Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Marked Woman

I live in a very liberal, very secular part of the country. I work in one of the most liberal, most secular of cities. So why is it that when I go to Mass at one of the Downtown churches they're full?

Today was no different. I was a little bit late getting to noon Mass and was directed by a kindly usher to the basement because the Mass in the main church was full. The basement wasn't much better. I stood in the back, surrounded by my fellow Catholics. Some were dressed casually; others had designer suits. There were the older generation--white-haired, many immigrants. There were those my age. And there were the younger generation--20-somethings, 30-somethings, coming to Mass, receiving Ashes not because their parents made them, but because they wanted to. I am always surprised to see them, and always grateful that they are there.

This was not much different from those I've experienced over the years at other Downtown Churches. Indeed, some of these parishes depend on nearby employees to keep their budgets in the black. The Paulists even have special Services of the Word in local conference rooms to accommodate all who wish to observe Ash Wednesday.

As we left the church, our foreheads marked with the ashy cross, I thought how like viruses we were. Our numbers diluted as we spread out throughout The City, we bear our mark, identifying us not just as Christians but as Catholics Who Believe in a world that more often than not mocks our belief. We will smile as yet another person says, "Hey, your forehead is dirty!" We are making Our Statement.

One man stopped one of us, asking "Is the church nearby?" The man stopped turned and pointed back from where we had just come, "It's a block that way." A couple of blocks later, I was the only one who hadn't turned into an office building.

Perhaps tonight on the train there will be a few more marked like me. Perhaps someone will see my forehead and remember that, yes, today is Ash Wednesday, and there are services at Church. Perhaps they will go. Perhaps a faith will be rekindled. Perhaps a cruel memory will be revived. I don't know, will never know.

But for one day--for one half of one day--I wear my Faith on my forehead for all to see.