Tag Archives: Discernment

Tattoo or not Tattoo

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jesus-tattoo-by-dennis-wehler-728x868Let me lay all my biases out from the beginning:   This opinion comes from both a Catholic/Faith perspective, but also deeply on my own opinion of tattoos.   And I have yet to hear any argument that has convinced me that getting a tattoo – especially one of visual prominence – makes any sense whatever.   I think they are stupid, pure and simple.   I know that rankles people, but I have a right to my opinion.   So, I’m going to be evaluating the question from the perspective of someone coming from a good, Catholic, family who is debating the relative merits of getting a tattoo, but wanted to make clear my initial bias in this question.   I admit I will not be able to refuse my opinion of it from my personal bias, and actually I am not even going to try all that hard to do so, because quite honestly I think the reason I already feel that way (and always have) is because I did the more balance, honest evaluation of their merits years and years ago.

So, anyway, my wife has these occasional get-togethers with other homeschooling Catholic moms.   The families range in various sizes and in various stages of where they are in life.    Some have large families (8+ kids) with some kids already graduated and in adulthood, and it goes all the way down to those with a couple young kids just getting rolling.

Without exception, every family takes their faith life seriously, and it is important to them to pass on their Catholic faith to their children.   Of course, we all have our own approaches and styles, and one could debate the strategy of trying to make this happen all day long.  Ultimately, all this really tells me is that none of us our perfect and it shows the importance of relying on God all the more in our journey as parents.   One of my favorite little prayers to utter is “God, please help these kids turn out OK despite my own stupidity and laziness.”

One of the moms is struggling a bit because her 2nd oldest son has a couple tattoos.   And now the third one has a sizeable tattoo on his forearm and wants to get one on his other forearm.    She has tried to argue for why this isn’t a good idea, and as is typical of young men, they think they know better than their mom.    Now, these young men, to my knowledge, have not strayed in their Catholic faith, still find it important, and still practice it.   They do not see any conflict with the faith and getting a tattoo.

And this is where my opinion comes in.

First, let me be clear.    I do not think, nor will I suggest, that there is anything intrinsically evil or sinful with tattoos.   Like many things, the real question is a matter of what is driving someone to do something.   But I do think that someone really needs to be honest with themselves in evaluating why they want a tattoo if they are indeed considering one.   This shouldn’t be problematic – we really should do this with everything we do.  Why do a I want ten million dollars?   Because I want to give it away to the poor or because I want to have an easy life with little or no responsibility?   Most of us would fall somewhere in between those two extremes, and while most of us aren’t going to get ten million dollars it’s still a worthy mental exercise to go through an honest evaluation and promise yourself and God what it is you would plan to do with it if it ever happened.\

Here are my opinions and responses to some of the clever (or not so clever) arguments on the matter.

  • Argument: Getting a tattoo today is like getting your ear pierced years ago.   It has become much more accepted, and is not looked at as a big deal.    Full disclosure – I got my ear pierced in my college days.   I was in a rock band, admittedly liked the looks of it, and I did it.   I don’t even regret it.   I thought it looked cool.   There was no more motivation behind it than that.   But I am not being a hypocrite here, in my opinion, with that comparison.   Because even back then, I considered the questions, and even then there were people getting tattoos and doing all sorts of other things.    I knew and considered that at any time this was reversible.   I knew that at some point in my life, I may well consider the wearing of an earring silly or immature.    I knew I could take it out at any time if the situation called for it without needing to mask it.    It may or may not have been a dumb thing to do, and I may or may not have had other opinions of me diminished because of it, but the impact was minimal.    Also, I could switch it up for the right occasion – a simple stud for normal wear or something gaudier for a show, or nothing at all for a trip to the parents who I knew didn’t love it.    So, I get the comparison, and the social attitude may be comparable, but the reality of what you are doing is not comparable.
  • Argument: But <insert morally upright individual> has one, and if he has one, it can’t be all that bad!     In Catholic circles, the argument du jour is Father Stan Fortuna , who is a Catholic Priest with tattoos.    OK, this is always a stupid argument for many reasons, and I’ll address why.   Before I do, let me go on record as not intending in any way to disparage Father Stan Fortuna.   I honestly have no qualms about him doing what he does or having a tattoo – again, he knows why he does.    But whenever someone points to “a” person as the example among a sea of counterexamples, it is in no way an honest argument.   If you are truly going to make your life decisions based on the example of others, then you don’t look for exceptions to justify your own behavior.   You look for what the majority of people are doing that you admire and respect.   Exceptions are just that – exceptions.   And there’s a reason why they are exceptions.   Now, lest you think I am making an argument about just following the crowd, that’s misreading what I am saying.   Being a devout Catholic in and of itself is already not following the crowd.   But once you commit yourself, then you do want to follow the examples of other devout Catholics.    Most importantly, Venerables, Blesseds, Saints, and the other holy men and women we meet in our life should be very important role models, emulators, and mentors for us.   We should follow this crowd whenever the question is something that has a moral or spiritual component to it.    And in this case, the vast majority of examples in this group have not littered their body with tattoos.   Exceptions exist, of course.   But you have to acknowledge the predominant behavior and consider why that is the case.   And it is  a much stronger case.
  • Permanence Matters: My opinion.   But while young people don’t like to consider getting older or meeting other people or needing to be a good example for future children and all that, time moves quickly.   I’m 48 and I can still very clearly remember my high school and college days.   I remember how I thought about things, felt about things…   young people today have a difficult time thinking we can relate but I can tell you those youthful memories are very clear – we do get it.    I may think it’s stupid to color your hair pink, or pierce your nose, or wear some of the clothes you wear.   And I may argue why those things are stupid, and you may ignore me because I’m older and I don’t get it (even though I generally thought the same thing when I was young).    But ten years from now you won’t have that hair color any more, you probably won’t have the nose piercing, and you won’t be wearing those same clothes.   Because you’ll grow and mature and change the way you think, and for your own reasons decide that it’s time to move on from that experimentation.    But you ink a huge Eagle – or even a Cross – on your forearm or your back and it’s there forever unless you go through the agonizing and expensive experience of having it removed.    To not even rationally consider this element of getting a tattoo shows a lack of maturity and foresight, in my opinion.
  • Desecration of the Temple matters: OK, I want to reiterate that the heart is what matters.   And someone may really think and believe that they have a good reason for doing what they are doing.   And they may even think God likes them getting a religious tattoo.   But God still made you the way you are – without them.    Relating this to permanence, you are purposely changing yourself.    Others may disagree with me, but this smacks of someone thinking that they can improve upon what God has made you.    This isn’t trying to keep you healthy or fix a medical condition.   It’s fundamentally changing the intended design of who you are and how you were made.   Sure, it may be cosmetic in nature, but it’s also readily apparent for all to see.
  • Size matters: I am against all tattooing, but like all other things of questionable nature there is scale as well to consider.   If I see someone with a pierced nose, I may think it unnecessary and a bit silly, and I don’t really get the draw, but it’s not an overwhelming shock.    If I see someone with a nose, lip, eyebrow, and cheek pierced I am going to form an unfavorable opinion of that person in some way.   I try not to be judgmental, and I am not supposed to judge the heart, and I try my best not to.   But this person is also bringing a bit of this upon themselves by publicly mutilating their body.    My judgment isn’t really one about the salvation of the person.  It is more a general feeling that something is really missing in this person’s life that they are trying desperately to fill.    Others may go to other unfavorable thoughts of what that person might be like it.   And you can lecture as much as you want about that being wrong, but it is also human nature, and quite frankly it’s not 100% wrong.   We are given the discernment to separate out right from wrong and right things from wrong things.   Without even judging the heart of a person, I am not going to apologize for knowing that there is something wrong or problematic about the actual act and display of getting multiple piercings.   I will just try not to jump to conclusions about the person – though it can be very hard to separate the two.      Likewise, I could probably live with a small tattoo that may have some unknown personal meaning, but the more there are and the bigger they are is going to directly impact my first impression of you.   And as to the argument that it’s my problem and not yours, that’s dead to me.   Sure, any judgment may be my problem to an extent, but it’s also yours.   Whether endearing yourself to future in-laws, applying for work, making new friends, etc.  these things are all your problem.   And unless you never judge anyone for anything, you can’t expect others to act any differently.   And if nobody ever judges anything, then God help us all.

I could actually go on.   Believe it or not, there are still additional points I could make.   But I’ll leave it to this last thing:

  • Find older people in your Church who you know to be faithful people, who also have predominant tattoos. Get to know them and then ask them if they are glad they have them.     I have done this on a few occasions, and in most cases there is regret.   In some cases there is acceptance that they did what they did and it doesn’t bother them.    In no cases yet have I heard anyone thrilled to death about how great their tattoo is, and they’d do the same thing all over again, and only regret that they don’t have more.

 

Of course, I could be completely wrong.

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Discerning Private Revelation – New and Old

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Those of you who have followed me in the past know that I am very interested in Catholic Prophecy.   It is fascinating to read some of the prophetic messages of past Saints, Marian Apparitions, and the like.    You will also know that I have a somewhat bi-polar relationship with prophecy.   I fully and embrace the reality of prophecy and prophetic messages, but am also pretty skeptical by nature.

In the past I have noted what I believe to be one of the seminal works on the subject, “Trial, Tribulation, and Triumph” by Desmond A. Birch.    The reason I am as fond as I am about this work is that he takes my own preferred approach to the subject.   There is not whimsical adherence to random prophetic utterances.   Instead, he starts with key statements about what private revelation is, rooted in the Catechism.   He then lays the groundwork for what he decided to consider in presenting different statements or writings:   if a Church approved apparition, or if the statement came from a venerable, blessed, or Saint then these statements carry more weight and are the focus of the book.

There is no statement for or against anyone else using this approach, but it is the safest approach to take.

Interestingly, and not surprisingly, there are many common themes that run throughout the book, and across the words of many Saints of many different times.    One might wonder if the writings are really their own revelations or if they were simply instructional teachings, learned from others.   I think it’s a fair question, but for the most part I believe the statements were from personal and private revelations of one type or another.

Perhaps more surprisingly (or not to some) is that there are many degrees of variations provided in prophetic messages that aren’t always easily reconciled.    And this is where things get murky.    First of all, Private Revelation can never rise to the level of Public Revelation.   There is no guarantee of protection from error on any number of fronts:   Did the seer hear or see something incorrectly?   Did the seer misinterpret what they saw?   Did the seer repeat the message properly?    Is there possible translation error into other languages, either explicitly or in a contextual sense?   Was the prophecy conditional (meaning the outcome has since changed based on our response to God’s warning embedded in a message?)      And, there is always the possibility that the person simply did not receive a real message of divine origin at all, or conflated a real message with some confabulation or other assumptions made.

Because of this, we need to both take seriously the prophetic, but also be very careful and discerning.

In the past, I’ve openly mused about Medjugorje.   I have never understood why it would be necessary for messages to be given/received over and over and over with very little differentiation in the message from day to day, week to week…   Having said that, I simply don’t know, and one can’t deny the stories about experiences at Medjugorje.    I’m completely open and uncommitted on that.    It simply doesn’t make sense to me, but I also know I’m a simple man and God doesn’t always make “sense” to me.   So I choose to await the Church on this one.

There are numerous other cases around the world of interest.   I am generally both interested, but skeptical, of most of them.    I choose not to spend too much of my time on them.

Every now and then you start to hear a lot about this person or that person.   Usually, in my opinion, as you look more closely at them you can’t help but be somewhat disappointed, at least in regards to the reliability of the people and their messages.    I don’t want to judge, but part of me thinks that some people receive very strong feelings or promptings that lead them to develop a message that seems divine or prophetic.   Perhaps it even is.   My sense is people have to guard against an almost addictive desire for this to continue, and move from a valid (or at least not invalid) experience to something they are forcing.   I think many of those who “receive messages” are really not, but honestly think they are.   The problem with this is that their overall message may be edifying, but the extraneous content – the more predictive elements – is nothing more than their own conjecture.

There was a series of messages that could be followed from a site called “Words From Jesus” some time ago.    It started off as somewhat intriguing, but as I checked in and tracked the messages and followed them, I personally felt strongly that this was not authentic.   Again, it was a case of message after message with not dissimilar warnings of a general nature, which may well have been something authentic.   But any time the visionary ventured into specifics about upcoming events or outcomes, or even some specific prophecies of the Pope, they never really happened.    One must be willing to walk away from something and not get too involved to the point that you can’t recognize error, whether in teaching or in more specific prophecy.   You can’t get too emotionally involved or you risk being misled.   Focus on the message and the character of the person and the rest wil take care of itself.

Another more pronounced example is a supposed seer in Brazil, named Pedro Regis.   A big deal was made some time ago because he accurately predicted some devastating circumstance in this place or that place.  It was compelling to me until I studied him further.    I went back to the beginning of his documented messages, and interestingly I found that his early messages were all very vague and unspecific.   There was very little actual “prophecy” in terms of forecasting future events.   As time went on, there seemed to me to be a distinct shift in message to more of a constant declaration of some bad thing happening somewhere at some point.    The issue I have is that he’s bound to get some right, and people made a big deal out of it when he did, but there are endless messages regarding different regions or countries or cities that nothing of the sort has happened.    Now, there’s usually not timeline, so I suppose it could all come to pass, but the next question is “what’s the point?”    OK, on a daily basis we’re told that some specific area of the world is going to suffer catastrophe.    Theoretically, I suppose it could all happen at the same time.   So why not just say “look, you’re all hosed unless you pray more.”

Now, again, I admit to being simple.   God has a plan.    He may be trying to reach others and this may all make perfect sense in the spiritual realm and doing what it’s supposed to do.   I have no authority whatever in making a judgment of authenticity one way or another.   I have my opinions, and will always state that opinion with the caveat that I will accept the truth whether that comes as a judgment from the Church or God someday whacking me upside the head and saying “How could you not figure out that good ol’ Pedro was my servant?”   I will have no good reply other than I’m human and thick-headed.

To end this post, I’ll start with this:   Be careful out there.   Take it slow, don’t get caught up in a single message or “direct hit,” but take your time to read up on anyone you might start to get interested in following (I use that term a bit loosely – I mean “follow” in the sense of keeping tabs on or learning more about, or even getting to know.   But never follow someone to the detriment of following Christ and His Church).

Now, having said all that, I plan on presenting my thoughts on a man named Charlie Johnston in some upcoming posts.    I have taken a number of months to read over his entire blog history, and try to figure out what he’s saying, where he’s coming from, and whether anything he says makes me uncomfortable in the context of Public Revelation, the Catechism, and what I would consider to be the more authentic messages of the Saints.   I can’t promise when I’ll be able to present my thoughts, but I’ll start putting those together.

Random Reflections for the 2012 Summer Solstice

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Happy Summer!

Well, I’ve been a bit tied up lately and needed to make the choice that the blog here was a lower priority than a lot of other work that had to be done in both my personal and professional life. But I thought I’d just offer a personal reflection today.

Our lives are truly amazing. I sometimes find it difficult to find God in the work I do, but He is there. He has given me the skills and abilities to provide for my family. I was called to be a husband and father and never felt the call to religious life. To be fair, when I was younger I didn’t spend a great deal of time in discernment over it, but I do recall always feeling pulled towards married life. My education and circumstance has led to doing work for an insurance company. My job is beneficial to society and I put in an honest day’s work, but I can remember struggling a bit with the idea that, as I started really blossoming in my faith, that I wasn’t “doing more.” In other words, I almost thought I should feel called to some sort of ministry instead of a secular job. But I didn’t. So, I almost questioned my seriousness of faith because I thought I should feel called but actually didn’t feel called. A wise Priest friend of mine basically called me an idiot (in a nice way) and pointed out that we just need to be the best Catholics everywhere we are, and that the world needs good Catholics everywhere. Not that my company is unethical or dishonest – they aren’t – but I can help make sure that it stays that way. Further, God has blessed me with the ability in my work to provide for my family in such a way that my wife stays home and homeschools. I learned during this time to not look a gift horse in the mouth, and accept the blessings God has provided. Further, just to make sure I’m where I need to be, we pray as a family often for the ability to hear and understand and respond to God’s call in our lives. God can request a change in direction at any time, and we need to be ready.

At Mass last Sunday we heard about the mustard seed. I couldn’t help but think about my own gardens. I have not discussed it much here, but we have a somewhat massive gardening operation. It is a lot of hard work, and I start most of the plants we grow in a little greenhouse. Very few things help me to recognize the miracle of God’s creation like saving a seed from one of last year’s tomatoes and then planting it and watching it grow to yield a large plant with numerous tomatoes and countless other seeds. One tiny seed not only yields fruit, but also yields so many seeds within those fruit that you could literally cover the earth with tomato plants within a handful of generations of plants if you had enough people to harvest them and plant them and nurture them. This is unmistakeably miraculous, but it is so commonplace in our lives that we don’t give it a second thought – until you start toiling and working and thinking. And yes, I do have a mustard plant…

Youth baseball is coming to an end, and this is an occasion of praise! 🙂 The 9 year old has games on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while the 7 year old has games on Mondays and Wednesdays. Both love it and we are thankful to be able to provide this activity for them, but it really does creat havoc with the summer schedule, so we are always happy to see it end. The rest of the summer can now be freed up for more camping activities and other things.

I am, God-willing and time-able, planting the seeds for recording a new CD. I plan on focusing on Catholic prayers and devotions for this one, with some other stuff as well, but probably not incorporating much of the harder-driving music that I love to do. But I really want to focus on this. I also want to pull in a lot of talented people I know to be involved in it as well. Lots of visions and plans, but we’ll see where it goes. It’s not a top priority, but hope to steal time here and there. I would also like to find time to upload more songs from my last CD to youtube, and will be sure to link to any that I do.

In case you’re a late-arriver to this blog and have not seen/heard the three music youtube vids to songs on my CD, here are the links:

https://catholicdiatribes.wordpress.com/2010/05/02/holy-water-on-youtube/
https://catholicdiatribes.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/i-dream-of-heaven/
https://catholicdiatribes.wordpress.com/2010/08/04/quiet-time/

Yes, it really has been almost 2 years since I uploaded them, and have done NOTHING since. Shame on me. I’ll try to get some more up.

Blessings to all of you. I’ll try to get back into the prophetic walk through the Catechism shortly.