One of the great discomforts that many people have to endure at some point in their lives is orthodontics. After hours with your mouth open, you now have a mouth full of metal. It feels weird. It’s moderately painful. And there’s nothing attractive about it. Oh sure, you’re told all the benefits, and you’re promised a great result, but when you first get the work done the end seems like a long way off. After a while your mouth gets used to the orthodontia. It no longer feels weird. You go about your daily life and don’t really think about it much anymore. It’s just there, and it’s now part of you.
It’s similar to the masks we all are now told to wear. At first they were uncomfortable, bothersome, and annoying. As time went by, we got used to them or found ones that were more comfortable and less bothersome. For some, they have become an expression of style or affiliation. We don’t really think about them much anymore. They’re just there, and they’re now part of us.
But behind the masks, we all have faces. We are all unique bearers of the image and likeness of God. He stitched together our face in our mother’s womb and breathed into our face the breath of life. The indwelling of the Spirit shines through our face… when we let it. The truth is, we have been hiding our faces behind masks long before coronavirus came along.
We know that we are supposed to stand up for our faith. We know that it is right and just. We know that it is our duty as Catholic Christians. We also know that many facets of our faith might lead to uncomfortable conversations, so all too often we hide our faith behind a mask. Maybe it’s a mask we wear at work. Maybe it’s a mask we wear among friends or certain members of our family. Maybe it’s a mask we wear as we participate in social media. Maybe it’s a mask we wear when we’re out to dinner. When we put on that mask, it feels uncomfortable at first, but we eventually get used to it. Not expressing our faith publicly no longer feels weird. Whatever mask it is, whenever we wear it, we are no longer showing the world our true faces. We are no longer the faces of what it means to be a Catholic.
When we say “I have something going on that morning” instead of “I have Mass, it’s a holy day of obligation,” we are wearing a mask. When we pray before we eat at home, but not out in public, we are wearing a mask. When we pray in public, but don’t make the sign of the cross, we are wearing a mask. When we fail to engage in public discussions about abortion, the sanctity of marriage, same sex “marriage,” or gender identity, we are wearing a mask. When we break from Church rules of Lenten fasting and abstinence for the sake of not standing out in a crowd, we are wearing a mask. When we engage in behavior that would make the Virgin Mary blush just so we can fit in or cover up our brokenness, we are wearing a mask. And to all those around us, all those who know that we call ourselves Catholics, our masked faces represent what it means to be a Catholic.
Last month, for only the second time in its history, our country inaugurated a Catholic president. And for millions of people worldwide, he represents what it means to be a devout Catholic because both he and the news media are telling the world he is a devout Catholic. So, for millions of people, the definition of a devout Catholic will not be defined by the pope, the bishops, the priests and deacons and sisters; no, for millions of people around the world, our president will define what it means to be a devout Catholic. People will look to him and see someone who says abortion is a fundamental right. They will see someone who is an advocate for same-sex “marriage.” They will see someone who believes transgenderism is something that is accepted as normal. Millions of people will see all these things, they will see photos of him going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist, and in him these people will see the face of the Catholic Church.
None of us have the public stage that the president does. But within our own spheres of influence, we are the face of the Catholic Church. The time for us to take off our masks and be uncomfortable is long, long overdue. We need to be the definition of what it means to be unapologetically and authentically Catholic. We need to endure whatever may come for being real, authentic Catholics, and set our faces like flint. We need to have the courage to have the difficult conversations. We need to be willing to lose everything, even if it means changing jobs or losing friendships. We all, each one of us, needs to be willing to be bloodless martyrs, and rip off the masks that hide our faith so that we may bravely go and show the world the true face of the Catholic Church.
Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs… Pray for us!