Assignment? Deliberately do something counter to social mores, observe reactions of those around you, and write about it in your journal.
One student – a middle-aged man with a large beer belly – went to McDonalds and ordered a Happy Meal. He asked for a boy’s toy and proceeded to sit directly in front of the counter and eat the meal himself.
Then, he played with the toy.
Another student entered an elevator and stood in front of the closed elevator doors – staring at the other people in the elevator rather than standing face-forward in silence like everyone over the age of five has learned to do.
I remember the assignment because it was extremely uncomfortable. I like to fit in. I care what people are thinking about me. I feel this crazy compulsion to explain myself to perfect strangers even when I merely suspect that my actions might not make sense to them.
I don’t like breaking social mores – ever.
I like to blend.
But the world has changed. Catholics cannot just blend in with society at large. We stand out because we stand up for Christ and His Church, and we hold to Church Teaching.
There was a time when that meant there wasn’t very much difference between Catholics and the rest of the grown-ups in the United States. Yes, there was Mary and the Pope and no-meat Fridays, but in general, we could blend.
Today, people look at us like we are a grown-up who just purchased a Happy Meal and is entertained by the toy inside. Today, people think we are as odd as the person in the elevator who faces away from the doors rather than staring at the closed doors in silence.
No college assignment required. We break social mores all of the time.
And it is kind of uncomfortable.
At a glance, our Catholic practices and beliefs don’t make sense to the public. But they do make sense. There is a Truth here that is so deep, so rich, so eternal that we must not sacrifice it to feel like one of the crowd. The stakes are too high.
Now more than ever, we must be the salt of the Earth – even if the world has lost its taste for this kind of salt.
More than ever, we must be the light of the world – even if the world likes to dance in the dark and play dangerous games with their eternal souls.
The world may like us to follow along blindly. But we cannot. The Shepherd is calling us to follow after Him.
So, we stand and face the people in the elevator when we stand up for the unborn, for holy matrimony, for chastity, for beauty, for sacrificial living, for suffering-made-holy, for the immigrant-among-us, for peace and peaceful resolutions to conflict, for the aged-and-infirm, for family meals and family values, for Mass attendance because Jesus IS waiting for us in the Eucharist. The crowds may say we are only playing with McDonaldland toys when we pick up our rosaries and light candles in the Adoration Chapel.
Get used to feeling uncomfortable under the gaze of the world. St. Paul’s prediction is upon us:
For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. II Timothy 4:3-7