Actor Mark Wahlberg went on TODAY on Ash Wednesday to remind everyone how very Catholic he is, appearing for the televised interview with cross drawn in ash on his forehead. This is a common tradition among devout Catholics on this particular day, which marks the beginning of Lent — a 40-day period of reflection and self-denial leading up to Easter during which you’re supposed to give up something you enjoy.
The ash cross is meant to be a reminder that you came from dust and you will become dust again in the grand Catholic tradition of being a giant bummer.
Wahlberg appeared on TODAY to talk about his faith and finding a “balance” between honoring his beliefs in an environment where they’re not as common and not making all his non-Catholic coworkers uncomfortable about it.
“I don’t want to jam it down anybody’s throat, but I do not deny my faith,” he said. “That’s an even bigger sin. You know, it’s not popular in my industry, but I cannot deny my faith. It’s important for me to share that with people. But, I have friends from all walks of life and all different types of faiths and religions, so it’s important to respect and honor them as well.”
He says he has the same policy with his kids, remarking that he doesn’t make them participate in the same Catholic rituals that he does regularly, but exposes them to the practice. This is more or less in line with the teachings of Jesus, although the Bible is — as with many things — a little contradictory on the subject.
Certain passages in the Bible condemn making big shows of one’s faith, and it could be argued that this is what Wahlberg is doing here. But it also tells people to go forth and “make disciples of all nations,” so it’s complicated. However, many Christians interpret Jesus’ teachings to mean that they should be informing people about their religion, but shouldn’t be pushy about it. What exactly constitutes “pushy” is, of course, also up for interpretation.
Wahlberg went on to speak about the benefits he gets from giving things up for Lent, all the way to partial fasting.
“God knows the things that he wants you to detach from,” he said. “We all know those things that make us feel guilty, don’t make us feel as good as we should. So [it’s about] being able to detach from those things and focus on good habits as opposed to bad habits.”
“Once I started getting into movies and transitioned from music, I realized I needed a lot of discipline in my life, and that discipline has afforded me so many other things.”
In addition to being about discipline and focusing on one’s faith, Lent is also often thought of as a form of penance for past misdeeds. Wahlberg stacked up a list of horrific and racists assaults during his youth, including chasing three Black children down the street with his friends while screaming racial slurs at them, only to throw slurs and rocks at a group of Black fourth graders the next day.
Less than two years later, he randomly attacked two Vietnamese-American men in one day while spouting various racist statements and epithets.
Opinions are varied on the content of this interview, but a common theme has emerged about TODAY’s decision to call Lent “Mark Wahlberg’s 40-Day Challenge.”