A legend from the early church says that, because the first Christians were often persecuted, they did not openly identify themselves as Christians to strangers. Instead, they would draw a line on the ground. If another Christian recognized the shape of the line, they would complete it to form a fish symbol.
The fish represents an anagram for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” in Greek. That anagram also spells out the Greek word for “fish”: ICHTHYS. Once the sign was complete, the two newly-met Christians could embrace in the “holy kiss” that Paul wrote about in this past Sunday’s second reading: 2 Cor 11:11-13. We still use the fish symbol today.
This past Saturday, Appleton held its 64th annual Flag Day Parade, billed as the oldest such parade in the nation. There were bands, floats, military equipment and lots and lots of flags. On July 4, we will again see flags, parades and other symbols of our shared U.S. history.
At the Flag Day parade, there were also veterans, sprinkled throughout the crowd and identified by the caps of their service divisions or of VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) or American Legion membership.
As many veterans or active service men and women who were marching or riding in the parade passed these men and women, they would acknowledge them and often thank them for their service.
Even more striking was the acknowledgement from uniformed soldiers — many of them Marines. Standing on floats, they would stop and — slowly and formally — salute a veteran in the same manner in which they saluted the flag. It was a solemn moment each time, and many of the older veterans wiped away tears after they had returned those salutes. It was a silent but powerful “thank you for your service” — shared between people who knew exactly what price that service meant.
We live in an increasingly secular society. Christians are more and more open to ridicule when they stand up for the teachings of our faith. Even the wearing of religious symbols has been forbidden in some workplaces.
How often are our symbols of faith, or gestures — like the sign of the cross before grace in a restaurant — acknowledged with gratitude? In fact, instead, have you ever felt just a little hesitant to draw attention to yourself as being a Catholic in a public setting?
We still have religious freedom here in the United States. Unlike Catholics in some other countries, we are not being driven from our homes and even killed simply because we are Catholic or non-Catholic Christians. We don’t always realize the price of our faith.
In our American culture, we are not given to greeting each other with kisses, as people in some Europeans or Middle Eastern cultures are. So we may not be comfortable with “a holy kiss.” However, we do have other ways of acknowledging each other for service or good works.
As Catholics, perhaps we could find ways of acknowledging and supporting each other in public. We don’t need to draw fish on the sidewalk, but there are other ways to say “thank you for your service.” Perhaps it could be just a grateful nod or a smile for someone we see teaching their children to pray table grace in a restaurant. Or offer a “thank you” to a priest in clerical garb or a sister wearing a habit or other religious identification. Maybe it could just be proudly wearing a crucifix for others to see and remember. Each could be a way of showing that we proudly serve Christ.
Oh, and whenever you do any of these things, “Thank you for your service.”