Marked with the Sign of Faith

Marked with the Sign of Faith February 14, 2024

There is a video of a PostSecret event – where audience members can choose to share a secret publicly – in which a Muslim woman wearing a hijab says:

“My secret is that because I wear the headscarf, because I’m so clearly Muslim, I go out of my way to be nice to everybody, to donate to everybody that ever asks me for money in public, just because I don’t want them to think that Muslims are bad people, even when I don’t really want to donate money or be nice to people or let people merge into my lane!”

When I first saw this, the first thought I had was of numerous older Mennonite women I know who at some point in their lives have worn head coverings, as many in more separatist Anabaptist communities still do. I myself have never worn a religious head covering, and most of the time I don’t particularly want to (and my Mennonite background makes it impossible for me to wear a veil to Mass unironically). But hearing this Muslim woman speak, I realized I had secret of my own: there is a part of me that misses the inescapably visible sign of faith that I’ve never had, something that would almost require me to be the best possible representation of my own faith in the day-to-day, even when I don’t feel like it.

Many Christians get a taste of this on Ash Wednesday, the one day of the year when we wear our faith on our foreheads. I’m in the habit of wearing a cross or crucifix on liturgically significant days like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, or a Miraculous Medal on Marian feast days. Sometimes, though, I do this with a twinge of embarrassment or anxiety about what unintended meaning other people might read into my religious symbols: maybe they’ll assume a certain unthinking dogmatism on my part, or worse, a sense of entitlement to social privilege and/or governing power on behalf of Christians, or Catholics, as a whole.

For that very reason, I am keeping the symbol visible daily as part of my Lenten observance this year – anxieties and all. My treasured hematite crucifix has long since fallen off its chain and been lost, but I have a couple of San Damiano crosses, the kind now famous for having spoken to St. Francis of Assisi. Maybe I’m hoping the association will mitigate against those unwanted assumptions. Maybe it will still invite criticism – spoken or silent – of the institutions it represents, but maybe that itself is a necessary sort of penance. And maybe, dare I hope, it will invite some criticism for the right reasons, of the kind the Church gets when she gets discipleship right. Either way, the Church’s liturgy tells me that “now is the acceptable time” to confront my twinges of embarrassment head-on, to quietly stand up and be counted as a member of the body, for better or for worse – indeed, a member of this big old institution in all its beauty and ugliness that, as Dorothy Day once infamously put it, is a harlot at times yet still our mother.

"Please note that Pope JP II ended two thousand years of tradition by changing Thomas ..."

On Divine Mercy Sunday, remember Saint ..."
"The painting is from 19th century Poland, so calling him "woke" literally has no meaning. ..."

Ash Wednesday in Portugal
"Why is the priest in white vestments? Is he woke?"

Ash Wednesday in Portugal
"Perhaps you could go out in public with your Catholic symbols in the company of ..."

Marked with the Sign of Faith

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!