My Faith

He Trusted in the Cross: the Addicted Saint

Did you know most people who pay for maid service end up cleaning their houses basically the entire day before the maids come? Isn’t that silly? I never understood it- the idea that they’d have to make things presentable for the ones who were literally coming to help with the mess. And yet… how often do we do the same thing with God? Do we think we have to stop sinning so often or get our lives together (whatever that even means) before we can really come before Him? Yes, He’s the ultimate healer, and we get that (or at least we think we do), but right now…we’re just too messy. Too broken. Too sinful. Too lost. Too far gone.

When I’m tempted to believe those lies, I think about one of my new favorite saints, Mark Ji Tianxiang.

 

Image from “Saints Every Catholic Hipster Needs to Know About

So who is this guy?

Talk about hopeless: Mark was an addict. You might be thinking, “Oh, if he’s a saint, God must’ve appeared to him and healed his addiction or something. That’s nice.” Nope. Maybe now you’re thinking, “Well, he must’ve spent a lot of time in prayer and fasting, and through his dedication, beat the addiction.” Yes, he was dedicated to both but no again.

Mark lived in China in the late 1800s and was given opium to treat a terrible stomach illness; following that initial exposure, he developed a lifelong addiction. Sometimes addiction starts festering that simply — out of no wrongdoing of the future addict, just an initial exposure that increases over time.

If you think drug addictions are taboo nowadays, imagine nineteenth century China. Think about the shame he must’ve carried, not just internally, but externally as his struggle was public, and he was looked down upon in his community- sadly, even in his church.

At the time, his priest (and really most of the world) didn’t understand addiction. So he was told not to return to confession until he could resolve to stop. (Before I continue, I want to emphasize that if you struggle with addiction, please keep frequenting the confessional as often as you need. Be open about your battles. In this sacrament, our Lord will give you additional grace to fight them.)

Unfortunately, St. Mark Ji Tianxiang didn’t have that luxury of frequenting the sacrament. In fact, he wasn’t able to receive any sacraments as his sins prevented him from receiving the Eucharist (which when received in the state of grace, also provides countless graces and strength in struggles). So he was a public scandal in his own church and unable to receive the Eucharist for thirty years. That hurts me to think about.

But then he was healed, right? Well, maybe not in the way you think.

Feeling as if he could never be freed of his addiction, Mark prayed to be a martyr for the faith. He didn’t know any other way to be a saint in his current state.

In 1900, his prayer was answered. Boxer Rebels gathered up Christians, including Mark and his family. On the way to their martyrdom, his grandson asked, “Grandpa, where are we going?” In the most beautiful answer possible in such a scenario, he responded “We’re going home.”

Mark then begged captors to kill him last so none of his family would have to die alone. After watching them all be killed, he went to his own death singing the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He died a heroic death. But he also died an addict.

Can you relate?

I don’t know if you struggle with repeatedly falling into the same vice(s). I don’t know if you struggle with what you fear may be (or know is) addiction. Drugs, alcohol, pornography, video games, the internet, even food (just to name a few)- there’s A LOT out there.

I know personally that fighting addiction is hard. It’s a lot more than just working hard to stop. Your brain is quite literally changed from it.

But in that difficulty, in all the parts that are less in your control than any of your other decisions, it sure is easier to be hard on yourself. To start really believing those lies I mentioned earlier.

As hard as the struggle from addiction or even habitual sin is, it’s almost just as hard to remain faithful to God. Instead, the feeling of being trapped in sin, enslaved to whatever those pleasures are takes over. The guilt of this cycle can be almost unbearable. The hope lost from each fall almost suffocating. Because all the while you know you’re called to more- you want more- but you don’t know how to stop or if you even can.

Responding to God’s Mercy

Maybe you’ve felt this way with an actual addiction, or even just a sin you can’t seem to overcome. Maybe you’re scared to go to Confession. Maybe you’ve been going but keep falling, and you just don’t know what to do. Take comfort in one of my favorite quotes from Pope Francis: “The Lord never tires of forgiving. It is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.” And take comfort that the Church, in her infinite wisdom, canonized an addict.

If you’re struggling with addiction, I’m not saying you should pray for martyrdom (although instant sainthood is always a win), but I am saying you should keep praying. Beg our Lord for strength and help. Don’t be afraid to come before Him, completely broken. He longs to heal you and bring you to new life.

Finding Freedom

There is a common misconception, though, that addicts should just pray, and if they’re good enough Christians or if they pray hard enough, the addiction will go away. If you’ve been told that or even just felt like that, I’m sorry for the pain this must’ve caused. Please know that the Church supports and encourages getting help — receiving counseling, treatment, and/or whatever is needed. While prayer is important, it’s typically not the only solution to anything. Prayer and action go together for a reason.

In the 1800s, St. Mark wouldn’t have had resources for his addiction, but thankfully, we do. Please don’t be afraid or ashamed to pursue them. It doesn’t show weakness but rather, immense strength.

If you’re dealing with addiction, know that you’re not alone. Right now, looking upon the face of almighty God, you have a powerful intercessor who understands your struggle in a real and personal way. Take advantage of this heavenly friend and ask him to pray for you.

St. Mark’s battle might not have been won on this earth, but yours can be. Because of Christ’s victory on the cross, you can have hope. You can be redeemed. And God can make something beautiful out of your deepest, darkest sins (even if they’re known to you and Him alone). Think about the beauty that came out of St. Mark Ji Tianxiang’s weakness and brokenness. Know that similar (but unique) beauty can come from yours, whatever it is.

About the Author

Cassie Sadie

Hi! I’m Cassie. I’m from Sweet Home Alabama, discovering how fun it actually is to be Catholic in Bible Belt Central. I’m a mama’s girl (@Mary) who functions off a whole lotta Divine Mercy and chocolate. I’m also a wannabe runner, but really it’s more of a penitential experience. Keep up with me on Instagram @cassopatra and Twitter @comcatholicgrl.