One of my random memories of childhood is meeting a friend of my parents who was Catholic. I must have been five or six at the time, and the only Catholics I knew were my neighbors, the Murphys. I remarked to my mother that this new person didn’t fit the expected pattern (I guess I have always been a pathologist, looking for what doesn’t belong). He didn’t “look Catholic.”
My mother couldn’t contain her amusement. “Bobbie,” she said, “you can’t tell someone is Catholic just by looking at him.”
Who says? The Holiness ladies I work with have a common hairstyle and modest dress that seems a bit old-fashioned, even here in East Tennessee. Orthodox Jewish men are instantly identifiable by their earlocks, fringes, beards, dark clothes and yalmukes. Their wives are as modest as the Holiness ladies and usually cover their hair as well. The Amish men I knew as a child were distinguished by their chin beards without moustaches, plain clothes with no buttons, and broad straw hats; their wives by their plain dresses and prayer caps. Spread the net a bit further: the Sikh wears his turban, observant Muslims are characterized by their modest clothes and headcoverings, male and female alike, and the Hindu wears a mark on his forehead between the eyes. See the outward marks of faith, and you have a pretty good general idea of what the individual’s beliefs are.
So, I wonder, how would anyone know I am Catholic? After all, my faith is not intended to be some private thing between me and God. The Catholic faith is inherently relational, and requires me to bring it from Mass on Sunday into daily life. It is intended to affect how I treat the people I meet. It requires me to proclaim it and live it. And it really ought to make me distinguishable from others in some real, concrete and identifiable way. If my Catholic faith does not change me in an appreciable way, I’m missing something.
Think of it this way. It wasn’t hard during football season to know who supported what team. Can someone look at me and know that I serve Christ? Do they know that I am Catholic?
Maybe. I have found that my life and trappings have changed in very concrete ways since I entered the Catholic Church. The home page on my computer is a Catholic blog now, not a political one. I still subscribe to a dozen or so magazines, but most of them now are religious, not news-and-politics, and the most recent issues are strewn over my coffee table. One of the dormers upstairs is now an oratory of sorts, with a collection of art and crucifixes, a kneeler and a large votive candle. Inexpensive rosarties are wherever I last left them and my good ones are on my bedside table. More often than not, I’m wearing a Miraculous Medal.
I’ve gotten over being shy about saying grace—quietly or out loud—in public, complete with sign of the cross. My screensaver at work is usually the picture of a saint. And my co-workers know that I attend daily mass. If the people I encounter don’t know I am Catholic, it’s not because I hide it or neglect it.
Nor would I want to. The reality is, I’ve come home to a wonderful faith, and I want everyone else to know about it too. I’ve found that the simple act of carrying whatever book of theology or apologetics I happen to be reading at the time stimulates people to ask what it is about. I’ve had people who admire my jewelry ask what it represents. Once in a while someone will come along with me to Mass , curious to find out what would so influence my daily schedule. For introverts like me, it might just be the only avenue to evangelization that’s reasonable: it requires the other person to make the first move.
Of course, it then is incumbent on me to be a worthy witness to the faith I advertise. If people can identify me as a Catholic, I ought to be a reasonably good one. There ought to be otherwise invisible ways, the ones only I know about but which people see making a difference in what I do—at least some of the time, and more often now than in days past. I recall the virtue of humility, and I don’t respond in anger to a colleague’s complaint. I recall the virtue of charity and remind myself not to judge the fellow I pass on the street just by his appearance. I recall my failings and take them to confession, and come away with grace to try again to respond as Christ would have me do so, and I hope people see me change and grow. I am reminded that I might just be the only Church some people have ever encountered. Better make it a welcoming one.
We have a wonderful treasure in our faith. If we don’t display it, who will know to ask after it? Shouldn’t it be easier to know I am a Catholic than to know I’m a Gator?
And isn’t it far more important?