I was honored to be the presider of the all-school liturgy in Kenosha last week. It was a prayerful and wonderful experience. There were 1200-plus students, staff and visitors who were part of this special event for Catholic Schools Week.
For the homily, I had one of my favorite books, “Where’s Waldo?” written and illustrated by Martin Handford. It’s not something that’s “read,” but a series of rather complicated, intricate crowd scene illustrations where the reader tries to find Waldo, the man in a red-and-white striped shirt, in the picture.
The illustrated characters are multi-colored and Waldo blends in. You need to have a good eye and be able toconcentrate if you’re going to find him. He blends in easily.
My point in all this was simply that, as students of a Catholic school, we just can’t blend in with mediocrity and sinfulness dictated by peer pressure. We need to stand out with visible Catholic values, acts of charity, forgiveness in this Year of Mercy, deep prayer and true joy as recommended by Pope Francis in his first encyclical, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
That is what’s taught in our Catholic schools. Authenticity means “standing out” as people living these values. If we’re going to truly “stand out,” our faith must first “sink in.”
With Lent upon us, I see a number of similarities. Some Catholics are a bit shy about Lent. The sign of ashes is swiftly and discretely wiped away after the Ash Wednesday service, penance is done rather sheepishly, and prayer is “sneaky,” if at all.
True, Jesus reminds us that prayer, fasting and penance are private, between the person and God. This is not about us but about God and our relationship with God. Lent also holds great opportunities to witness to our faith. Lent is a perfect opportunity to “stand out,” not for ourselves but as people of faith deepening their trust in God.
Did people see the ashes on our foreheads this Ash Wednesday? I hope so. What a perfect opportunity to evangelize and witness to the fact that you, like most everyone, need to make some changes in your life and that you’re allowing God to enter your life this Lent and help with that.
How about the witness of prayer? All of our parishes provide opportunities to participate in the Stations of the Cross or a Bible study. Invite a friend.
There are numerous pamphlets with short reflections that can be used in a quiet moment during a break at work or in a volunteer situation. A “visible” Lenten prayer corner in your home might be a good beginning for family prayer. A dinner guest could be invited to participate.
My grandparents invited the Lutheran neighbor to join them in the rosary. It turns out he had been Catholic once and wanted to return. What a great opportunity sponsored by my grandparents, because they chose to stand out and not simply blend in.
Catholics are called “Friday fish eaters” by some. Lent substantiates that. We often say abstaining from meat on Friday is not a penance because “I like fish.” That may be true but such a statement doesn’t give witness to our Lenten practice of penance. A better Friday penance (and healthier, too) may be to order the baked cod or a cheese pizza (without the shrimp!).
The challenge is finding a Lenten penance that is not only physically healthy, but spiritually healthy so as to allow the penance to enrich our faith. These practices are also great material for friendly discussions. We grow together.
If we are going to stand out as Christians, the “sinking in” process is crucial. Lent is about our relationship with God and making personal changes that enhance that relationship. We “do” things because we want to “be” someone better. If what we do is not sinking in, then our standing out will be fake. I wish you a happy and joyous Lent!