[dropcap type=”4″]A[/dropcap] recent Facebook discussion regarding tattoos left me thinking about the gift of mercy. A professor at a prestigious university posted that his more brilliant, bound-for-success students all had one thing in common: nary a tattoo among them.

Joyce Coronel is interim managing editor of The Catholic Sun and author of “A Martyr’s Crown.” Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.
Joyce Coronel is interim managing editor of The Catholic Sun and author of “A Martyr’s Crown.” Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.

There were dozens of snarky comments posted beneath that musing, with many claiming that people with multiple tattoos are basically lost souls in search of meaning. Others lamented how distasteful the trend is.

I don’t have a tattoo and I don’t think I ever will. And I’ll be honest: when I see someone whose arms and legs are covered in ink, it scares me a bit.

That said, I have a different view of the modern inking phenomenon than many readers of this column might suspect. It’s partly rooted in my love for a young man who is dear to me, a twenty-something with three tattoos. One of them, to my horror, spells out “Mom.” Uh — that’s me.

Am I pleased about this beloved son’s tattoos? No. Do I hope he’ll get more? No. Do I think I’ll eventually accept them? Never. Ever. And yet, I try my best not to be horrified by them. Why? Chalk it up to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” These are the words St. Paul wrote to the early Christian community, reminding them of God’s great mercy.

When we think of God in all His majesty and glory and purity, we are awestruck by the realization that He sent His only Son to be born in the humble stable in Bethlehem, to live among us as a Man, and to die on the cross for our wretched sins.

We don’t deserve His extravagant mercy, and yet we receive it. Compared to His great goodness and beauty, our sins are indeed horrifying.

What did Jesus do during His three years of ministry? He rescued the woman caught in adultery; he dined with a thieving tax collector; He allowed a woman of low reputation to anoint His feet with her tears. And, He saved His sharpest criticism for the Pharisees who were so busy condemning others, they failed to see their own need to repent.

I don’t have a tattoo and I don’t think I ever will. And I’ll be honest: when I see someone whose arms and legs are covered in ink, it scares me a bit.

It wasn’t that He condoned wrongdoing. Far from it. He told the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more.” But He reached out to her. He welcomed her. And it was His love that ultimately healed her.

Now that, dear readers, is what Pope Francis is challenging us to do. The Gospel must be lovingly preached to all nations, to all peoples. That guy at the gas station with the tattoos all over his neck and hands? He might not be sitting next to you in church on Christmas Eve.

So how will the tattoo-covered man or woman receive the saving message of Jesus Christ if they don’t attend church? The answer is simple: from us.

I think of St. Francis and his experience of kissing the leper. In modern times, there is treatment for leprosy, known today as Hansen’s Disease, but in the 13th century, sufferers were ostracized, even hated. Yet when Francis kissed a man disfigured by leprosy, he tasted sweetness. That sweetness is the unmistakable love of God.

Once you’ve encountered that kind of love and mercy, you experience the deep healing that the human heart, so wounded by sin, longs for. We all need that kind of love. For some of us, it might seem more obvious, but of this I am certain: every single human soul has been wounded by sin and stands in need of the healing love of Christ.

As Christmas approaches and we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, come to save a sinful world, we must acknowledge our desperate need for the love of God in families and in our world. And we ourselves are to be the ambassadors of Christ.

What about you? How are you helping to bring the love of God to a broken world? How are you meeting Jesus in His most distressing disguise? Let us walk with Jesus of Nazareth and Pope Francis in this journey toward healing during Advent.

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