Once upon a time — sadly, a lot of stories about Catholicism begin that way — large numbers of the Western world’s Catholics were noticeable, amongst the general population, by reason of the things they did. They were “visible”. Non-Catholics could tell just by looking at certain people that they were members of the Church Jesus founded while He was here on earth. And other Catholics could see that others shared their faith.
I’m not talking about only the priests and religious, who dressed distinctively. Very few priests were like Father Gruner, who was never seen dressed in anything other than his cassock, adorned only by a pectoral of the Miraculous Medal. But most of them wore the Roman collar, and the wonderful nuns who staffed our hospitals and schools were in the habit, so to speak. No one had any doubt about which church they belonged to.
But there were telltale signs by which laypeople identified themselves as Catholics, back in the day. Like jewellery, for instance. A Catholic man might have a Knights of Columbus ring on his finger, or a K of C lapel pin. A Catholic woman might have a pendant in the shape of a cross — a crucifix would have been worn by a religious sister or nun — and perhaps matching earrings.
There were even “visibly Catholic cars”. If you saw a car with a rosary hanging from the rear-view mirror, chances were the person who owned it was Catholic. If you wanted to check, you could look inside, and if you saw a St. Christopher medal stuck to the dashboard — “dashboard idolatry”, some Protestants called it — you could be sure! Some cars also sported bumper stickers promoting Catholic charities or causes such as Campaign for Life.
Catholics were also visible by their actions at certain times, in certain public places. You knew the people who had black smudges on their foreheads 40 days before Easter were Catholic. And once upon a time, Catholic people used to stop walking and bless themselves as a funeral cortege passed by.
Or at a banquet, in the days when grace was said before people started eating, the Catholics would be the ones who made the Sign of the Cross while saying “Amen.” And they were the ones who (sometimes reluctantly) chose the fish when offered a choice on Fridays.
Speaking of making the Sign of the Cross… I remember when two of my wife’s aunties visited from a rural village in the old country. They always said a little prayer to the patron saint of car drivers (there must be one!) before getting into the “machina”.
I don’t do that, but I do carry in my wallet a small leaflet of prayers for travellers, which I read before flying, making the + at the end. And you know what? I have had people sitting beside me, non-Catholics I suppose, who have said it somehow made them feel better to see that there are still people who trust in God and look to His Holy Church for their strength and their salvation.
And that, dear Reader, is my point. Don’t be afraid to let your Catholic faith show. Bear witness to your faith to encourage others, believers and non-believers alike. You don’t have to dress or act “funny”. A simple and effective way to be a “visible Catholic” is by making the Sign of the Cross. You can do it in private — every time you pray — or in public, at any appropriate time (and there are many), as a profound expression of your love for God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.