Editor’s note: This article was published in the February 2023 issue of the North Star Catholic.
HOMER, Alaska — A new year presents the opportunity for home blessings, a chance both parishioners and the resident priest embrace as a time to renew God’s invitation into the home in preparation for whatever the new year may bring.
Father Jaime Mencias of St. John the Baptist Church in Homer is performing more than 30 home blessings for the small parish on the edge of Kachemak Bay in January. Unlike bigger parishes where it may not be possible to reach all the people wanting a blessing, Fr. Mencias can accommodate those he signed up for through personal phone calls to each parishioner here as well as the community of Ninilchik, where he also serves. He also made the invitation known at each Mass service.
The idea caught on as both an act of faith and a New Year tradition to begin this year as a first for many, he said.
“Home blessing is once again to welcome Jesus into our homes, into our hearts, into our lives,” Fr. Mencias said. “It gives confidence in facing the New Year, that whatever lies ahead, they are confident that Jesus is with them.”
Among the people, Fr. Mencias served during his 33 years as a priest in the Philippines. He was ordained in 1990 as a diocesan priest in the Archdiocese of Cotabato in the Philippines.
A “house” blessing doesn’t always mean a home and the blessing takes place anytime during the year.
“I’ve blessed apartments, houses, any place people live where they want to consciously invite Jesus into their home and their lives,” he said.
The Catholic tradition of blessing homes is based in part on a passage in Luke that describes Jesus entering a village greeted by large crowds. A man named Zacchaeus would soon host Jesus at his home.
He was trying to see Jesus arriving, “but could not see over the crowd because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see Him since Jesus was about to pass that way. When Jesus came to that place, He looked up and said, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry down, for I must stay at your house today.’”
The Catholic Liturgical Book of Blessings references the story in the prayer “Lord, be close to your servants who move into this home (today) and ask for your blessing. Be their shelter when they are at home, their companion when they are away, and their welcome guest when they return.”
Having a resident priest in the community of Homer and Ninilchik is a refreshing change for the parishioners, Fr. Mencias said. Though served by priests and sisters, about 20 years had passed since a priest lived in Homer.
In July 2019, after 12 years of serving the parishes on the Kenai Peninsula, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate priests withdrew from ministry in the Archdiocese of Anchorage. This left Homer, Kenai, Soldotna, and Ninilchik without a priest. During the Oblates’ tenure, they resided in Soldotna at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Fr. Mencias was welcomed into his new post on July 1, 2019. Before this, he served as parochial vicar at St. Michael parish in Palmer for nine years.
“They have told me that they are happy to finally have a resident priest after many years, where previously, the priest would just come to celebrate Mass and go.” He added that the parish has strong lay leaders who kept the community alive without a priest always present.
During his time in Homer, Fr. Mencias changed the weekend Mass schedule to allow more time with the parishioners at St. Peter the Apostle Mission in Ninilchik.
In Ninilchik, Fr. Mencias is also blessing homes for parishioners. He drives the snowy winter commute to care for both Kenai Peninsula churches. He’s at St. Peter’s in Ninilchik on Wednesdays and Sundays and other days as needed.
Blessing homes as a matter of a New Year tradition served other purposes for Fr. Mencias as well.
“I had asked, ‘What can I do to revive their interest in coming to church?’ I was told to call them, go visit them, or do housing blessings — whatever I could do to inspire them to come back.”
In light of the advice, Fr. Mencias said he decided to do all three.