The Southeast Alaska Catholic
July 22, 2011

Director, Youth and Young Adult Ministry
Director, Youth and Young Adult Ministry

Their appearance is one of the most important things to a young person. Jewelry, clothing styles, and hair cuts are all messages to the world about the way a young person sees themselves or the way they want other people to see them. Back in college, I journeyed to California on a missionary trip. Most people think of evangelizing faraway places such as Africa and India, but that spring break missionary trip was intended to evangelize people here in America. A dozen of us Franciscan University students travelled to Hollywood in California and spent a week striking up conversations about God on beaches, passing out Catholic tracts on Hollywood Boulevard, and openly preaching about the Scriptures in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater where all the movie stars put their handprints in concrete. The highpoint of the missionary journey was when our group led a retreat for inner-city Latino high school students. We gave talks, ran small groups, played games, and filled the air with music. During one of the small groups, a high school student who wanted to get a tattoo said that his mother told him that getting tattoos was a sin. He asked if this was true. This put me into a bind because I did not want to contradict his mother. After thinking for a minute, I decided it was important to be honest with him about the faith. I told him that getting a tattoo is not classified as a sin by the Catholic Church. He smiled. Then his smile faded as I told him that, however, disobeying one’s parents is a sin, and that this would make it a sin for him to get a tattoo. I explained that if his mother had told him that tattoos were sinful, then it was clear that for whatever reason she did not want him to have any tattoos, at least for a while. Therefore, he was told that he still should not get a tattoo. Although disappointed, he clearly appreciated the factual answer. Many kids are smart enough to handle real answers about the Catholic faith. It is worth a try.

It cannot be known what the young man was expecting to hear in answer to his question, but I hope what I said was helpful. Ultimately, nothing changed: he still could not get his tattoo, although his reasoning was hopefully clearer on the matter. His mother had been looking out for his best interests by getting him to defer the tattoos. Oftentimes, young people need more time to grow in maturity before they can make wise choices. The same can be said when a young person wishes to get a facial piercing, a bizarre haircut, or to pursue some similar out of the ordinary style of appearance. It could be that they do not have the intellectual tools to make a wise decision and parents might be able to help by guiding their children to a good choice.