February 16, 2021
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today is the day before Ash Wednesday. This day is traditionally known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. Throughout the Christian world, it is a celebration of excess before entering into the penitential season of Lent. People observe Mardi Gras differently. Some enjoy paczki, a Polish jelly-filled doughnut, which is a sweet treat before the sweets will be retired for the 40 days of Lent. Others will have a special meal before penance begins.
Brazilians celebrate Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. In Venice, Italian revelers dance at masquerade balls. Of course, if you are in New Orleans, the traditional parades are canceled, but the Mardi Gras celebrations still occupy the city’s attention. Ironically, one of the marks of a Mardi Gras celebration is the wearing of a mask. Unlike Halloween, which emphasizes ghosts, zombies, or skeletons, these masks often represent secular figures who embrace the materialistic aspects of life. At times, people will put masks on to be someone else or in order not to be recognized.
I find this ironic because we have been in a mask-mode for almost 11 months, and it has separated us from one another. Priests tell me that it has affected their homilies since they cannot see the faces of the congregation to tell if their message is resonating with them.
One person told me that they were about to sneeze and instead of pulling out his handkerchief, he sneezed into his mask. I am waiting for the union of “bank robbers” to sue those wearing masks who are taking away one of the characteristics of their trade. We cannot go into a store or public restaurant without a mask. Even during worship, masks are encouraged if for no other reason, than to demonstrate our charity towards our brothers and sisters who need to feel comfortable during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Perhaps the mask will be a good symbol for us during the Lenten season. Lent is penitential and we often try to mask our sinfulness. The Gospel instructs us to use prayer, fasting and almsgiving as useful tools to prepare ourselves for the Passion of our Lord and the fulfillment of the promise of salvation through His Resurrection.
It is obvious we do not need masks when we place ourselves before God. However, we do need to unmask our own sinfulness. This pandemic has uncovered several personal frailties. The life that we were accustomed to living has been radically altered. We have been impatient with our neighbors and even God. We have become angry at the shortcoming of friends and family, who fail to live up to our expectations. Many found themselves reluctant when asked to extend themselves and to adjust their lives in the spirit of charity.
Perhaps the one that I find most recognizable is that some are frustrated at the loss of their normal routine, things they wanted to do. People feel that they are making the ultimate sacrifice but fail to give thanks for what they do have. We live in a country that cares about its citizens. We have food on our plates, a roof over our heads, but there are some among us who are denied the basics.
We have been given the gift of faith in the face of suffering and, even with death itself, there is hope in the Resurrection. Nothing is lost to God.
During this Lenten season, let us pray daily in a spirit of gratitude that the Lord will assist us in the exercise of charity, in word and deed. Let us pray that we will celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, knowing that by unmasking ourselves before God, we allow Him to transform our lives and become His instruments to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee