they were before the Incarnate Logos was made known to them.  The inscription over the doors of Catholic homes can thus be much more than a nice sign of cultural Catholicism; it can be a daily reminder that each departure from that home is an opportunity to follow the ‘different way’ of the true Prophet, Priest, and King.

A.M.D.G.