We Have Many Disguises, But God Made Us to See Him Face to Face

‘In prayer, we see all things in the light of Christ; we let our masks fall and immerse ourselves in the truth and in listening to God, feeding the fire of love.’ —Pope Benedict XVI

Attendees wear traditional masks at the 2010 Carnevale in February 2010 in Venice, Italy.
Attendees wear traditional masks at the 2010 Carnevale in February 2010 in Venice, Italy. (photo: Frank Kovalchek / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0)

A friend told me that her little boy went as a zebra for Halloween, or as he put it, “a black-and-white neigh-neigh.” The child already knows it’s great fun to occasionally don a mask, and Halloween always presents a fine opportunity.

Her comment spurred me to reflect on the masks I’ve worn during my life. I started out as a plump baby, staring morosely through the bars of my playpen in the front yard. According to family legend, neighbors would exclaim over my cuteness, and I would startle them by uttering a word learned from my sister: “Dope!”

One of my first roles in life was being a copycat. When my sister ordered chocolate ice cream, so did I, and when she wanted a new toy, I clamored for one too. In short order, my uncle dubbed me with a nickname that survived down through the years: “Me too.”

Later photos show a dutiful Catholic schoolgirl, attired in crisp, pressed uniforms and spotless saddle oxfords. This girl said her Rosary, went to Mass and lit votive candles for the souls in purgatory, including her pet turtles.

Unfortunately, the trappings of my life changed radically when I traipsed off to the University of Florida to study English and philosophy. Donning the mask of atheism with a vengeance, I traded my rosary beads for peace symbols and my prayer book for Marxist tomes.

When God gently drew me back to him years later, it wasn’t through arguments found in philosophy textbooks, but rather the everyday details of the heart. A few years after we married, my husband went on a business trip to New York City and stopped at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to light votive candles for my parents, who had died before I met him.

He was a non-believer and had never set foot in a Catholic church, so when he came home and reported this to me, I was stunned. I was also mortified when I realized I’d never prayed for my parents’ souls. At that moment, the mask of atheism started to fall away. Shortly after, I began reading a book that had sat untouched on my shelves for years. It was “Seven Storey Mountain,” Thomas Merton’s stirring tale of his conversion, and I suspected it hadn’t caught my eye by chance.

Before long, I was on my knees in a Catholic church with a simple request: “Help me to believe.” God answered that heartfelt prayer, and soon I began going to Mass with my husband at my side. When we sang “Amazing Grace,” I couldn’t hold back the tears because how true it was that “God saved a wretch like me.”

Sometimes I deeply regret the masks I wore in my younger years. I drank too much, partied too heartily and dabbled in drugs. In my avid atheism, I was similar to St. Paul, who had hated Christians. In my partying, I was like St. Augustine, who as a young man broke all the rules.

Then I remember that in God’s eyes, a thousand years pass in a second. Perhaps when he gazes at us, he sees instantly all the masks we’ve worn. He sees us in the playpen, he sees us at the parties and he sees us on our knees in church.

Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” It has taken a long time to discover the person who truly exists beneath the masks. She is God’s beloved daughter, who has been forgiven for all the disguises of her life. How true it is that “I was blind, but now I see.”