Tattoos and stigmata – France Catholique

I recently saw a cartoon of a football manager urging his new recruits. After finishing her pep talk, a young rookie asked, “When do we get a tattoo?” Which got me thinking.

When I was young, very few people had tattoos. Most were sailors who, at a port of call, had an anchor tattooed on their upper arm, the word “Mom” or the name of their sweetheart back home. The most daring sailors could be tattooed with the side view of a rather “chaste” naked woman. Such is not the case today.

Over the past twenty years, tattoos have become very popular for both men and women. Moreover, they have become much more elaborate and ubiquitous – on the arms, legs, thighs, back, chest, stomach and neck – in various combinations. Likewise, there are various creative patterns – swirling patterns of multiple colors intertwined with flowers, butterflies or birds.

Although some tattoos are hideous, macabre and even demonic, many tattoos are “tasteful” and often quite attractive, even sexy – that is, if one is young and therefore with still firm skin.

Few things can be more unsightly than a tattoo on droopy, sagging, wrinkled and aging flesh. In the not too distant future, such withering tattoos will become common. Undoubtedly, there will be a demand for men’s long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and women’s dresses with long sleeves and ankle-length hemlines. Something must hide the beautiful tattoos once considered unsightly.

But why has this age become an age of tattoos? I think people who get tattoos believe they just don’t look good enough in their own birthday costume. They need to decorate themselves to make themselves more attractive – to be more attractive, especially more attractive to the opposite sex. But that brings me to my main point.

God created everything good and everything God creates is beautiful according to its nature – “what it is”. God created human beings in his image and likeness, and so human beings, by their very nature, bear the beauty of God himself – not only in mind and will, but also in body. .

By getting a tattoo, one says that God has not done a good enough job. His work needs to be improved. The biggest problem is that humanity has not tarnished its beauty by getting tattoos but by sinning – sin is the hideous mark that discolors humanity, and it is more than superficial.

As the Father created man good and beautiful by his Word – he who bears divine beauty as the Son of God – so the Father sent his Son into the world so that as man, in the flesh human, he can recreate man in his beautiful image and likeness.

*

Jesus took on our flesh marked by sin and, on the Cross, he put to death this flesh tattooed by sin. By rising from the dead, Jesus became a new creation, the new and glorious man, so that all mankind might be renewed in him – he is the firstborn of the new creation, the new Adam of a new human race.

Now, by faith and baptism, we die and rise with Christ. We reject sin-stained flesh and assume the new flesh which is the risen Lord Jesus. We are born again into the transforming life of the Holy Spirit to become children of the Father again. Thus, to make humanity more beautiful, the crucial need is not the ink of the prickly needle of the tattoo artist, but the stigmata of the Cross imprinted by the Spirit, for the Cross has overcome the sting of the dead.

Saint Paul was well aware of this cruciform truth. “Let no one trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. (Gal. 6:17) The physical marks of Jesus that Paul bore were the marks of the Cross, the marks that he died and rose again with Christ.

Such marks carried a beauty that was more than superficial. On the contrary, they showed the beauty of a man completely transformed into the image of Christ. By abiding in Christ crucified, he assumed the saving marks of the risen Christ.

The same goes for Saint Francis and Saint Padre Pio – both bearing the stigmata of Christ crucified. Seeing Francis stigmatized or Pio stigmatized is not looking at someone who simply bears the marks of death, but more so the marks of life, because they were crucified with Christ to live in Christ.

Or, better, they can proclaim with Saint Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. (Gal. 2:20) To be crucified with Christ is to die so that Christ may live in us, and we may live in him. Possessing the stigmata testifies to our unity with the crucified and risen Jesus.

Few receive the visible stigmata as Sts. Paul, Francis and Pio, we nevertheless bear all the invisible stigmata, because we too have died and risen with Christ. We can profess with Saint Paul that we boast of nothing “except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”, for in him we have become “a new creation”. (Gal. 6:14-15)

Bearing the marks of the cross is what makes each of us beautiful – a beauty that completely overshadows and even brings a note of sadness to the misdirected beauty of the tattoo.

Moreover, the marks of the Cross will never grow old; they will never sag as our body ages; we will never have to cover them. Rather, they will become more and more glorious until they fully radiate their heavenly, eternal, Spirit-filled beauty—in fellowship with Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Savior and Lord.

*Image: Saint Francis (receiving the stigmata) by Federico Barocci, ca. 1600-1604 [The MET, New York]

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