G.K. Chesterton said, “Stare at a familiar thing until it begins to look strange; then you’ll be seeing it for the first time.”
“And now Lord, I turn my face to you, and raise my eyes toward You.” Tobit 3:12
The human face is a wonder of God’s creation. Although we are all the same species, each face is unique. To me, not only does this speak of God’s unlimited creativity, but also of how special each of us is to Him. He also created our faces to express what we are feeling in our souls. And they are so important in sharing our hearts with one another. Faces are spoken of so many times in Scripture, and often in terms of our relationship with God. Our faces should be turned to God in trust, love, and hopeful expectation.
Some things we take for granted because we haven’t looked at them hard enough. So, I began staring harder, at human faces, now covered with masks. I don’t mean at individual faces, but at the idea and purpose of them. God’s idea and purpose. Then I asked myself, “What does it mean to have them covered?”
While I have my views on it, I am not going to comment on how well masks are (or are not) protecting anyone. I usually wear it when I go out anywhere, but make no judgment on anyone who doesn’t in these confusing times. So, I will leave it at that.
“…shame has covered my face.” Psalm 69:7
My focus in this post is mainly on the spiritual and psychological effects of wearing them. Oftentimes, some seemingly “good” thing can be the devil in disguise. That is his usual mode of operation, actually. So, while there may be good intentions, and reasons for why we should wear them, I also think the evil one is behind it.
Wherever you read about a face being “covered” in the Bible, it is almost always in dishonor or shame. We know how the devil works, and how he twists and manipulates things. So, I can see how causing our faces to be “covered”, even if we have no shame or dishonor before God, can please him because we appear as if we do.
Also, some of what we hear and see in these crazy times, doesn’t follow reason or even make sense. This is another classic sign of the work of the devil. I recently read a comment in which a man in my town said that he thinks if people don’t wear a mask that they should be arrested and charged with murder. And several others agreed with him! Yet many don’t see anything wrong with the killing of millions unborn children by abortion, or the sick and elderly by euthanasia, “mercy killing”. We have made murder legal. Demonic disorientation and sin cause people to become “blinded” to the truth.
“The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:44
At mass, as I look around at everyone wearing masks, separated, bound by new rules never before seen in society, let alone our Churches, I can’t help but feel that we are something like the “dead man”, and not free as we once were. We are each inside our own six-foot-taped-off island of space, not really speaking to or even acknowledging each other, looking straight ahead, not able to even show a smile to a friend. Our faces, beacons of human emotion and expression, are covered. I just feel like, in God’s house, as the One who controls everything, including the Coronavirus…Jesus would raise His hand, and say “Unbind them, and let them go!” Some will not agree, but that is how I feel.
“Lord, let your face shine upon your desolated sanctuary.” Daniel 9:17
I understand that our Bishops are doing what they think is best, with the information that they are given. I have heard them say that closing our Churches, dispensations from mass, and wearing masks and such, are extremely difficult decisions to make. And I would not want to be the one making them. But as they continue making these decisions, I beg that they remember not to put our bodies before our souls. The mass is the “source and summit” of our faith, and Jesus said that we need Him in the Eucharist in order to have His life in us! What is more essential than Jesus!?
Visiting a different parish recently for daily mass, I heard the pastor say, “Our Bishop has told us to wear the masks, and so we should, but it is a sacrifice.” And indeed it is. In a place where we should feel at peace and at home…. it feels uneasy and disconcerting. And it is happening at such a time when there is even greater need for people to feel at peace.
Yes, I know there are far worse things to suffer. But this truly is a time when God’s children need Him, and His peace! People are afraid, lonely, isolated, in despair. I know many people are suffering from anxiety right now. Returning to mass with her family, I even watched my own young granddaughter leave in tears. Experiencing the effects of a pandemic, and so many changes, anxiety overwhelmed her. This broke my heart. What we are feeling as adults can be magnified many times over for a child.
“Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.” Psalm 34:5
This priest remarked that someone recently told him that a mask makes her feel like she is hiding from Jesus. I have felt this too! There are so many references in Scripture about the face, and turning our faces toward God or away, and Him turning His face toward or away from us. When our faces are turned away from God, it is in shame or rejection of Him. This is why Adam and Eve hid after their sin. And when He turns His face away from His people, it is because He has been rejected. His face turned toward us means His blessing is upon us. And when we turn our faces to Him, it means we trust Him, and ask for His blessing.
Masks are blocking our faces, in front of God who is literally present in the Eucharist at mass. So, even if we are not in shame or rejecting Him, it feels like something is wrong. At least it does to me. And I am sure that if the evil one can’t actually cause me to be in shame before my Lord, making me feel distracted and uncomfortable is good enough.
Another thing I have wondered is if fumbling with or pulling down masks as we receive the Eucharist may cause more accidents where a Host or particles are dropped to the floor. This is a sacrilege and we should do everything possible to prevent it.
“Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” 2 John 1:12
I have noticed more often that my words in texts, emails, etc. are misconstrued. Other people I know have said the same has happened to them lately. Why this is happening more often, I am not sure, except that I think that we have taken electronic communication too far. There is something uniquely human about being face to face with someone and really talking. There is an honesty and communing of minds and hearts that can happen that is different than the written word or even a phone call, I believe. While these things are good, I think our society has grown to depend on those forms of communication like texting, and social media. People are now talking AT each other rather than WITH each other, and it has led to bitter division.
Again, all of these seemingly “good” things that we were told would bring us all closer together have come back to bite us. And wearing masks with social distancing is now keeping us from the usual face to face conversation that we are used to. So, no wonder communication is broken down further while walls of division arise.
So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This can only be sadness of the heart.” Nehemiah 2:2
If you say anything against wearing a mask, some people say that you are whining about a small thing, and just don’t care about other people. Well, I do care about other people, their bodies and their souls. Their souls are even more important because they are eternal. I feel like these restrictions, in Church especially, are affecting our souls in some way.
“Just as water reflects the face, so one human heart reflects another.” Proverbs 27:19
Instead of dismissing this as a minor thing that we should just all put up with, we may need to ask some important questions, especially if this turns out to be long term. How are wearing masks affecting us psychologically and in our relationships with each other? How will this affect our children? If this becomes the new norm, will they grow up not knowing what it is like to play, learn, and worship God in places without masks, tape, and sanitizer? With the absence of a simple smile, what affects will there be on those who are already feeling lonely and isolated? And what about those who may have been close to coming into or back to the Church, but now they don’t feel comfortable, because everything is strange. Are wearing masks making us talk to people less? Are they making us more distrusting and distant? These are some questions that have come to mind as I stared more at this.
It can’t help but make us a little anxious or disturbed when there is no end in sight. Will we be wearing masks and separated for the rest of the year? Into next year or indefinitely? No one knows.
“With every gift show a cheerful face…” Sirach 35:11
So what do we do, and where do we go from here? If we are told that we must wear masks, then let’s not let the devil accomplish his aim! Whenever I suspect the devil is behind something affecting me, I try to counter with the opposite of what he is trying to accomplish. If he is trying to dehumanize and devalue us, then we need to find more ways to show love and kindness, and pay more attention to what others may be feeling or going through. Being less focused on ourselves and our own “miseries”, helps us become more aware of others. Then we can begin to be Christ everywhere to everyone.
If the evil one is trying to keep people apart, isolated, so to lead us to hopelessness and despair, then we need to counter by being a sign of hope for others. We need to spread joy as best we can. If he is trying to “cover” our uniqueness and specialness before God, making us look and feel like we are all the same, then we need to show and use those unique and special gifts even more. And if he is trying to “shame” us before the Lord, let us be sure that there is no shame in us, by using the Sacrament of Reconciliation…often.
And we can still smile behind those masks, as witness to our trust in God’s love and care to all those that we meet.
“In the light of a king’s face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.” Proverbs 16:15
May the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be glorified in all places through the Immaculate Virgin Mary.