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in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

Is it a sin to get a tattoo? Some of them are really bad, but what about flowers and nice things, or religious pictures? My daughter got one on her ankle, and I think it looks cute. I was thinking of getting one too.

Outline of the Answer
• Cain’s Mark
• Tattoos: Then and Now
• By the Hand of God
• Penance

 
In the story of Cain and Abel from the book of Genesis we learn that God warned Cain to discipline his passions, but that Cain, not listening to God, and out of anger and envy, slew his brother Abel. God then put a mark upon Cain so as to indicate to other men that Cain was being punished by the hand of God and that he should not be slain by the hand of man.

No one knows what sort of mark God put on Cain. Now, some commentators claim that this mark was a tattoo and that it relates to the practice, prevalent in ancient times, of using tattoos for tribal identifications. Nevertheless, even if the mark were a tattoo, it bears a distinction that separates it from any typical tattoo.

 
Tattoos: Then and Now

A typical tattoo has one fundamental characteristic: it is placed on the individual by the hand of man—that is, it’s the work of human hands, whether those hands belong to a man or a woman.

A tattoo, therefore, signifies a social identity. Whether it serves the function of a tribal membership or whether it fulfills your idea of “nice,” it points to an identity that you choose for yourself. But notice carefully: you place this identity upon your body. And here, precisely, we come to the place where a tattoo receives it own mark as sinful.

 
By the Hand of God

God put a mark upon Cain to indicate that Cain belonged to God. Moreover, this belonging was not just a bodily belonging; it was also a belonging of soul. Cain belonged to God body and soul, and the mark pointed to this reality. As such, the mark foreshadowed another reality, a future reality.

The book of Ezekiel (9:4) tells us about the mark of the Thau (or Tau—the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet) that God Himself would put on the foreheads of those who belong to Him. This Thau therefore signifies the mark of the cross which, as a consequence of the Redemption worked by Christ, is placed on an individual at baptism to mark his or her identity as a Christian.

Note that this redemption is a gift from God and is totally unmerited on our part. There’s nothing we have to do—or can do—to earn it or be worthy of it. To be redeemed is to be rescued—rescued from sin—simply as an expression of God’s love for us. Our redemption, therefore, comes from the hand of God. It comes only from the hand of God. Any identity we have, therefore, is meaningless unless it comes from the hand of God, and so the only mark on our body that can ever legitimately identify us is the mark of baptism.

Consequently, any indelible mark that you place upon your body is the work of human hands. It identifies your body—which God intended to be a pure and chaste temple of the holy Spirit—as belonging to something other than God. Belonging to something other than God is idolatry, and so any tattoo—tribal or “cute”—is ultimately Satanic because it marks your body with the sin of idolatry, and that sin marks your soul with, well, something not very nice.

 
Penance

The fact that your daughter got a tattoo and that you approved of it points to your failure as a mother in teaching your daughter about bodily modesty. That’s a sin that you will have to repent and pay for.

As for your daughter, a tattoo cannot be easily removed by human hands; laser surgery, for example, is painful and expensive. Only the fire of Purgatory can remove a tattoo completely—and the only way for your daughter to have Purgatory do its work is for her to get there through sincere repentance. Therefore, it will first be necessary for her to acknowledge that she committed a sin by getting a tattoo; then it will be necessary for her to confess her sin; and then, for the rest of her life, she will have to pay the penance of keeping the tattoo hidden from public view, no matter what the inconvenience, lest she give scandal to others.

Read an opinion of dissent . . .

 


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Recommended Reading
 
A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites (including this webpage) is now available at your fingertips in book form.

 

Falling Families, Fallen Children by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. Do our children see a mother and a father both living in contemplative love for God with a constant awareness of His presence and engaged in an all-out battle with the evil of the world? More often than not our children don’t see living faith. They don’t see protection from evil. They don’t see genuine, fruitful devotion. They don’t see genuine love for God. Instead, they see our external acts of devotion as meaningless because they see all the other things we do that contradict the true faith. Thus we lose credibility—and when parents lose credibility, children become cynical and angry and turn to the social world around them for identity and acceptance. They are children who have more concern for social approval than for loving God. They are fallen children. Let’s bring them back.

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