The mark of discipleship

Published on 03 Jul 2019
A person writing 'You are loved' on some parchment.
Solidarity, joy, love: there are different ways the marks of Jesus on our lives become visible. Peter Gallagher SJ invites us to reflect on the effect of the divine ink in our relationships.

In our tattooing age we might miss the force of the words in Galatians: the marks on my body are those of Jesus (Galatians 6.17). Decorative inscriptions on bodies are common, but the marks (stigmata is the Greek here) which are ‘of Jesus’ are rarer. The stigmata are the wounds of Christ reproduced on the body of some saint like Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Gemma Galgani or Padre Pio. The holy stigmatists have always understood that despite their pain it was a great honour to be wounded in this Christ-like way.

There is a way in which the death of our saviour imprints itself on the life of us all. We who believe in him are his body, even though we are not yet saints and unlikely to have pilgrims flocking to look at our holy scars. What then are the marks of our commitment?

The marks of love

Our baptism marked us for Christ. At confirmation, the Holy Spirit enabled us to commit ourselves to a life to be led according to the will of God as explained to us in the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. Our life bears the marks of our love of Christ as visibly as any tattoo or stigmatum.

The Gospel invites us to share in the simplicity, even austerity, of life which is appropriate for the disciple. We are to cut down on baggage. We are not to impede our progress in the Lord’s service by our too many possessions. Our life, understood in as unadorned a way as possible, is linked to the stripping away from Jesus on Calvary of everything that had belonged to him. In all humility, our baptismal faith allows us to experience the worst things that happen to us as linked to the terrible things which happened to Christ.

Some ‘stigmatists’ among us are those who have been enabled by the love of God to live their sufferings in a visibly redemptive way. This is not so uncommon. Such brothers and sisters cope with their troubles in a way which encourages and inspires the rest of us. There is plenty of such inspiration. What they are going through is conformed to what the Lord went through to save the world. 

An offer of joy

If playing our part in the saving the whole world seems too big a project in our present trouble then let us focus more narrowly. We can offer up what is happening to us as a prayer for someone else. Those who have died are one obvious focus for this kind of generous ‘offering up’. We ask God to include them in the constructive link between the pain we present to him and the saving pains of Jesus.

Our solidarity with Christ in the plight of the least of his brothers and sister is a sharing out of the burden of pain. The Lord himself is already helping those who are suffering. However they may not be aware of that yet. Our compassion may be more visible for the moment. Our kindness may be the ‘mark’ of God’s care. It is our business to spread joy. This might begin with an effort to reduce someone’s pain. By sharing another’s trouble we might alleviate it. Fill your faithful with holy joy says the collect. On those you have rescued……you bestow eternal gladness.

In the Gospel, the Lord, speaking to the seventy-two, and surely to us, encourages to hope that our joy will not be weak. It will be more than a feeble moderation of our sadness. Jesus said I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Yes I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you. Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven (Luke 10.18-20). As disciples of Jesus we are strong against the evil one. We certainly would be if we could bring ourselves to trust in the power of God acting in his Son. Those ‘worst moments’ which can redeem and contribute to redemption are awaiting our proper understanding of them.

Sometimes our joy is under threat from sadness, melancholy or depression. Jesus Christ does not rebuke our gloom by telling us to snap out of it or to cheer up or to just get on with things. In a way which banishes self-pity, the Lord offers us a joy which not only is stronger than our sadness but actually builds something positive out of the things which worry us and cast us down. At the sight your heart will rejoice, and your bones flourish like the grass. To his servants the Lord will reveal his hand. (Isaiah 66.14)

The divine ink

What should be tattooed on these lives of ours? We hesitate. Let us not choose to inscribe ourselves with a commitment of which we will soon grow tired. We do not want to be marked by some declaration of love which ends by being an embarrassment.

The inscription on our life is also something which our creator wants to say to the world. We have already been sealed with the mark of baptism in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We have been marked by Christ who died for us on the cross and with whom we will rise again. Can we be content with the glorious mark of our discipleship which God has placed on us. The blood of Christ is the ink of the divine tattooist. It is our task to show Jesus to others. He is already visible in our life and can be even more so.

Peter Gallagher SJ