I recently gave birth to my fourth child within six years; the last three all have 19-month age gaps between them. In a world where having three kids is above average, a family with several young children can turn heads. I hate to admit it, but it’s something I feel self-conscious about. I can see the people around me doing mental math whenever I go out with all of the kids at once. I’m glad I’m not working anymore, so I don’t have to worry about what my coworkers would be saying behind my back while I’d be on my fourth maternity leave from the same company.
These days, among the other homeschooling families at the co-op, the size of our family is not such an anomaly, but I still get plenty of “hands full” comments when I go out grocery shopping. I know that Catholics aren’t the only demographic with larger than average families, but most people these days assume that choosing to have more than 2.5 kids is a matter of religion. So, I know that holding my head high and proud of my obvious adherence to Church teaching is its own little form of evangelization. I’ve become more and more comfortable with this little display of my Catholic faith.
So why do I dread Ash Wednesday so much? When I did work, I was always secretly grateful for the evening Mass, so that I could get ashes without having to show them off and answer questions all day. Most of my coworkers knew I was Catholic, but I was still so hesitant to invite my faith as the topic of conversation. So nervous to be put on the spot to explain or defend my beliefs.
Ash Wednesday is probably the biggest day of the year for spotting Catholics in the wild. It’s one of the easiest times of year to let your friends and neighbors know that you belong to Christ’s Church. Or the inverse: it’s the hardest day to hide your religion from those around you. Are you as hesitant to be the visible Catholic as I am? Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, but it is a day that we’re invited to observe. That invitation includes boldly stepping out and showing off our Catholic faith to the world around us. And it’s so simple. Wearing ashes is the easiest way there is to tell someone that you’re Catholic.
It will be much harder the day after. Think about it: we’re actually supposed to show off our Catholic faith 365 days a year. On the rest of the days when you’re not wearing ashes on your forehead, does your life show that you follow the teachings of Jesus?
I’m not sure that mine does. Yes, I’ve got lots of little kids, but I’m not always attentive, or loving, or kind. I speak critically about others. I’m stingy in giving. I lose my temper. I’m a sinner. And as I said, I’m incredibly nervous to take opportunities to share my faith, even when they’re handed to me on a silver platter, in the form of a visible mark on my forehead.
This Ash Wednesday, I invite you to join me in contemplating the ways we’re called to be a light to the nations around us. Look for the friends, coworkers and neighbors who need to be reminded of the Good News, influenced to make godly decisions, or invited back to Mass. Let us all resolve to let the outward mark of our religion become an inward virtue of religion and share our Catholic faith visibly with our lives and actions, not just with our ashes.