Actor Mark Wahlberg recently opened up about the importance of Lent and what his Catholic faith means to him before a nationwide audience.
“It’s everything,” the 51-year-old said of his faith Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show. “God didn’t come to save the saints, he came to save the sinners. We’ve all had things and issues in our lives, and we want to be better versions of ourselves and, through focusing [on] my faith, it’s allowed me to do that.”
Both Wahlberg’s words and appearance witnessed to his faith: He wore ashes in the sign of the cross on his forehead, for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
“The world affords you a lot of comfort, but we’re not made for comfort; we’re made for greatness,” he continued. “And in order to be [for] greatness, we got to be in the fight to get the rewards.”
Wahlberg, named one of Our Sunday Visitor’s 2022 Catholics of the Year, appeared on the show as a guest narrator and paid spokesperson for the Catholic prayer app Hallow. Catholics may also know him for producing and starring in “Father Stu,” a 2022 film that tells the story of a former boxer-turned-priest.
Speaking on NBC, Wahlberg said that he has never tried to hide his faith.
“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. It’s not popular in my industry, but I cannot deny my faith.”
This Lent, he is participating in Hallow’s Pray40 Lent challenge where he will provide a “Fasting Motivation and Challenge.”
For the show’s viewers, Wahlberg also provided a fasting motivation. While Catholics fast and abstain from meat at different points during Lent, the actor emphasized that the 40-day season is about more than giving up food.
“There are many, different elements to fasting. … If you have issues with food, there are other things,” he said. “God knows the things that he wants you to detach from. We all know those things that make us feel guilty, don’t make us feel as good as we should.”
Catholics should detach from those things, he said, and, at the same time, foster good habits.
He described discipline as one of the benefits of Lent for him.
“Once I started getting into movies and transitioned from music, I realized I needed a lot of discipline in my life,” he said. “And that discipline has afforded me so many other things…and I want to share that with people — so whether that’s with fasting, working out more, detaching from other things, and just spending more time with God in prayer or in thoughtful reflection.”
As with his friends, the father of four said that he does not want to force his faith on his children.
“I want them to gravitate toward it in a very natural way,” he said. “I want them to understand that dad has to start his day by getting on his hands and his knees. And no matter where I am, the priority on Sunday is to go to church.”
A media nun’s response
Pauline Sister Nancy Usselmann, who serves as the director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, applauded Wahlberg for opening up about his faith as a Hollywood actor.
“I think it’s fabulous that someone with celebrity status shares about their beliefs publicly,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “We need more of that. We cannot be ashamed of the Gospel.”
She encouraged all Catholics to follow his example.
“Mark says he will not deny his faith. Can we all say the same?” she asked. “It’s a clarion call to every Catholic to speak out about what their relationship to Christ means in their everyday lives.”
Usselmann agreed with Wahlberg’s Lenten message. Lent, she said, is a “perfect time to address those areas of our lives that drag us down.”
“Focusing on good habits, or virtues, is what strengthens our relationship with God,” she explained. “Lent is not just about giving up things, but is especially about drawing closer to Christ through prayer, sacrifice, and growth in virtue.”
The Lenten season, she added, is also a perfect time to reassess and live what Catholic priests often say when they place ashes on the foreheads of the faithful: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
“To believe means that we trust in Christ the Word made flesh and, as his followers, we witness to the world that there is something more we desire than what this world can offer,” she said.
Usselmann expanded on the meaning behind Wahlberg’s words about greatness.
“Yes, we are made for greatness in and through Christ who leads us to eternal life,” she said. “That’s the purpose of our lives–to love God and live so as to be with him forever in heaven. That’s the greatness of our baptismal call as Catholics.”
“Praise God,” she added, “that someone like Mark can remind Catholics of our awesome vocation and so influence the culture for good.”
Katie Yoder is a Contributing Editor to Our Sunday Visitor.