Removing Our Masks Before Jesus
Published: April 15, 2010
We all wear masks in life. Some men don a false front every day when they go to the office. A guy who in reality likes playing football with his kids puts on an expensive suit and tie. He may prefer building a tree house in the yard—but in the office he’s paid to create charts on a computer.
A woman who loves reading to her toddler may wear a daily mask too. Perhaps she’s a doctor, working long hours, and she has to put aside her concerns for her own children while she tends to patients.
The Christian journey is about stripping off our masks and finding our deeper, hidden identities. Many converts to Catholicism will attest that before they were received into the Church, they thought of themselves as mere accidents of nature. They saw themselves as material beings that came into the world for no particular reason—and would one day cease to exist.
But in embracing Christ, converts strip away the mask of nihilism. They begin to probe the deepest mystery about their real identity, which is hinted at in the question Jesus asked the disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”
One of the great features of our Catholic faith is that we are encouraged to remove our masks before God. We know we can reveal the secrets of our hearts without fear of rejection. The man who is always in charge at the office can get down on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament and tell the Lord: “I’m scared.” The woman who always seems upbeat and cheery can whisper to God after Holy Communion: “I am so sad.”
During Lent, we had a chance to examine our everyday masks. Maybe we thought of ourselves as being in control of our appetites, but during Lent we discovered that just the simple act of giving up sweets was a very big deal. Maybe we thought we could go without television for long periods of time, but then we realized that skipping our evening programs left us feeling antsy and out of sorts.
We can remove our masks by the simple act of going to Confession, where we show our true face to God. When we step into the confessional, we are no longer the programmer, the doctor, the police officer, the teacher or the parent. We are just another sinner who is seeking forgiveness and mercy.
Still, some people are terrified of removing their masks in the confessional. They are horribly ashamed of their sins, so they hide them for many years. They think that by denying sins, the wrongdoings will somehow vanish.
But penning a wild animal in a cage makes it even more dangerous.
The point of our lives as Catholics is becoming more like Christ. He never donned a mask, and he never deceived anyone about who he was. He could have saved himself a great deal of anguish by lying about his identity as he stood before Pilate, but he did not.
Still, there were times when people failed to recognize him. Right after the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene mistook him for the gardener. After that, Jesus walked a long way with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, but they didn’t recognize him until he broke bread with them.
As we grow older, we are no longer recognizable physically as the person we were when we were 20 or 30 years old. Attend a high school reunion and you will see that some people can be recognized only by the name tags they wear.
It is only by removing our false masks that we can discover who we really are. Only then can we draw nearer to Christ, the source of all truth. As we peel off the layers called accountant, programmer, teacher, daughter or son, we are left, finally, with our true face.
And when we stand before Christ on Judgment Day, we will finally have the chance to ask him the question that has driven us all our lives: “Who do you say that I am?”
Artwork is by Jef Murray (www.jefmurray.com) Lorraine’s latest books are “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey” and “Death in the Choir.” You may e-mail the Murrays, who are parishioners at St. Thomas More Church in Decatur, by writing email@example.com.